"If someone asks me what cloud computing is, I try not to get bogged down with definitions. I tell them that, simply put, cloud computing is a better way to run your business"

by Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce.com

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Why you should seriously consider the Cloud

We've noticed a significant increase in the popularity of Microsoft’s cloud suite, Office 365, both in the Exchange Online portion and as a cloud, licensing and collaboration suite. Why, you maybe thinking; the answer is simple - the value is there.

Recently we've been discussing with clients why they should seriously consider the cloud rather than their on-premises environment, and why they should opt for Office 365 rather than Google Apps. These are important questions, and there are significant factors to consider when deciding which way to go.

We touched a few of these factors in our previous post How ‘as a Service’ allows you to get ahead.

Firstly, why Office 365 for Exchange instead of an on-premises environment? The simple answer is, economies of scale. When accessing cloud solutions, there is an inclusive approach to the way in which services are built. Resources are shared, and you are able to access far greater scale than would otherwise be achievable. The flow on effect results in benefits such as cost, reliability, high availability, scalability, security and management. Let’s break these down.

Cost. Traditionally, if a medium-sized business wanted to implement an Exchange Server as an email solution, the capital outlay to cover hardware, storage, archiving, software, licenses, DR, continuity plans and professional services would be significant – typically over $50,000. The associated maintenance costs would be significant too. For many organisations, this sort of outlay for an individual service is not feasible. And it doesn’t end there. The costs can get bigger depending on:

  • The number of seats (users) in the organisation. This impacts a number of cost drivers, including the number of licenses, and the amount and size of the hardware required
  • The size of mailboxes, including the amount of data users are going to be allowed. This data needs to be backed up, which again drives further costs.

Reliability and High Availability. When implementing any solution, whether it is on-premises or in the cloud, you can implement it as a high availability (HA) solution, or not. Some would argue it’s not even a choice. You must build it in a HA manner. However, for many small to medium businesses, the capital cost to implement an on-premises HA solution is too great. But in choosing to not got with HA, a significant risk element and a potential cost is added to the business. If a core platform were to go down, the cost to the business could be enormous.

Scalability. As any organisation grows or contracts, the demands on its IT infrastructure will increase or decrease. Ideally an organisation should be able to increase its capacity as and when required. But this is difficult with on-premises equipment. By definition, there will be a limit to what you can support with your current infrastructure before needing to invest in additional resources. But what happens when an organisation contracts? Unfortunately, you can’t return capacity you no longer need.

Security and Compliance. Managing an organisation’s Security and Compliance can be a difficult task, particularly when you’re running services in an on-premises environment. The network, firewall and server all need their own unique set of security features, as well as physical access restrictions. Often this all adds up to a significant expense that requires constant maintenance and fine tuning.

Management. Although not often taken into account, there is considerable ongoing effort and work required to maintain an on-premises environment. This can include;

  • Capacity Planning
  • Security Patches
  • Software Updates
  • Hardware Upgrades

Cloud removes much of this. There is minimal management required, as much of this is outsourced to the cloud provider, such as Microsoft.

How does cloud and Office 365 allow you to overcome these difficulties?
Cloud is a relatively simple concept that follows these ten simple principals:

  1. Allow a customer to only pay for what they use
  2. Allow a customer to easily increase or decrease their utilisation of a service
  3. Access economies of scale
  4. Remove unnecessary management responsibilities
  5. Remove the need for hardware procurement, maintenance and upgrades
  6. Remove the need for capacity planning
  7. Create a managed environment
  8. Increase accessibility helping to create a mobile and agile workplace
  9. Increase the features available and the benefits derived by customers
  10. Incorporate a continuous delivery and integration model into your workplace.

Simply put, on-premises environments require a significant amount of configuration and management over the lifetime of the product. Microsoft Office 365 and other SaaS services, in following the aforementioned model, significantly reduce Capital Expenditure (Capex) and Operational Expenditure (Opex), as your responsibilities are solely at the software level.

Why Microsoft Office 365 over Google Apps?
There is no question that Google Apps was the first to market with a Cloud, Software-as-a-Service, collaboration suite and were the most feature rich. This was a breakthrough way for organisations to manage Capex and Opex for IT and particularly collaboration suites, with an immediate way to measure cost attributed to each employee.

Google Apps, and particularly Gmail, introduced a completely different way to manage email. For some people, this wasn’t an issue, but for many it has become a real hassle.

From a basic, end user perspective, Google Apps has lacked integration with the most widely used productivity suite, Microsoft Office, out of the box. This is true with both Windows and Mac.

Google Apps, the Gmail portion, is built on three highly customised open source services:

  • Internet Mail Application Protocol (IMAP)
  • CalDAV for Calendar management
  • CardDAV for Contacts.

Many organisations use Outlook to manage their Emails, Contacts and Calendars. Unfortunately, Google Apps has minimal integration with Outlook, which can be frustrating for staff. This is a result of CalDAV and CardDAV being, in some sense, incompatible with Outlook’s protocols.

Microsoft Exchange, Office 365’s mail platform, gives a native Outlook user the experience they expect. Email, Contacts, Calendars, Notes all seamlessly integrate and synchronise.

A significant reason for this is the fact that you can nominate where your Microsoft Office 365 data is located, which includes Australia. In contrast, Google Apps data is not stored in Australia and there is minimal control over where it is located.

From an IT perspective, the security, compliance and data management features of cloud services are far more extensive than on-premise environments giving organisations greater control at a granular level.

by Alex Kilroy / September 12, 2016

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