Updating Your Cloud Strategy

We hear all about the cloud without end. For large corporations and individuals, using the cloud is a nearly flawless solution for storing and accessing apps and data from anywhere. But for small businesses, exclusive reliance on the cloud may not be the best solution. Here are some decision-making factors.

First, for all their differences in size, a huge corporation and an individual have a few things in common. Individuals and corporate employees can travel anywhere in the world and need to access apps and data wherever they are. The cloud works really well for this.

Although they operate on totally different levels, subscription-based apps such as Office 365 work really well for individuals and large corporations. Individuals can share the cost over a large user base, enabling each to benefit from constant upgrades that app publishers can update from central locations. Large corporations essentially do the same thing within their communities. They spread their cost over many users, and their tech teams control the software-update process to keep operations running as smoothly as possible.

A small business is different in one significant way. It’s essentially a self-contained community of users who use the same apps and data in one location. Yes, that business may have employees who log in ‘from remote locations, and yes, it may benefit from subscription-based application software. But we are likely talking about 10 to 100 people who are working with the same apps and data in a “bubble” known as the office. While small businesses combine to form a huge user base, each has its own specific needs, and our clients rely on us to customize systems to meet specific needs.

Therefore, the cloud may not be the solution, especially if you are a small business still working with a combination of a Windows 7 operating system and a Windows 2008 server, either in your office or in the cloud. We’re approaching a perfect storm with that combination because by January 2020, Windows will no longer support that OS and server platform. They’re too old and expensive for Microsoft to develop performance upgrades and security patches. You are being brought to a decision point.

We recommend that small businesses look at a cost/benefit analysis that covers five years to determine whether you upgrade your OS and server or migrate to the cloud. Five years is a good projected lifetime for a server and OS, it makes it easier to compare their cost with setting up and using a cloud-based system.

Setting up a server on the cloud involves costs, including the cost of server space and the cost to set it up to meet your needs. Once that’s done, your maintenance cost should be minimal. If your business runs Office 365, you already have a cloud presence through Azure, Microsoft’s cloud system. And while Azure automatically updates its server, it’s still a maintenance operation. All cloud servers need maintenance, and it’s something you pay for as part of your agreement.

Of course, using a cloud-based server requires access to a good internet connection, one with sufficient bandwidth for your needs and virtually perfect reliability. If you don’t have the bandwidth, your business won’t operate at its desired level. If your service goes down, you’re out of business until it’s restored.

If your computing needs are largely internal, you might be better served with your own server on a strong internal network, which can be hard-wired for better performance and security than a Wi-Fi network. You’ll incur purchase and set-up costs for your server, and you’ll need to install all updates in a timely manner. But your maintenance expenses should be relatively low once you’re up and running.

By setting up computers as terminals on a server and hard-wiring the network, you won’t need a router system or a big pipeline to the internet. You’ll also have fewer internet access points to secure, and that could help keep out intruders. Finally, depending on your employees, they’ll likely be less likely to wander off to other things on the internet.

Whichever way you go, you will have the most up-to-date servers, application software and security technology available at the time of installation. Cloud systems will update automatically, but your internal system can be configured to download and install updates.

With a January 2020 deadline, you have time to analyze your options and start moving along your chosen migration plan. We can help you analyze your business’s needs over the next five years and put a plan into action so you don’t miss a deadline or a beat. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.

Pros and Cons of Subscriptions as You Update Software

There’s something nice about getting a subscription for application software, such as Microsoft Office for business or home use. You get automatic updates, for one thing. On the other hand, relying more on the cloud requires attention to different details. The end of support for XP and Office 2003 is calling the question: Should you choose subscriptions and the cloud or multiple licenses?

Here are some factors to help you decide the best answer for you.

Just about all office and home computer systems that still use Windows XP and Office 2003 are likely to have individual licenses for the operating systems on each computer. Some users may have been able to get a license for multiple computers for Office. None is likely to use the cloud because that software was written well before server-based systems came into vogue.

With Microsoft ending its support for XP and Office 2003 in just two months, users need to switch both systems. Our recommendations continue to be moving to Windows 7 for your operating system, especially if you are a business user, and Office 365, the cloud-based version of Office.

For home users, Office 365 can be a good deal. For about $100 per year, you can install a full copy of Office 2013 on up to five computers – supposedly in one household.  With all files accessible from any computer via an Internet connection or Wi-Fi network (if it’s set up for sharing), it’s ideal for a family, especially for doing homework.

In an office, the business version is great for collaboration and for mobile and remote users. In fact, a business can offer it as a benefit, allowing an employee to have Office 365 on a home computer. If the employee and company part ways, all the employer has to do is deactivate that specific computer and activate another.

But sometimes, cloud-based is not the best way to go. Every computer under your license will have access to everyone’s email account. In my own family, I’m OK with that. If I had a business with a number of employees, I wouldn’t be crazy about it. If you want to give a friend one of your licenses, they also could have access to your email, and if you are the friend who gets to use a license, you could be shut off without warning and lose access to email and files.

If any of these drawbacks is a concern, you can buy licenses to install Office on each computer. That keeps everything separate, and when you replace computers, all need is the product key to reinstall the software and keep on running. If your business expands, you can simply add licenses to cover additional computers.

The key to succeeding with licenses, of course, is to make sure you retain all the paperwork.

We can guide you through the selection process to make sure you have the right product and the right options for your situation. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with your questions or to set up an appointment to talk.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.