Although I’d most likely use the cloud rather than a server for a new small business, there can be some exceptions with many compelling reasons to keep your data files, software and systems on your in-house server(s) and stay away from the public cloud (internet) solutions. Please add a comment if you can think of any additional “cloud-deterrents” not mentioned below:
Flaky or Slow Connection
If there are no high quality internet links available for your office, get the heck off the cloud. There’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to timely access your important files, or when your work has to wait until your slow download finishes. Your employees get behind, they get frustrated and scared for their jobs, excuses and trust issues start arising, so you don’t want to go there.
IT professionals may be able to work around some of these issues – you can keep some files on your local workstation and only synchronize the changes to the cloud (overnight if the connection is slow). You can also set up synchronization in Sync Center (Windows 7 and Vista) or create a briefcase (in Windows XP) or use rsync in Linux to always have a copy of your most important files with you, but this is a good general practice to keep you running when disconnected from the world, regardless of whether you’re using the cloud or a server on a local network. Generally speaking, a problematic internet connection is a major cloud deterrent.
Waiting on long transfers can impair your business. If you deal with large files on a regular basis (video editing or backups, for example) or if you must be able to instantly retrieve big amounts of data, the cloud may not be a good idea. I know first hand of major technology manufacturing businesses with large data repositories throughout many of their world-wide data centers on both private and public clouds, but when push comes to shove they overnight the hard drives instead of waiting much longer for huge transfers to complete.
Legacy or Specialized Software
If you have a critical software application that can only run on an in-house server, it may not make sense to go both ways if you can save a lot by utilizing the same server(s) for file sharing and other needs. If the software has to run on a dedicated server you can still run it in a virtualized instance while using the same hardware box for other virtualized servers if necessary. There’s a whole science behind virtualization that I’m familiar with, but that belongs to another post.
Of course, I assume that from the get-go you have backups, antivirus and other essential core items taken care of and that you’re following best practices, otherwise, you’re asking for it. Setting these once the right way allows you to save more when expanding.
Highly Confidential Material
Industrial espionage is blossoming world-wide and I believe it is possibly encouraged, helped and sheltered by various governments. To counter these trends, most secure and highly protected top secret systems and networks in the world have one thing in common: they don’t connect to the internet.
If your files require extremely high confidentiality (such as scientific research, medical records, patents, art, intelligence or military files), you may not trust the cloud providers no matter how much they assure you they are secure and safe. There are ways to improve security with files stored on the cloud: for example, files can be protected by 256 bit or higher encryption standards (like with TrueCrypt) before being uploaded to the cloud, but now you have to deal with secure passwords and if you’re not disciplined and using a secure password manager like KeePass AND different secure passwords for each service, your password can be broken or obtained from another less important compromised system and then applied to the most attractive one (this is how so many Sony PlayStation Network accounts were broken into last year). Moreover, if your files are properly encrypted, if you forget or lose your password, virtually nobody would be able to help you decipher your files from the encrypted oblivion until a decade or few later when computing power increases exponentially.
Long Term Cost
If you’re willing to risk some outages, you may spend less on the in-house hosted system in the long run throughout the years, if you’re lucky and without unplanned outages, hardware and software problems and if your software maintenance is simple.
The bigger your business, staff and facilities, the more feasible in-house hosting becomes. If you already have a data center and IT personnel, you may want to do a bigger study whether it really pays off to outsource your data storage and application servers. If you have more than one data center, you are very close to having your private cloud with some smart design, and some of it doesn’t have to be very expensive. You can also use a mix of the public and your own private clouds. Whatever you do, don’t let the cloud vendors do the cost and benefit study for you.
However, if you’re not big yet, don’t get carried away. Setting up a big shop is very costly and demanding. Have in mind that most businesses cease to exist if they permanently lose their important files. Disaster recovery is crucial and for small businesses it’s more expensive to properly set it in-house than if you use the cloud, where it’s built-in into the solution. If you don’t have a good solution, it can cost you an arm and a leg to bring your critical systems back into operation ASAP.
Cans of worms and Pandora boxes are better left alone. If a cost of running a very complex and already established multi-user in-house system is not much higher than running it in the cloud would be, you know the saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! You probably have better causes to wake up in sweat at night (every business owner and IT manager does).
Sometimes your known devils can be better than the unknown angels. If a cloud vendor states that your in-house solution can easily be moved to the cloud, don’t buy it just like that. Everything works great on paper. Their goal is to get a commission. Have them earn it by doing a demo in a replicated production configuration of your environment and prove it to you. That’s what we used to do once we’d pick out few possibly feasible solutions after the initial research.
When I was a public servant I was more eager to get a new system hosted locally, use an open source solution and hire a new local person than to get an automated software or outsourced and off-shored cloud solution at a similar cost. If you do your hiring right, you get an extra resource that can be utilized for other tasks when needed. Moreover, this way your money stays close to home and that really matters if you care about your neighbors and your town.
Being a Control Freak
Admit it, you’re one of us. You just may want to know where your files and systems are, what they look like and who has access to them. Well, the last part is not so tangible – a server may look very secure, locked in the cozy warmth of your small office, but once you’re connected to the Internet, it’s easy to get hacked if it doesn’t have security patches installed.
In the end, whatever solution you choose, pay attention not only to cost and convenience but also to risks, security and long term impact of your decisions, unless you like to solve smaller problems now with bigger problems later.
If you have anything to add to this list of possible reasons to stay off the cloud, please don’t hesitate to comment below.
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