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Public Cloud for SMB. Good or bad? August 25, 2014

Posted by audiomatron in Uncategorized.

Today, at vmworld, I attended a session called “Ask the Experts vBloggers”. It was possibly the best session I attended today (the EVO:rail session was good as well). The format of the session was a Q and A – the audience asked the Qs and the panel of vBloggers provided the As. At one point, a young woman asked a question (and I’m severely paraphrasing from memory) regarding small business customers of hers – ones running essentials, essentials plus, free ESXi, etc., and whether they would be better off moving to their data and applications to the public cloud. As an IT manager for a small company myself, the question and the discussion that followed struck a chord with me.

I don’t wish to misquote anyone, so I won’t even attempt to attribute what was said to who said it, but to say the least, some valid arguments were made. It was mentioned that with all of the cloud offerings available it would not make sense for small companies to try to deal with the headache of maintaining services such as email on-premesis. Conversely, it was said that it would be important to consider the pain and hassle said company would have to go through to migrate services to a public cloud solution. As I tried to relate the scenarios to my own environment, in my mind rang a resounding, “no!”. Perhaps it is not the case for every company, but I’ll attempt to explain why I don’t believe public cloud is not a viable option for me.

For starters, I do realize that my company’s biggest advantage when it comes to IT is….wait for it….. Me! That isn’t meant to elevate me personally, but there are many small companies that do not have dedicated IT support. My company, before they hired me, saw that they were increasingly making more use of technology, and that a consultant paired with a couple of tech savvy users just wasn’t cutting it any longer. They needed someone full time to manage their IT infrastructure. However I realize that for many small businesses that isn’t an option. I can definitely see where moving applications and data to a place where someone else can manage it and safeguard it in a cost effective manner would be appealing. Does that mean that every small company should just hang it up when it comes to IT and let someone else handle it. I think not.

It the case of our company(ies), while I only have 40 users, the amount of data we have relative to our size is enormous. Our biggest chunk of data is file data, and at a civil engineering g firm, that means AutoCAD drawings, gigantic contract documents in Word and PDF, tax maps, and absolutely HUGE hi resolution aerial imagery. That alone would be excruciatingly painful to try to consume via the public cloud. As a matter of fact, we used to keep all of our project files on a file server in our datacenter, and the users in our two branch offices would have to access them over a T1 with WAN optimisers. There was not one week that went by without a couple of people complaining about it being slow, despite my best efforts. Now even with our new dedicated 10 MB fiber pipes, the experience would not be good. For that reason, each office has it’s own file server that backs up to the central data center. If it’s not good on a dedicated circuit, it won’t be good in the cloud.

Then there’s email. In our organization, email is mission critical (as I’m sure it is for most people). I have friends that have dropped exchange in favor of gmail, but there’s no way I can make myself do it. While it would be great to let someone handle the spam filtering and maintenance of the email system, I don’t think I could give up the granularity of control I have using Exchange. Our other company does use gmail, so I’m not totally ignorant to it. Yet, I find what I’m able to do with it very limited compared to exchange. Plus, we use a project management application called Newforma that ties in heavily with Outlook and Exchange for email filing. Some of that functionality would be lost if our email services were not on-premesis. From a cost perspective, how small does your user base have to be before a cloud email solution becomes cheaper than Exchange (sure you have to buy Exchange, pay me to maintain it, yadda, yadda.. But you’re already paying me…).

One of the biggest caveats I can see to publics cloud services is internet connectivity. Many very small businesses have very low end internet connectivity (DSL, cable), at east where I live (not us, we have 20 Mbps dedicated fiber). Such internet connections are not very robust, have slow upstream speeds, and can be flaky. If you lose connectivity, or your connection has problems, your cloud experience is going to suffer.

Our small company is very heavily dependent on our technology. We don’t draw on paper, we don’t fill out inspection reports on paper, and we don’t even use regular digital cameras to take inspection pictures (we have a Filemaker based inspection and project picture system that runs on iPads). To me it is crucial that I have direct access to those applications and their data, that my users can be close to them, and that I have total control over them. We won’t be moving to the public cloud anytime soon. Does that mean others might not benefit from it. Of course not.

I firmly believe that an organization should not have enterprise grade IT assets without someone to properly manage them. Such things can be unruly and complex if not cared for properly. That is what I really liked about VMWare’s new EVO:Rail product they announced today. From a simplicity standpoint, this is an absolutely perfect fit for small companies looking to build a datacenter. However I fear that when I call Dell in a couple weeks to see how much it costs , I’m going to be disappointed. However, that’s a rant I’ve made far too many times.

So what are your thoughts?



