As the July 14th date for the expiration of extended support for Windows Server 2003 looms, many businesses that were putting off deciding what to do next are coming up on crunch time. If your business is still running on WS2003, chances are you’re also still relying on a good number of legacy applications. And, let’s face it, you’re probably not the sort who makes a point of keeping up to date with the latest trends in technology. But now you have to decide not just what operating system to move to but whether or not to deploy it in the cloud.
One of the biggest hurdles in making the decision is that there are just too many options. Not only are there several providers, even beyond the big three—Amazon, Microsoft, and Google—but they all offer countless different software bundles and infrastructure setups to choose from.
So even while you’re doing an inventory of all your documents and apps and analyzing your infrastructure requirements, you have to devote a bunch of time to researching which offerings by which providers will best meet your needs. Add to this the facts that the cloud market is constantly changing, and that switching providers after you migrate is really difficult, and it’s easy to see why so many businesses are reluctant to take the plunge.
As complicated as all these decisions are, you also don’t want to miss out on the potential advantages that come from moving to the cloud. So let’s first review some of the misconceptions that could lead to misguided choices, and then we’ll try to get a grasp of some of the basic factors you need to consider before coming up with software and infrastructure strategies.
The independent tech research institute Gartner compiled a list of the most common mistakes business leaders make when thinking about the cloud. Here’s a brief distillation of some of the main areas covered in that report.
The first thing a lot of people think when the topic of the cloud comes up is that hosting all your data online must make it much less secure. But the reality is that any system connected to the internet is potentially vulnerable, and cloud providers devote a lot of effort and resources to protecting their clients’ data. According to Gartner, “To date, there have been very few security breaches in the public cloud—most breaches continue to involve on-premises data center environments.” The big breaches in the news over the past few years—Target, Home Depot, Sony Corp—have all been of on-prem systems. While no one can guarantee perfect security, most experts agree the cloud is actually more secure than traditional data storage.
Your main reason for moving to the cloud probably shouldn’t be to save on expenses. It’s true that in many cases cloud service rates mean lower cost of operation than purchasing and maintaining a physical server farm. But a Gartner survey found that only 14% of companies cited cost savings as their main reason for moving to cloud. In some cases, the cloud is actually more expensive. The reason many choose to move is the added agility. Infrastructure as a Service makes it unbelievably easy to set up new servers for building and testing new apps. And hosting websites with services like Azure means your infrastructure autoscales to handle dips and spikes in traffic, so you only pay for the capacity you actually use.
3. All in or all out
Some of those legacy apps you’re worried are too complicated to move to the cloud really might be better off remaining on servers that are on premises. But that doesn’t mean you can’t move other parts of your business into the cloud. You can enjoy the best of both the cloud and the on-premises worlds by considering your data and workloads individually and creating a hybrid solution. Nick East, the CEO of Zynstra, which specializes in Windows Server 2003 migrations, argues, “Hybrid takes the best of on-premises and the best of the cloud and helps you make a decision on a business-by-business or app-by-app basis.” He goes on to explain, “It’s not a black and white question. In the vast majority of cases you can have an extremely effective solution if you go hybrid.”
Advantages and Disadvantages
Aside from agility and reduced upfront expenses, the cloud also offers easier and more reliable remote access to your company’s documents and applications. Removing the burdens of procuring, provisioning, and maintaining hardware also frees up your IT staff for more business-centric and strategic projects. Avoiding these infrastructure costs also means many businesses will have lower total costs of ownership over time.
The drawbacks include you being dependent on your connection bandwidth. Slow connections will mean poor performance. Though security hasn’t been an issue for cloud users, regulatory compliance isn’t standard across the cloud industry, and some companies have run into trouble with their providers. Finally, it’s still early days. The industry could go through more disruptions, or new sources of security threats could emerge. But, as more and more businesses are making the move, the uncertainty is really as much of an argument in the plus column as it is in the negative.
Choosing a provider
Gartner recently released its Magic Quadrant Report for Infrastructure as a Service. The clear winner in the leaders quadrant was Amazon Web Services, with Microsoft Azure gaining quickly. The report warns that Amazon’s pricing can be tricky, so much so that many companies hire third-party vendors to manage their infrastructure accounts. But Amazon was the first big competitor in the IaaS game, and it shows.
Microsoft has been pushing hard for the past two years to catch up though. And Azure integrates more seamlessly with Microsoft’s on-premises management tools, including Windows Server, so it may be the best choice for hybrid solutions. One other thing to consider is that Microsoft has been the best at ensuring regulatory compliance for some time. If you’re in the healthcare industry, for instance, Azure and Office 365 are probably the best cloud services for staying within the confines of HIPAA regulations.
At any rate, you’ve got your work cut out for you. But we hope this simplifies things a little. Oh, and not to add any pressure—but Gartner said all the way back in 2014 that anyone not already in the process of moving off Windows Server 2003 wasn’t going to make the deadline.
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