100% Cloud Business

A week or two ago we switched off the last of our on-premises services, our two domain controllers. I tweeted this at the time, and was surprised by the reaction (mainly from Exchange Server MVPs) seeing this as a risky or forward thinking thing to do. I didn’t think so, in fact I haven’t logged into the domain for over 6 months. The only services I use locally are network printers (which don’t require authentication). Just to set expectations, we’re a small business and we’ve been using cloud technology for a while.

Many startups probably aren’t encumbered by any on-prem infrastructure, but for us, every service used by the business was once hosted in our own racks in a locked, air conditioned room.

What services are we using now?

  • Windows Azure for hosting our software products, and for ad-hoc VMs. We have also been experimenting with VMs as a development environment.
  • Office365 for email, calendars, file archive (SharePoint) and Lync.
  • Bitbucket and Visual Studio Online for source control, continual integration and managing product backlog.
  • SkyDrive for personal file backup – although I prefer Dropbox :¬P
  • Passpack for password management.
  • Microsoft CRM for managing customers and support cases.
  • Basecamp for project management.
  • (there are probably a number of other small tools that guys in the team use)

Was the transition painful?

Not at all, there were a couple of bumps along the way, but hats off to our IT team, they managed the transition with no surprises. There was a large data migration task to do, for example moving old subversion repositories up to git, and migrating on-premises CRM to the cloud offering. This wasn’t always straight forward, but it was carefully planned, and it now all does seem to work!

Does it work?

Yes! In many cases you wouldn’t know any different from using the services on-premises. OK, SharePoint online does’t allow as much customisation, but we’ve never had to do that in the past. Outlook is almost exactly the same regardless of where the exchange server is hosted, and a git remote is a git remote.

I think there is some way to go. We could probably benefit from stitching together some of these systems to create a better ‘single view’ of the organisation, many of these services have APIs, and it would be interesting to see what we could build on top of them.

What we don’t have to worry about any more is keeping a rack of servers running, patching operating systems, updating product versions, and planning downtime.

What about network disruption?

One concern many people have about cloud migration is being unable to access these services during periods of network outage. But systems like git (with Bitbucket), Outlook for email and Dropbox for files allow you to keep a local copy of what you’re working on, so for short periods of network disruption (which is relatively rare) there isn’t any interruption to work. In fact the ability to use all these services from anywhere on the internet (i.e. at home/coffee shop/conference/customer site) without having to mess about with a VPN far outweighs any drawback.

Conclusion

You probably don’t have a water well in your back garden, you probably don’t keep a cow and grind flour. In the near-future people will only maintain servers for fun.

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