Understanding Cloud Integration for Small Business - Page 2

By Pam Baker
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How to Deal with Custom Software in a Cloud-based World

Yes, there are tons of truly great cloud apps out there. But that doesn't mean you want to give up that perfectly good custom software that has been serving you well. Especially if you think cloud-version apps are too lightweight for your needs (and let's face it, many of them are pale shadows of their former on-premises versions).

So you're ready to move to the cloud and integrate everything, but you really don't want to give up that custom accounting, inventory or other software you love so much. Now what should you do?

"This is likely the hardest step a small business faces in its evolution to becoming a cloud-based company," says Todd Wahl, president and CEO of Unified Systems Management. "Abandoning the old software for something new often results in process and procedure changes, and the changes often make the small business take stock of how the new system can help them be more efficient and effective."

"However if abandoning your physically installed custom software is not an option, you can find service providers who will let you rent or lease a virtual server on the Internet where you can house your application without issue," adds Wahl. "This gives you the best of both worlds: a cloud-based legacy application."

When to Remove a Cloud Provider from Your Short List

Cloud providers are not interchangeable, and price is not the only difference between them. Know precisely what you're looking for before you go shopping so you can narrow your list to contenders that truly fit your business.

"It's always important to identify 'deal breakers' up front so you don't waste time investigating a solution that simply won't fit," says Michael Sutton, vice president of security research at cloud vendor, Zscaler.  "Define your business processes and make sure the cloud vendor can adapt to meet your needs, not the other way around. Ensure that business critical processes such as reporting and workflow still fit with your business when you're not in physical control of the solution."

Have a checklist in hand for all your requirements before you shop. Don't hesitate to cut a provider from consideration if it falls short on meeting your requirements.

"Compliance requirements can be an immediate deal-breaker," says Sutton. "Say, for example, that your industry's data-retention standards prohibit you from storing data internationally. If your cloud provider can't guarantee where it physically stores your data, which is not an uncommon scenario, you simply won't be able to use that solution."

Your Options: Cheap, Cheaper and Costly as Hell

As mentioned earlier, price is not the true differentiator between cloud providers. Some services appear cheap, but their price calculations are so vague that you're soon headed for sticker shock. Others throw in many extras, but you find out later that you're paying for stuff you don't or can't use.

Some of the cheapest of the lot are so bare bones you will likely have to hire expensive consultants to use them, which sort of defeats the purpose. Others provide just what you need, but come at different prices for no apparent reason.

But there's one thing you should never do in order to get a super low price. "Do not settle," says Sutton.

"A variety of factors will no doubt motivate you to move to the cloud," he explained. "Cost savings will be among the drivers, but it should not be the only one. Use the cloud to improve your business by gaining efficiencies that simply weren't within reach before. And make sure that your business is better off as a result of the transition."

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on June 05, 2014
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