Hosting and the Cloud

Hello folks.

It really seems like an eternity since I updated this blog. I have been busy implementing some projects at work and Paul spent a fair chunk of time gallivanting around Europe and South America.  While I am sure that Paul has had a good chance brush up on his French and Spanish, I have spent a good chunk of my time brushing up on DFS logs and learning more about The Cloud.

Much has been written about the cloud and both the media and the big players in the IT industry seem to be having a virtual orgy espousing the virtues of server-less IT environments.I jumped in to this love fest at first too, but that was with great naivety – I was but a virgin in this game.

I know better now and let me tell you – don’t party in the cloud until you are sure you know what you are getting yourself into. While many of the benefits that big players like Microsoft and Google promote are true, they often fail to mention how difficult the actual logistics of moving into the cloud can be.  There are some real gotchas to watch out for. Put your party hats on boys.

Let’s take the example of a hosted exchange environment and dissect it a little. It seems like a great idea. The ability to take your email anywhere; no need for a VPN; 99.9 percent uptime and no menacing exchange limits or management to perform. All of this is true, but the question is, how do you get the data there?

Many organizations have spent years building up complex linkages in their exchange environment and to that end have enormous amounts of email behind all of that. There are public folders, contacts, resource mailboxes and a plethora of other oddities.  Quite simply, users don’t often realize how complex their environment is and will easily consent to changes to the environment without actually realizing what the change itself means. This leads to disappointment when the new environment is rolled out and a lot of headaches for IT support staff who were assured that everything was “kosher” before the transition.

Then, there is the logisitcs of actually moving data in the first place. The tools that exist for importing and exporting mail are quite labour intensive and demand that the user be pulled away from their computer. It can take literally hundreds of hours to export pst files, re-import them and then to have that data spool down again and rebuild a users cached mail file. In theory, there would seem to be many tools at one’s disposal for doing this, but at the end of the data these tools prove utterly unreliable for the large mail stores of today’s users. For instance, it is not implausible to run across mailboxes that are over 15 GBs in size today. How do you even manage getting such a mailbox into the cloud? How do you deal with exporting it. All of these operations actually require exporting mail to a .pst file. Exmerge is of little use since it breaks the files into 2Gb chunks. So, you are left with actually exporting this out of outlook and having to babysit it to ensure that it completes. Then you have to physically open the users new mailbox in outlook and import that data back in. Given average Internet speeds for small businesses, you are looking at a 4 or 5 day process just for one mailbox. The logistics are a nightmare. This definitely isn’t the no-strings-attached fun you were promised on Craigslist. 

Now, after all of that data is finally up in the cloud, what happens when this all breaks? You are completely at the mercy of some company in New York that has very little accountability to the end customer. I guarantee you that they will not feel the same sense of urgency that your own personal systems administrator feels when exchange has issues. Sure, it is more reliable – but let’s be honest. Everybody has some downtime.

Anyway, this was all a bit of a ramble, but I guess my point in all of this here is to make sure you carefully evaluate whether a hosted or int he cloud solution is really right for your business and if you do decide to take the plunge carefully audit and where possible purge the amount of data that will need to be uploaded. Then ensure that your users understand the transition plan 100 per cent and make sure that the expectations of the outcome are crystal clear. Do not promise that an environment will look identical to the in-house exchange. Just promise that there will be a way of accessing data that is needed in a timely fashion. Both your users and IT team will reap the rewards of this careful planning and management of expectations.

Thanks for the read!



Copyright © 2010 Paul Guenette and Matthew Sleno.