Are servers a thing of the past?
With the impending demise of Windows Server 2008 R2, many companies are looking to invest in a new server infrastructure. Is moving to the cloud the best option? Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and other competing services can provide a solution, but they aren’t one-size-fits-all.
Personally, I have found that a hybrid approach provides a cost-effective way to ensure critical business functions are maintained, while keeping investments in IT infrastructure affordable. Using a purposeful mix of virtual and physical servers can help companies design a custom, budget-friendly plan.
The single most effective tool for reducing continued IT support and increasing reliability for business processes has proved to be to Office 365 for email. Microsoft Exchange has provided email for small to massive enterprises for decades. This service has historically been a critical component to conducting business. Many companies have maintained dedicated servers onsite that only handled Exchange. For the most part they worked very well, but they were expensive to license and to maintain. These servers require continuous security updates, periodic hardware upgrades, expensive add-on spam filters and maintenance tasks to ensure they are secure.
The primary benefit to moving to the cloud is predictable user-based pricing, which makes budgeting for IT expenses much easier because there are fewer upgrade projects as a result. Support for cloud-based subscription services is generally included, which allows IT support staff to work more efficiently to track problems in a timely manner. Security and feature updates are also typically performed by the solution provider, which frees up IT staff time to better service employee’s needs.
Cloud server solutions allow for a geographically distributed workforce that can have the flexibility to work from home, the office or a coffee shop with equal ease. For example, Office 365 is designed for Android, iOS and Windows devices, so employees can work from whatever device they are most comfortable with.
A major disadvantage of keeping servers onsite is the maintenance and reliability when compared to Cloud services. If there is a natural disaster, power or Internet outage at the main office, the entire company loses email service. These outages prevent internal and external communication. The cost from these outages pile up quickly. Cloud services are designed to be more redundant as they spread their servers across the world, which reduces the risk that any single failure can cause the entire system to fall.
As of today, moving an entire company’s critical infrastructure to the cloud is still an expensive solution. Does your business rely on QuickBooks, an application server for Epicor, Sage, Amtech or rely on Microsoft SQL? Having those solutions hosted in the cloud are currently significantly more expensive than having them locally hosted. The additional cost of the cloud solutions must be weighed against the reduced risk of outage, improved reliability and ease of access.
In most cases I have found it more cost-effective to maintain physical servers onsite for certain servers and applications, such as domain controllers or application servers because they are significantly more expensive to host in the cloud. I also expect that in a few years that will no longer be the case. Over time, I expect nearly all workloads will be done using cloud services.
Paying a single monthly payment for a cloud-hosted business solution offers predictable expenses, built in software upgrades and support. Each business will need to individually weigh the cost of cloud services against the benefits.
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