Know what works in the cloud, and what doesn’t
In my previous posts on Cloud (first and second) I may have come off as not a big fan of cloud based applications. I’m actually neutral – I’m more about what the right solution is for each particular customer and situation. After all, I am about being a telecom consultant, and unless I’m objective, I’m doing my customers a disservice.
So let’s look at some basic things about using a cloud application, how, and where it potentially could affect your business.
First off, remember that a cloud application’s availability is only as good as the weakest link in the connectivity chain. In other words, an outage anywhere between you and where ever the server(s) are will affect your ability to use the application. Typically, the weakest link is the “last mile” access between you and who ever is your internet service provider. Their availability is directly related to the applications availability. And even the most reliable providers can have issues. As an example. one of our customers recently had to deal with a total failure of their internet service – for almost 8 hours – due to a local fiber cut. Their email, and more importantly their credit card authorization mechanism were unavailable for most of the business day. Luckily, their order system is on a local server, so all they dealt with was a delay in the confirmations of the transactions.
Obviously, the point here is that if its a business critical application, make sure that in a cloud, your business has multiple diverse paths to access the system. This can create problems, particularly if you do not have a firewall that supports multiple WAN interfaces, or if a secondary provider has to rely on T1 or lower speed xDSL access.
This brings up the second point, which is bandwidth unto itself. It’s one thing to have one or two users accessing an application as you evaluate the application/provider, but what happens to bandwidth when you deploy it for everyone? Again, this is where intelligence in your edge security device/firewall is mandatory. Of course, your other option is to buy more bandwidth (again, see my second post).
Critical business applications aside, there are some applications I would not put in the cloud as technology stands today, and some things that I think cloud is great for.
Great in the Cloud
Server data backup
I always recommend that my customers do a bare metal backup to local media of their servers. However, backing up to the cloud allows for a redundant backup solution. But I would only back up critical application data, not the entire server or application. This is due to limitations in effectively doing a bare metal restore without media.
Unified Messaging, Voice Mail, Fax Services
I’m going to bundle all three of these together, since most voice mail systems are really more than that anymore. And let’s face it, with email, text messaging and collaboration systems, these are not as critical as they once were. Note that I am NOT talking about actual telephony or PBX switching, just the adjunct messaging services.
This can be inclusive or exclusive of email, depending on your environment, business size, how it’s used, and any business or regulatory requirements. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t realize the effectiveness of chat, instant messaging and presence applications. Allowing employees to use social media for internal business communications, regardless of how informal it may be is just a risk that many businesses shouldn’t take.
No Go in the Cloud
Telephony and Call Center
I’m not talking about basic call processing. Basic home telephony features and delivery has been around long enough, and the expectations are low enough in that application that it has now become acceptable. But a business that has any kind of call volume, and/or with advanced call processing, features such as handling a call center agent should not SOLELY rely on cloud based call processing. Yes, they all can forward to a different number in case of an outage. But can you imagine you’re poor attendant trying to answer even 3 or 4 calls on a cell phone? Or the lost revenue because your customer service agents are trying to do business on an analog phone?
There are some cloud providers that can provide some backup localized call processing. Just make sure that in this case, that sophisticated features are available even when connectivity to the cloud is lost.
Network loaded firmware
I’m not talking about Software Defined Networks. I’m talking about any device, that in order to operate has to download a firmware image from the cloud. Well you might say, as long as it has it’s image, and it remembers, that’s all I need. Besides, there are not a lot of those types of devices around. Funny thing about power and network outages, they tend to occur together. As far as devices that require the cloud to operate, see the next heading.
Yes, if you haven’t been reading about what the great goals are for cloud, just go read about Google’s Chrome OS. Like everything else in cloud, the original concept isn’t new. Originally called thin clients, the server always needed to be on a local LAN, due to the amount of data needed for the initial loading of the device. With the bandwidth available now, cloud based thin clients have already become a reality.
Never say Never…
I’ve covered a bunch of ground in these posts about cloud. I’ve said some not so nice things, and some things where cloud makes sense. But I’ve been a technology consultant for a long time, and I know that as soon as I click the publish button, entropy in the world of technology will change – for someone, somehow. Following the industry and looking into a crystal ball is what I do. Frankly, I’m darn good at it. I know that someone out there will have exceptions to any and all of the items I’ve put into this article. There are some things that I’ve put in here that I expect to change as well, but not in the 18 to 36 month future that I use as my tactical visions for my customers.
Just remember clairvoyance is a subjective thing.