The downside of cloud computing

You’ve probably seen many articles, editorials, and marketing fliers about how great the cloud is; how it can save you tons of money, empower you to do amazing things, free your staff up to do all kinds of important projects, and more. There’s a great deal that is true and accurate in all of those assertions to be sure, even if most of the writing is intended to convince you to buy into the hype. I’m a fan of cloud computing, and have offered cloud computing for years with our web based email solutions and web hosting.

However, both as a business owner and as a consultant helping others move to the cloud, I have seen the other side of the street; I’ve seen the pitfalls and promises that don’t quite live up to the hype, and where you as a customer might be surprised or disappointed.

So for those of you getting ready to make the jump to the cloud, here’s a look at the downside. This is the list of things that you won’t hear from most IT professionals.

1. You are no longer in control

This is the hardest thing for most customers to understand. When you move services to the cloud, you are no longer directly in control. It’s a major shift in realities that most businesses have trouble adapting to; you cannot just log onto a server and see what’s going on. You have to open a ticket just like you were an end user. The business will have even more trouble adjusting to this new reality. When all the services were in house, users could call in your best troubleshooter, get outside help, and hover over the project like most micromanagers do. Now, no matter how much they might yell, or what timelines they promise, when something is wrong, you’re all at the mercy of someone else. Service guarantees are nice, but this is part of what comes from giving up control and relying on someone else.

2. You are not the most important part of anything

Related to the previous item, consider what happens when the CEO has a problem with an on-premise system. Suddenly everything else is secondary; your boss will roll up his or her sleeves to pitch in, and things can get done. With cloud services, the CEO of your company is no different from the receptionist of another company; they’re both simply users of the service, and both get equal attention. The cloud is the great equalizer — and not in a good way.

3. You don’t have any control over versions and upgrades

Cloud services typically use the latest and greatest versions of whatever software goes into offering the service. That’s one of the big appeals; you start out on the latest platform. However, just because they’re running on the latest version of your primary software application, don’t expect to get every little feature and customization that latest version of your primary software application offers as if you had installed it on-premise; cloud service providers tend to offer the vanilla, cookie cutter version and only enable the most popular features. If you want an obscure feature , make sure the cloud service offers that before you sign up.

4. You still need on-premise hardware, and an in-house IT staff or 3rd party IT provider

Sure, cloud services mean you may have fewer servers to deal with, and there’s less for your IT staff to do in support of the service, but that absolutely does not mean you can do away with all of your servers and lay off your staff. That’s good news for the IT team but often comes as a shock to the business decision makers who thought the cloud meant they could outsource IT and shut down those costly datacenters. I’ve worked on projects where the customer had to add more servers than they were shutting down to support their side of things, and this came as a huge surprise to them, because they didn’t read the documentation they were provided before the project began.

5. You’re at the mercy of your broadband connection

With an in-house server, if you have a performance problem, you add some RAM, do an OS update, or do something else to resolve the issue. If you have a performance problem with a cloud application, it’s very possible that the problem is your broadband or Internet connection. With an in-house server, the data path to your server is likely 1,000 Mbps (Gigabit Switch). With a cloud solution, the bottleneck in the path to your server is almost always your broadband connection, often 1 Mbps and in many cases, less. That’s right, 1/1000th of the speed you used to have sending and receiving data from your server. If your Cable connection is 10x1, that means you can download 10 Mbps, but can only upload 1 Mbps. Many applications don’t perform well under this restriction. But I saved the worst part for last. If the Internet goes down and you don’t have a failover connection (another broadband connection you pay for each month)…… you’re DONE. Your whole office isn’t working until the broadband comes back up. There are ways to mitigate these issues with higher bandwidth broadband connections (expensive each month) and failover connections (more expensive each month), but make sure you do the math regarding how much more you’ll need to pay to the cable company each month before you pull the trigger on a cloud solution. I’ve already been called to a number of clients to discuss their impending cloud transition and watched as their mouth dropped open when they called their “cloud” software rep on my advice to ask how much they’ll pay each month for broadband under his solution. He apparently left that out of the sales presentation.

When you’re considering a cloud service, make sure you read all the fine print, and walk through specific scenarios with the provider before you sign. Ask about service limits and what features you won’t get when compared to doing it yourself. I find the best candidates for the cloud are multi location offices or companies that need to share one common application or database. That leaves out 95% of the small businesses in the country. Bandwidth availability and cost is the other contributing factor we look at for cloud computing implementations.


Written by Mark Richmond, President and CEO of Micro Doctor Inc.


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