The Case for Moving to Hosted Services

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On a recent weekend, after years of mulling it over, I made the decision to upload all of my photos, new and old, onto a shared, hosted drive. Over the next few weeks, as I began the process of locating and uploading photos from variety of devices going back several decades -- which included everything from a Mac, to thumb drives, DVDs from photo printing services, and paper photos scanned into drugstore photo machines -- I pondered the similarities between my reasons for moving photos to the cloud and the reasons our clients are making similar decisions for their communications platforms.

So what made me decide to make the move, and why is it relevant to today's communications technologies? The same arguments can be applied to both scenarios.

Over the years of trying to maintain my own photo library, I eventually wound up with photos on multiple machines and drives, in different formats. To create the platform I needed myself, I would have to maintain separate drives that allow me to continue to access my photos over time, as new imaging programs and operating systems come along. With the rapid technology changes these days, things become outdated pretty quickly -- just ask my friend who is currently trying to find a way to access a few old photos she has stored on floppy drives. I would also have to maintain one or several backup drives at offsite locations to avoid a catastrophic failure in which I would lose all my photos, and have network access to all of them so I could view photos anytime I want.

Enterprise Decision Factors

When implementing a technology platform in a distributed, or even local environment, the variety of resources to maintain it and the points of potential failure are significantly higher than in the days of the traditional PBX. Care must be given to maintain the data center's environmental controls, connectivity, infrastructure, server stacks, and vmware. Every time there is a Microsoft or Linux server upgrade, skilled resources must be available to perform the upgrade, test, and communicate plans to the rest of the organization. And infrastructure resources don't usually stop to consider the impact of upgrading a server that is running real-time communications services. Facilities infrastructure must ensure power and connectivity are in place to overcome any potential disruption, often requiring professional engineering resources be on hand.

After ensuring that infrastructure is tended to, the intricacies of virtualization must be considered. Will the communications services be disrupted by taking a VM snapshot for example? With redundant VM stacks, will two data centers be viewed as one or two for failover purposes? Add on to that the manufacturer hardware, software, and licensing maintenance, and the recipe for complexity increases exponentially.

That's a wide variety of different skills and resources, most of which are not required full time. It's like a part-time combination of five to 10 different full-time employee (FTE) skillsets.

Thinking back to my photo project, I would either need to become skilled with a variety of platforms, hardware, and programs, and then periodically exchange backup drives and drive them to offsite locations... or hire resources to do it for me. Would I need some part of an FTE for hardware, another for archive, and another for image programs? Or could I hire one person who is an expert in all the various facets of storage, image programs, and archiving? Would I be able to find a person who is willing to contract these skills on an as-needed basis?

Similarly, for today's business entities, while the concerns about privacy and network outages are real, they are often outweighed by the number of moving parts and high demand for skilled resources. A great number of organizations are moving towards managed services as part of an overall strategy to allow internal resources to focus on the core business. These organizations range from state government to school districts, global medical and scientific manufacturing, and development organizations. So what's driving the decision?

When considering the move to a hosted platform or managed services, often at first blush hosted systems can look more expensive. But in addition to traditional capex and opex costs, organizations must consider the opportunity costs of maintaining a system themselves. While it may be cheaper to purchase and maintain an in-house solution, internal labor and infrastructure costs can tip the scale the other direction.

Again going back to our photo example and the sharing economy -- it boils down to the classic "make or buy" decision.

These days, advancements in technology allow resources to be shared in ways that were previously unthinkable. One of the latest disrupters in the sharing economy is an organization called Hello Tractor. Instead of taking out a high-interest loan to buy machinery, this startup is allowing locals to share farming implements.

For me, the bottom line was, would I rather spend my time on my core business (living life to its fullest) or spend my time maintaining a bunch hardware and software to see photos I didn't have time to take? There are so many easy, inexpensive and cool ways to store photos, it was a no-brainer. I can go about the business of living, knowing with assurance that I can peek back in time with the click of a button.

And organizations are making similar decisions for similar reasons. Their best and brightest can be focused on designing the next generation of their product, or finding ways to improve their interactions with customers, knowing their communications platform is humming along with highly-skilled, dedicated resources ensuring it will be there when they need it.

So when people ask me, "Are organizations really moving to hosted/managed/cloud solutions?" The answer is unequivocally "yes." And while the reasons may not be black and white, they are clear in living color.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.