As a software veteran of over 20 plus years and still at it. I have recently seen an uptick in clients requesting information and ultimately moving their hardware stack to the “cloud” in particular Amazon Web Services (AWS). The purpose of this article is to offer some basic explanation of the “cloud” and what it actually means to a business owner.

Background information:

Although this article is not necessarily about the paradigm shift in content delivery via the cloud. But, it is important to understand what that means to the average user and business owner. Many of my clients had jumped into the web out of necessity and created their online presence. At first, it was acceptable to simply have a postcard website with little to no functionality but those days have long past and the expectations of the online customer have changed. This has meant that many businesses that had invested money on their initial sites and setup now have to do more with their sites. They have to be dynamic, they need to be interactive, work on multiple different devices and customers want to be able to do more through the sites. Many of my clients have expressed that their customers only want to deal with a human when something goes wrong and that the website or app should handle everything else.

Therefore the next logical step for these businesses, that is occurring now, is for these site owners to invest in new hardware and enhanced sites. The question that is often asked is “Should we continue down the path of renting hardware or owning it or should we shift to the cloud”? Many smaller businesses are starting to realize that if they want to be relevant and continue to grow their online presences they have to be more dynamic and all want to do this in a cost-effective manner. But they all, with the exception of a few, have major confusion and questions as to what direction they should go. The tried and true of hosting a site in the traditional manner or a move to the cloud. The premise of this article is to give you the reader the ability to understand some of the differences between the two approaches and allow you to make an informed decision about what is best for your business.

Why should you leave a traditional dedicated or shared hosting provider:

Since most business owners don’t want to host their own hardware for their businesses because it requires an outlay of cash for hardware and the necessity of having somebody around to:

A) Keep the hardware working correctly.

B) Keep the hardware software up to date and the network clear of any badnesses.

This resulted in the decision to contract out to a hosting company. These companies provided services in two flavors. The first was shared hosting and the second was co-location (Where the company owned the hardware and was responsible for it. The hosting company was just responsible for DNS, Network and basic infrastructure and some network monitoring. Many of these companies had good plans (for the time) for hardware and shared hardware. This was all fine, but it tended to lock people into contracts that were difficult to get out. The question always came: you could get a new provider for your service but to do this it was too much effort for the same thing and effort translates to time and that translates to money out of pocket. So they were stuck.

Today is where the wheels come off the hosting/co-location business as the cloud companies are forcing a change of thinking. This is a game changer for everybody. Suddenly, you as a business are buying what you use and you are not responsible for your hardware and network etc. just the software running on it. You are freed of the need to care about hardware or infrastructure and you are now charged based on usage. Which in many cases is not that much. You can add new hardware dynamically and memory etc. The point being is when you need something it appears without renegotiating with your hosting provider and/or purchasing new hardware and going through that entire expensive process. You can focus on your site and business. This doesn’t free you up from needing somebody to manage the OS and websites etc. But at least you are no longer concerned with the underlying hardware and you can have the flexibility to move things around without being locked into a contract.

Price Point:

This one can always be a sticking point. A business owner needs to be able to budget a monthly allotment for hardware and general IT expenses. Unfortunately, the pricing schemes of most of these cloud providers are not on a straight contract but a usage model. Long story short they charge you for what you use in terms of bandwidth, cpu, network etc. There are huge price variances with these, but for the most part, it typically comes out cheaper to use one of these services. In my experience, most companies websites (with the exception of heavy video/social/file sharing types of sites) normally don’t require too much hard-drive space (with the exception of Magento which is just a hog) and not that much network capacity so the price point is typically cheaper. Even if it comes out about the same (which I would be surprised) it relieves you of the fear of your site going down because of hardware issues or due to some other low-level issue.

Security:

This should always be a concern if you are doing business on the Internet, or involved in an Industry such as finance or health care that requires the highest level of security. All of these cloud providers strive to keep their infrastructures clear of any issues. Most providers typically divide clients into virtual machines. Long story short on that (it is a private machine that doesn’t interact with anything else on the server). So, if an another server has an issue it won’t impact you.

Therefore, the security issue is your website and you the user. If your website and the virtual hardware it is on is not properly set-up then you stand to have the same security issues that you would normally have.

How do you move somebody to the cloud:

Many people want to experiment with migration to the cloud. But are hesitant and want to get their feet wet. I typically suggest a development or demo environment (many of these business sites don’t have those and need them). Most Cloud providers allow for a free limited usage – normally more than enough to set up a dev environment or demo environment. So basically, the business is only paying for the time to set it up. This is a relatively easy way to get things going and get a new business comfortable with the cloud.

Summary:

So the reasons to move to the cloud are pretty straightforward in that it tends to be cheaper from a price point of view and you as the business owner or IT professional no longer have to care about hardware and network. What you do care about is the OS (operating system), security, and the website whether it is a custom website/Wordpress/Magento etc.

Another point is that with the movement to the cloud many hardware hosting providers have started to see their margins diminish. So, with dwindling margins, they are doing more to capture dollars and making it harder to get out of contracts (not all but most of them). Most Tier Level 1 providers make it almost impossible to get out of an arrangement before your contract is up.

Therefore the reasons for movement to the cloud are:

  1. You don’t need to concern yourself with hardware and infrastructure anymore. Period!
  2. You get expandability easier than ever before.
  3. You get infrastructure stability.
  4. Price advantage under most conditions
  5. With many providers NO CONTRACT.

The only reason that you may not want to move, depending on the industry and service being offered, is security requirements. For instance, the financial industry and medical industry are very picky about hardware and security. Although all of these providers provide excellent security it is still in vogue to own the hardware. But, be mindful this is changing, as most cloud providers easily certify for the most stringent requirements.

If you have any thoughts or comments I would like to hear them.