Article written by Dave Hansen of ACES – will appear in the June 2018 issue of Cedar Valley Business Monthly
One challenge that we frequently encounter while working with clients is problems with internet speeds in their business. More and more business applications are moving to the cloud creating a larger demand than ever for faster network speeds and internet connections. If you have made the move to Microsoft Office 365 or are considering this move, for instance, be sure to do a thorough evaluation first.
What does it mean to “move to the cloud?” “The cloud” is a term the IT industry has been using for several years but many people who are not in the industry or not into IT stuff do not completely understand what that means. The concept of having data being available from anywhere at any time dates to the 1960s but only became mainstream when software companies began offering web-based applications in the late 1990s. This made it possible for users to access applications using any device that has internet service and a web-browser. In simplest terms, the cloud is a network of data centers that host anything from websites to software applications or even entire enterprise networks.
A data center is a building designed to be ultra-secure and provide ultra-reliable performance of network appliances such as servers, storage devices and other computer networking appliances. Data Centers are even rated based on reliability in terms of up-time and infrastructure requirements that they meet. They may receive a rating between Tier I and Tier IV with Tier I data centers guaranteeing at least 99.671% uptime (no more than 28.8 hours of downtime per year) and Tier IV data centers delivering 99.995% uptime per year (no more than 26.3 minutes of downtime per year). There are other requirements of each data center tier rating with varying levels of required technology being implemented to achieve the promised uptime associated with each tier.
If you have never visited an operating data center, I highly recommend it. For instance, the data center in the Cedar Falls Technology Park which was built in 2004 by Team Technologies and now is owned and operated by OneNeck, is quite impressive. You may schedule a free tour through OneNeck’s website.
Should you tour a data center, you will observe things like six-foot-thick concrete walls, designed to withstand winds from an EF5 tornado, as well as redundant HVAC, emergency power generators and fire suppression systems surrounded by an ultra-secure facility. These physical structures filled with servers, firewalls and other computer network hardware make up the network that is referred to as “The Cloud.”
With all these measures in place to protect the equipment and data stored here, what concerns could anyone possibly have about deploying cloud solutions? While they continue to gain popularity because of all these benefits, there are still factors that should be considered before making this step in your business.
Internet connection speed plays a major role in the operation of anything that is cloud-based. If your business or home is using a relatively slow internet connection, cloud solutions will likely give you problems. Think of data flowing through your network and the internet like water flowing through a pipe. The larger the pipe, the more data that can pass through each moment. As soon as it runs into a small pipe, the transfer of data is slowed.
When you consider internet service, there are two ratings to consider, upload speed and download speed. Download speed is the rating that generally is promoted by internet service providers because download speeds are what is used to do things like stream video or music. While this is likely the most important factor to your internet service at home, so you can enjoy services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube or others, you need to consider upload speed as well, particularly when it comes to your business.
Cloud-based software applications produce data when you are using them. This data must travel “up” to the cloud along with the application sending data “down” to your computer to communicate. When you use cloud-based applications, the upload speed can be equally important as the download speed.
Other cloud services like off-site or “cloud” back-up services can require large amounts of data to travel to the cloud, again making the upload speed of your internet service important. Without a “large pipe” going out of your network and “up” to the cloud, your systems can quickly be bogged down. This can not only slow whatever process it is attempting to complete but also cause slow many other operations occurring on your network.
Another factor to consider before moving to cloud-based solutions is data back-up. Many people I have talked with tend to assume that any data they have stored in the cloud is automatically backed up. While this data is likely more secure than it would be if it were residing on a server in your office, it is usually not automatically backed up. For instance, you may have made the change to Microsoft’s cloud-based email solution, Exchange Online. This service offers a large amount of email storage capacity and can transfer much larger files than a locally hosted Exchange service. While this allows for much less manual clean-up of your email inbox, you need to realize that this data is not backed-up automatically. There are several services that offer back-up of your cloud-based data that are available at a relatively low cost.
The last piece of advice I would offer before committing to a cloud-based solution for your business is a thorough evaluation of your current physical network infrastructure. Think again of the concept of your connection to the internet being a series of pipes. All those wires and all those devices that make up your network could potentially be bottlenecks (or small pipes) in your connection. You should check your firewall, network switches and even wiring to be sure that they are capable of today’s high speed data transfer. It surprises me how often we encounter a client who has invested in a new high-speed internet connection for their business but is not achieving the connection speeds they expected because they have an outdated firewall, network switch or even network wiring.
A move to the cloud can make a lot of sense for your business but be sure to do a complete analysis of your network before making the leap and, if you don’t know how to do that, work with a professional who can help you.