How leaders may minimize the impact of tomorrow’s disasters on operations and financial health

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2015 marked the eighth consecutive year that disaster from extreme weather has cost the economy more than $10 billion. And in the wake of January’s Winter Storm Jonas, which has been ranked the fourth worst snowstorm in the Northeast in the past 60 years, many business owners are more aware than ever of the financial necessity of preparing their businesses for the unexpected.

Businesses must identify potential vulnerabilities within their organizations and take the appropriate steps to deal with disasters. Here are four actions business leaders should take as they look to minimize the impact of emergencies and natural disasters on operations and financial health.

  1. Create a disaster preparedness plan.

Preparing a plan of action prior to an event helps reduce risk as much as possible. Identify potential vulnerabilities and evaluate the risk they pose to business continuity. For example, problems can arise when employees don’t have the right equipment to respond to customer needs when the office or company data is not accessible.

Identify the most critical daily operations and establish procedures for handling them during an emergency. For example, business leaders may consider an alternate location in the event that one office becomes unusable.

  1. Test the disaster preparedness plan.

According to the most recent research from the Disaster Recovery and Preparedness Council, a third of companies test their preparedness plans only once or twice a year, leaving them at risk from not properly preparing for business continuity and disaster recovery.

Businesses should test and refine their disaster preparedness plan by running regular drills, ensuring everyone feels comfortable with the procedures. Even the most well-reasoned plan must be practiced in order to avoid human error and the resulting downtime and lost revenue.

  1. Emphasize communication and offer the ability to work remotely.

Communication is always vital to business success, but this reality is accentuated during emergencies. From the ability to communicate with staff to the capacity to address the needs and concerns of the customers they serve, businesses must arm employees with the tools and capabilities they need in order to communicate and work efficiently from remote locations, so that work is not disrupted if an office must close.

For example, businesses should look for cloud-based IP phone systems. Features like mobile twinning, which sends inbound calls to mobile and desk phones simultaneously, ensures employees are available to customers anytime, anywhere.

To keep business functioning optimally, it is best to house 100 percent of communications in the cloud. Retaining communication programming and settings in the cloud, rather than in a physical phone, helps prevent disruption and allows businesses to leverage features like softphones, which allow any Internet-connected PC, iPad, iPhone or Android device to be used as a phone extension.

  1. Leverage the cloud.

Business data is irreplaceable, and the financial consequences of being unable to access key information and applications in the event of a disaster can be severe.

According to an IDC survey, infrastructure failure can cause $100,000 in losses per hour for large enterprises, while application disruptions can have losses from $500,000 to $1 million. Using a cloud-based storage system keeps company data safe and accessible, regardless of what happens at the physical point of operations.

For maximum reliability, businesses should look for cloud-based data back-up solutions with multiple data centers to ensure undisrupted access to files if a regional disaster affects one of the data centers.

Businesses should also consider transitioning servers to the cloud for improved scalability. With the ability to increase off-site server capacity through a web-based portal, organizations become more nimble in avoiding potential disruptions.

Housing data and servers in the cloud provides a much more secure way to store business information with the added benefit of universal access for employees working off-site.

Preparing and testing a formal disaster preparedness plan is critical in reducing the risk and impact of the unexpected on operations and financial health. Enabling seamless remote work with cloud-based communication solutions and leveraging the cloud to house servers and to back up data are also foundational steps in minimizing vulnerability. Putting the right technologies in place can help organizations navigate future emergencies and disasters that could otherwise have crippled the business.

Jeff Blackey is the senior vice president of marketing for Broadview Networks, one of the top 10 UC cloud providers in the nation. Broadview’s cloud offerings include OfficeSuite® Phone, the hosted phone system that is 100 percent cloud-based using technology unique to Broadview.  He has more than 25 years of marketing management experience in the communications industry. 

Governing the cloud: How to drive innovation through digital integration

This is the second article in a two-part series about cloud computing. The first article ran in July 2014 issue and focused on building trust in the cloud.

From sales and marketing to HR and supply chain, business units within organizations are taking full advantage of cloud computing services. Without IT’s involvement, however, these units may be adopting the cloud without fully understanding the potential risks, consequences and associated costs.

To achieve an effective cloud strategy, organizations must institute a proactive partnership between business units and IT. Through open, honest conversations about needs, capabilities and resources necessary to meet objectives and expectations, IT and business units can align to create interoperability and simplicity within the organization.

