The new option of having your company's servers "in the cloud" could prove a lifesaver to many small business owners. When the company that managed the web-based email servers at Syreeta Saunders-Keys' eight-year-old real estate firm Keys2Day Real Estate kept breaking down, she realized that she needed a centralized system where she and her six employees could access email, store documents, and monitor the tasks from anywhere and at anytime. Saunders-Keys was using four different vendors to host file sharing, email archiving, calendars, web maintenance, and other IT necessities; all of which cost her $750 per month. Yet, her team could only access their email via web-mail and the vendor wasn't syncing their email and calendars to all of their devices.
More and more the small business owner found herself bottled up in IT woes instead of focusing her attention on the real estate industry. The situation became drastic when she was unable to access her email archives despite having paid an additional $400 to ensure that the service was done. As a real estate agent this was problematic because she is required by law to keep certain contacts, conversations, and documents for 10 years after a deal closes.
"My job is to be out generating and bringing business in and not to be dealing with the minutia on the back end," says Saunders-Keys.
In her search to rectify the situation and find a new provider, she realized that many companies didn't cater to small businesses. "They want you to have a certain amount of employees and even if you don't they want you to pay the same amount that big companies would pay," says Saunders-Keys, who brought in $7.1 million in sales in 2010. Finally, she called Tarzana, California-based InfoStreet and found relief with their product Streetsmart, a cloud-based IT platform.
Keyon Thomas, a marketing director at InfoStreet and Saunders-Keys customer representative, assessed what each of her vendors was doing, migrated their file sharing services over to InfoStreet, and created them a complete cloud storage environment that would alleviate as much of the IT stress as possible.
"Being real estate agents–showing houses, working from home, and the office–it was important that all of their [systems were] exactly the same, without creating this huge IT infrastructure in their office to create VPNs and things like that," says Thomas. "Lastly we coordinated with their website provider, who is still running their website to make sure we didn't drop the ball with any of their domain name endings that connect the web site so that they didn't have any down time."
Now, for $110 per month everyone at Keys2Day Real Estate has access to each others calendars, and all of their email and file archives are stored in one of InfoStreet’s tier 1 SAS 70 data centers with backup generators. Another huge benefit is that Saunders-Keys and her employees can access their desktop no matter where they go. She can log in from her home computer and will see the same thing she sees when she logs in at the office.
If you are considering a migration from a local server over to a cloud-based server here are Thomas’s five tips for preparing your business and your employees before migrating to the cloud.
* Know your network. Your office network consists of not just applications that you use on a day-to-day basis, but also applications that run on the servers in the back room. By knowing what is on those servers you can eliminate any surprise when moving to the cloud.
* Be aware of the amount of support you need. Most cloud providers offer tiered support. If you can’t handle training your users then get the top support level and let the provider do it. If you can train people, go with one of the lower levels. Because support is flexible and normally month-to-month, it can be adjusted to your needs.
* Hold several training sessions. The CEO should take the time to learn how the tools work and also take the extra time to teach your team. It will pay off in the long run. Mmake sure they understand the benefits of making that change so they don’t fall back into the old system. When they take the time to train employees you see 100% adoption instantly.
* Make sure you have a good Internet connection. When you go to the cloud the internet is your lifeline. You have to make sure you have a good connection. Take some of the money that you are saving on servers and invest it into maintaining two internet vendors for redundancy sake. Also plan for internet disruptions by keeping a satellite enabled device like a cell phone with a WiFi hotspot.
* Remember price scales. Remember at all times that as your company grows, the price for your cloud tool normally reduces per user. Don’t forget to contact your provider to switch plans if you are experiencing significant growth. This way you will realize maximum savings.
* Make migration easy. “It is imperative that you mirror the current environment that you are using today as closely as possible,” says Thomas. “People hate change. “They won’t want to suddenly jump to a new piece of technology. Once you show them how it is similar and useful, it will automatically keep them from feeling threatened.”
* Eliminate the ability for them to go backwards. The hardest part about moving to the cloud is user adoption. When users don’t adopt the new tool they will fall back on your old systems, which is extremely counter productive. You will have to run both systems during a parallel time, but the second that you can cut off the old system, cut it off, says Thomas.