1. Grant - August 29, 2014

I was in that same session, lol.

We’re in a similar boat. Hosting our own servers costs more upfront, but gives us far more control and responsive support.

The first time there’s a hosting/cloud service outage and the CEO sees that all I can do is wait on the phone with someone in Bangalore, he’s going to be fine hosting on-prem where he can at least watch me pulling my hair out.

The EVO Rail looks sweet (like lots of other shiny things in the solutions exchange), but it’s got to be priced right to meet our particular needs.

If the Dell version costs more than 2-4 R720s, Vsphere essentials plus bundle, and some VSan licenses, guess which one this guy with plenty of empty rackspace is going to get?

However, having options to migrate VMs to the cloud as a disaster recovery option does have its appeals.

2. audiomatron - September 1, 2014

Hey, thanks for reading. BTW, in the session, I was the one who commented about Essentials plus lacking Storage vMotion and who asked about EVO:Rail pricing.

My hope is that as things progress, VMWare and its partners will come up with different sizing choices for EVO:Rail. Like a small business one that has less storage and runs with a less pricy version of vSphere – the fact it has Enterprise plus means its going to be outrageous.

The whole “Hyper Converged” thing has me intrigued. I’ve been thinking hard about how to develop my own solution like that for smaller environments using stuff that’s already out there. I had a lengthy discussion with a guy from Nexenta about using Nexentastor as a VSA and rigging some way for it to failover to a VSA on another box. I keep hitting roadblocks in my mind with that. I wish I had some gear to try it out.

I saw you subscribed. I appreciate that. If there’s anything you’d like to see discussed here, let me know.

3. vmPete - September 3, 2014

I would recommend taking a different approach. Embrace the traits of an SMB, instead of feeling limited by them. With the constraints comes a lot of freedom and abilities to show ingenuity. While doing that, then work on all of the skills that relate to helping the business understand why some tool, solution, etc. might be important to the organization. (more on this at: http://vmpete.com/2014/05/08/getting-the-big-it-purchase-approved/ ). It is not only your responsibility to deploy and manage these solutions, but understanding the needs of the business, so that you can frame your position in well understood manner regardless of whom your audience is.

audiomatron - September 10, 2014

vmPete – Thanks for the response. I definitely understand the needs of the business I work for very well. It’s not that I feel constrained within our business – in other words, I feel like I’m doing things exactly the way our business needs them to be done, and that reflects in the feedback I get from my users and bosses.

My real issue is a personal one I suppose. I feel like I don’t get exposure to products and technologies that I would like to get my hands on as a result of being in small business IT. I often feel that while in some areas I am growing as an IT person, in some others I am stagnating. Really, though, maybe there are guys in the big companies that feel the same way…Still, there are some things that would be extremely useful for us that are priced out of our reach.

Don’t misunderstand though: I have it made where I work. I get paid to wake up and do my hobby every day, among many, many other wonderful benefits. I do what I want all day. Plus the people I work for are awesome. I definitely wouldn’t get this kind of work environment in a large enterprise.

4. Greg Moore - October 28, 2015

SMB in AEC is particularly challenging. I did it for 12 years at a 80 person Architecture firm competing with some of the largest firms in the world successfully. The dominant tools (Revit, Navisworks, AutoCAD, Adobe CS Suite, etc.) require IT and support resources that are considered cost prohibitive to scale beyond just a handful of users with minimal collaboration and accountability requirements. As an IT professional in this space, it’s challenging to stay atop solutions and best practices. AEC SMB still represents a small segment (from a $ perspective) that is catered to by very few solution providers. Large AEC companies deal with many of the same challenges you do, but on a larger scale and with more money to wave in the face of potential solution providers to demand proof of success when they are on the cutting edge. I found simply joining the discussion made the difference – I helped start an AEC Tech group of IT folks in the Portland, Oregon metro many years ago that meets monthly to share solutions. There are also user groups (Newforma, AutoDesk, Adobe all have them) and user communities online that offer up as resources for questions, recommendations and references.

audiomatron - October 28, 2015

Greg, thanks for reading! Being IT at a CE firm definitely puts me in a weird place quite often. We have big technology demands, but not always a big budget. I’m fortunate that my company invests in technology as it does. I’ll occasionally have someone at another firm ask about something they’ve seen us use, and very quickly hang it up when I tell them what it costs us. I’m not even sure that many other engineering firms in our state even have IT staff! It goes without saying then, that starting a group as you did might prove somewhat difficult. However, as small as our town is, there are a surprising number of IT folk here, and we all know each other (most of us used to work for the same local computer shop at one point or another!). We quite often are able to call upon one another for advice.

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