Cloud governance model

Alignment starts with senior leaders developing a strong point of view that embraces cloud services as a way of supporting their business units. From contract negotiation to establishing key performance indicators in vendor management, the shift in responsibilities that comes from cloud services changes IT’s role within a business from operators of technology to governors of systems and processes. And it requires establishing a cloud governance model that everyone must adopt.

To more efficiently and effectively integrate the cloud, the model must span the three pillars of people, process and technology, and encompass the entire cloud life cycle, from identification and configuration to migration, management and decommission. 

Six domains

A robust cloud governance model should also address six domains:

Finance management. Integrating cloud services will shorten financial and business planning cycles. Organizations should consider appointing a cloud finance subject matter professional who understands the total cost of ownership of cloud services, can track service consumption and provide cost transparency.

Cloud service provider management. It’s imperative for organizations to have a properly integrated business ecosystem that enables providers and consumers to work within well-defined boundaries. Organizations should understand who is accountable for managing cloud services within the organization and establish a framework by which IT and the business have a clear understanding of the performance metrics and contract requirements with cloud vendors.

Portfolio management. Governing a cloud portfolio necessitates understanding the organization’s cloud landscape and implementing a repeatable and standardized process for cloud investments. Organizations should consider aligning their organizational portfolio more broadly to determine additional opportunities and risks associated with adding a cloud portfolio.

Integration/interoperability. Organizations will want to implement a comprehensive set of governance procedures to provide integration and interoperability from resource and technology perspectives.

  1. For cloud adoption to be successful, it needs to align with the overall enterprise architecture. As such, organizations need to clearly articulate the vision and goals of stakeholders through the cloud enterprise architecture.
  2. To sustain cloud service operations, organizations should establish service desk training. This is vital to ensuring a seamless user experience. Clear organization and assignment of authority will set the scope for the appropriate management systems.

By using this cloud governance model as a foundation, organizations can create a framework that drives innovation and lowers risk. Through collaboration between business units within the cloud, employees will be empowered to use emerging technologies and develop more efficient processes that may help to better execute a business’ strategy and meet organizational goals.


How companies can buy software in the cloud to gain a competitive advantage

Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president, general manager of Business Solutions, Comcast Business Services

Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president, general manager of Business Solutions, Comcast Business Services

Many owners of small and midsize businesses are aware of cloud technology and software as a service, but don’t understand its radical cost transformation. It’s no longer a technical curiosity but a competitive necessity.

“The cloud brings a tsunami of cost-effective IT to the small business’s front door,” says Kevin O’Toole, senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. “But it does bring two challenges with it. You have to pick the right partners, adopt the right technology and have good support. And your competition is going to embrace these technologies, so if you don’t figure out how to embrace this your business will be at a competitive disadvantage.”

Smart Business spoke with O’Toole on what to know about software as a service.

Why are small and midsize businesses buying software in the cloud?

IT for small and midsize businesses used to be about scarcity. They couldn’t afford expensive servers and staff to maintain them. Now, the cloud allows everyone to buy applications and services on demand, as they need it. Instead of having a server that may or may not get backed up or upgraded, everything is housed in an industrial data center with strong security and software that is regularly patched.

Also, when you buy a server, you’re buying capacity for the future. But when you buy software from the cloud, you can get it on a per user basis, adding or taking off users as your company changes.

Overall, software as a service allows you to focus on your core business. The cloud can help you get customers and serve them more efficiently, help your back office run more productively and help keep your costs down.

What kind of software applications are businesses getting from the cloud?

Pretty much anything can be managed out of the cloud at this point. Business owners are getting messaging through a hosted email exchange service. They are buying data backup services and file sharing services. With conference services, literally a couple of minutes later you can be doing a conference from six different locations with video and screen sharing. Other applications being adopted are financial and human resources services.

What do businesses need to know upfront?

The biggest things to know are:

  1. There are a lot of providers out there, but you want to buy from providers you can trust. It’s actually not that hard to start a cloud company, but it is hard to run one well. Sorting through the clutter and having someone vet providers for you is very valuable. Make sure when you put your business information into someone’s hands, it’s someone you trust.
  2. Have insight on what you intend to do with the system, so you don’t implement one system only to find out you really wanted additional features in a larger system.  Also, even though your overall financial costs are lower with the cloud, there are also adoption efforts to consider, such as training your employees.
  3. Try to buy services in an environment with great user management and support. For example, if you’re using five different cloud applications, you don’t want each employee to need five logins and passwords. From a support perspective, make sure you have a partner on the other end to help with any troubleshooting.
  4. While a Google search of any cloud-based application or service will give you many listings, it is important to work with someone who can sort through it all. Find someone to ask hard questions of the cloud provider and set the bar high on quality.

