Servers for Small Business: On-Site, Colocation, and Cloud

On-Site, Colocation, and Cloud Options for BusinessFor many small businesses, migrating to the cloud has moved from the bottom of the to-do list to the very top. Why the sudden rush to make a move? Many companies have watched as their competitors reduced costs by embracing the cloud and then invested the savings in new innovations that helped grow their business. Now, to play catch-up, slow adopters are scrambling to get to the cloud. In doing so, however, many find themselves torn over whether to keep their infrastructure on-site or in the cloud.

Option 1: On-Site Infrastructure

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that on-premise infrastructure (sometimes referred to as a private cloud) isn’t the cloud as we know it; the true intention of the cloud is that it’s elastic and scalable, without having to buy additional hardware. When maintaining one’s own infrastructure, an increase in capacity will require more equipment. So why do some businesses keep their servers on-site? For one, they may have security concerns, and are leery about trusting a third-party to maintain their sensitive information. They also may feel comforted by the physical closeness of their stored data. But keeping servers on-site can also pose many challenges:

  • Virtual security. Despite perception, true cloud-based infrastructure is traditionally more secure. This is because most are maintained by security experts who understand cloud security challenges, and how to mitigate them.

  • Physical security. Most organizations don’t have the same physical security features that are offered by third-party data centers, leaving their data vulnerable to a variety of threats from thieves or Mother Nature.

  • Compliance. Parameters for maintaining compliance through on-premise hardware are generally more well-defined than in the cloud; however, it can be time-consuming and expensive to do so, requiring an organization to employ an IT team that’s familiar with regulations or risk fines and other penalties.

  • Performance. Downtime also affects performance—for both employees and customers. While a VPC or public cloud provider can typically have an organization up and running mere seconds or minutes following an incident, an inexperienced internal IT team could take hours to get all systems running.

Option 2: Colocation

Colocation is when a company houses its physical servers in a third-party data center. The equipment is the company’s own hardware, but they receive the benefit of having an experienced colo provider manage their servers daily, providing the necessary power and cooling, and managing some of the basic connectivity and maintenance issues. Companies utilizing colo are essentially renting rack space, the infrastructure, and the utilities needed to operate them.

One major benefit of colocation is that if a company decides it wants to bring its infrastructure back on-premise, or move it to another colocation facility, migration is easy; moving their server(s) is all that is required.

Of course, not all companies want to purchase their own units and take the hit of a large capital expense. Instead, they may find a colo provider willing to rent physical servers, as well as the space needed to house them. Migrating in this scenario may be more difficult since the colo provider owns the hardware, not the company utilizing it. Be sure to review your service level agreement (SLA) closely. Want to learn about six more benefits of colocation? Read our story 6 Benefits of Using a Colocation Facility.


Option 3: Cloud-Based Infrastructure

The cloud can offer many benefits that aren’t attainable through the on-site infrastructure of colocation. However, companies opting to go “full cloud” need to first decide whether they want to engage with a public cloud or a virtual private cloud (VPC). The public cloud, which is most people’s frame of reference when they hear “cloud,” is a large physical and virtual infrastructure shared with thousands or perhaps millions of users. Heavyweights like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are prime examples. While public clouds offer many benefits, and their familiar names often put small businesses at ease, there can be some drawbacks. One of the biggest problems small businesses have with a large public cloud provider is the lack of support; without a seasoned IT staff on hand to address issues that arise, they turn to their provider—and that makes them a small fish in a vast ocean. Who’s going to get priority in the event of an incident: Netflix, or Joe’s Printing Company?

Some businesses that have worked with a public cloud have also discovered that it can be very difficult to get their data back when they want to switch providers. Rather than just handing over your data, these unscrupulous providers may hold it hostage, requiring thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars for its safe return. Even worse, some public cloud software, such as NetSuite and Salesforce, will return that data as a spreadsheet export that’s impossible to work with, requiring it to be rebuilt. So, businesses always need to read the fine print.

Another option is a virtual private cloud. While just as virtual as the public cloud, instead of sharing resources and space in a public infrastructure, VPCs operate with a certain level of isolation between customers. This is achieved through a private IP subnet or Virtual Local-Area Network (VLAN) on a per customer basis, which provides a greater level of security. This isolation is what lends itself to the term “virtual private”—the user is in a cloud, but is not dependent on any physical hardware, which is an important distinction. Some of the benefits a VPC has over a public cloud include:

  • Security. Information passed through a VPC stays within a customer’s control without crossing the internet. Plus, with all customers operating on the same back-end infrastructure, VPC providers have a highly-vested interest in keeping things running smoothly and securely, while maintaining high levels of uptime.

  • Savings. Because VPCs are within a public cloud, customers still benefit from economies of scale, sharing costs with other organizations without compromising security.

  • Easy integration. A VPC can be integrated with other VPCs, the public cloud, or an on-premise infrastructure (more on that in a minute).

  • Seamless upgrades. With all customers operating on the same hardware, the VPC provider can upgrade everyone incrementally with no downtime; most providers will refresh the underlying hardware while constantly acquiring better hardware. Over time, customers’ workloads will become faster and more secure!

Of course, there is another option which we hinted at above: the hybrid cloud. Small businesses taking this approach—a mix of on-site and cloud-based infrastructure—have the ability to maintain their mission-critical data on-site (backing up to another site in case of emergency as outlined by the 3-2-1 rule), while offloading less sensitive data into a public cloud or virtual private cloud (VPC). If this sounds right for you, be sure to check out our story Hybrid Cloud: Expectation for Reality.

If you’re a small business interested in moving to the cloud but not sure where to start, contact the experts at DSM. We offer VPCs for business, government, and healthcare, as well as colocation. If the hybrid cloud is more your speed, we can make our infrastructure work seamlessly with your on-premise infrastructure to give you the best of both worlds.

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