Not sure if you should be running your own network or hiring someone else to deal with it? Not sure what to make of all this talk about ‘moving your business to the cloud’? To borrow a phrase: Just do it!

Last year, we decided to stop hosting our own network. We pay less than $20,000 a year to have it hosted remotely and managed by someone else. This was less than we were paying to do it ourselves, but primarily, we weren’t paying for servers or salaries. We paid for pleasure of sleeping well at night. I highly recommend it.

In our small company, nobody is an IT expert. Instead, we have a group of people who know just enough about computers and networks to be dangerous.  Any time a hardware or software issue came up, it was up to a handful of us to try and fix it without making an even bigger mess of things. I dreaded walking through the front door each morning to hear the words “the server is down again,” or the many variations on this theme:

“The accounting software stopped working.”

“Outlook isn’t working today.”

“I think we have a virus.”

With any of those phrases, I knew the whole day, or longer, could be shot.  But none of them gave me as much heartburn as the fear of a major server crash.  Yes, our data was backed up, but resurrecting it would be extremely painful.  The time and effort required for us to maintain our hardware, software and antivirus gear –just to limp along at a semi-workable level-- was extraordinary.

I am so glad we are now out of the hosting, data storage, and general technology business. Because we’ve outsourced all this, our data and software applications are hosted remotely in a climate-controlled, secure and state-of-the-art facility. The hardware is the latest and greatest.  The people who maintain our systems are trained and knowledgeable about best practices, and stay up-to-date on the latest developments—unlike my co-workers and I. The servers that are hosting our data are virtual and redundant, so there are no physical devices to break down. 

Even with all that redundancy, I worry. Blame it on too many years of doing this ourselves, badly. So we continuously back up our data on our remotely hosted server to another server at a different location.

Getting to the cloud

There are, of course, many companies who would like your business when it comes to cloud services.  We considered several but ultimately went with a smaller, local provider.  We have met them in person and are confident in their abilities.  We know them, and they know who we are.  We felt they would be more responsive if issues came up, and so far we have not been disappointed. 

They also were willing to do more for us. Other companies told us that our accounting software, our cad software or other software packages simply would not work on the cloud.  The provider we eventually chose told us they weren’t sure if that software would work on the cloud, but they were willing to set us up on a demo network and try it out before we were required to commit. Guess what – it worked!

Next, we ditched all of our workstations and replaced them with the cheapest of cheap netbooks.  Since all our software is now accessed over the Internet, the netbooks only need to be loaded with an internet browser and local antivirus protection.  If one netbook goes down, we have a couple on reserve, and simply swap out the bad one.  No muss, no fuss.

On top of all of the other benefits, everyone in the company gets remote access to the entire company network – not just email.

It wasn’t such an easy decision at the time, but almost two years into it, well, I’m tempted to make a comment about Cloud Nine.