What do companies do if they have technical questions about cloud-based software?

Like any technology project, you will have support questions — things do go wrong and there is confusion. It goes back to how you bought your cloud service. You can go to the source and work directly with a software vendor to purchase, onboard and maintain business applications via the cloud. You may get great support, or your provider may not always answer the phone leaving you with a major problem that you can’t solve right away. By going through a cloud expert that has the technical know-how to answer questions and troubleshoot when necessary, you can maintain that focus on your core business while also making your business more effective with the cloud.

Kevin O’Toole is a senior vice president and general manager of Business Solutions at Comcast Business Services. Reach him at (855) 867-5010 or [email protected]

Learn more about Comcast’s new online marketplace of business-grade cloud solutions with simple access and account management.


Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

How mid-sized businesses can cut email costs by replacing premises-based services


Now more than ever, companies need their employees to remain connected and productive. New, affordable cloud-based solutions enables companies to transform operations while trimming expenses and reducing the burden on IT support resources.

“An average 25-person business saves $11,556, or 82 percent, during the first year of replacing its premises-based email and messaging with a cloud-based one. This yields a two-month pay back period,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of business services at Comcast.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how to save money by moving your business toward cloud-based solutions.

What  challenges are businesses facing with setting up and managing email and messaging?

Small and mid-sized businesses have limited IT staff and must balance their IT expenditures against other corporate priorities. Setting up and managing various pieces, including email and messaging, is expensive. Not only are the initial equipment expenses sizable, but ongoing IT support, server maintenance, licensing and software updates also add costs in future years.

How can businesses decide if the implementation costs of a cloud-based solution are worth it?

In 2009, the Yankee Group researched the real costs of email and messaging operations in a 25-employee business for one year. Its cost results found:



Deployment   $0

Licensing, maintenance, support   $12,000

Security   $1,382

Backup   $638

Training   $0


TOTAL   $14,020


Deployment   $240

Licensing, maintenance, support   $1,761

Security   $0

Backup   $0

Training   $0

TOTAL   $2,001

The upfront migration and implementation costs of the Microsoft/Comcast cloud-based platform of $2,001 still resulted in savings. Additionally, the cost savings grew to 84 percent over three years, for a total savings of $36,042.

The study assumed there were no custom-built exchange applications; no unified messaging platforms; standard email and messaging security; and a server already capable of handling on-premises email and messaging. In addition, the features and functionality were replicated in both email solutions, even though cloud-based technology typically has more applications and features.

With the help of telecommunications and computer professionals, employers can explore the cost and feature trade-offs between hosted and on-premises email. A hosted solution even can be appropriate for a small business with 10 or fewer employees that generally has no IT staff and where an on-premises email might be impractical.

What are some of the additional features found in cloud-based email and messaging?

Features that are commonly found with both on-premises and cloud email are addresses with company domains, shared calendaring, shared contacts, email storage of 2 gigabytes per year, anti-spam, anti-virus, mobile email, and email archiving and retrieval. Even with these shared features, there still are cost savings with the cloud because anti-spam and server-based anti-virus, which companies are typically paying for with their premise-based email and messaging, are included as part of the cloud.

Some additional cloud features include a collaboration solution such as Microsoft SharePoint, secure email backup and document sharing. The cloud’s secure email backup is important because many small or mid-sized companies employ tape drive based storage for this service, which comes with a fairly low level of security as tapes easily get lost, stolen or damaged.

Based on research into cloud-based email and messaging, what steps do you suggest mid-sized business IT departments take?

  • Switch to cloud-based messaging and email platforms, empowering remote and mobile employees. A number of vendors, including Comcast, provide a compelling suite for businesses.
  • Take the opportunity to start using cloud-based collaboration solutions. A collaboration solution, such as Windows SharePoint, can be used for sharing documents where multiple people can access a document simultaneously and incorporate a number of comments and edits. This software also is useful for sharing files that are too large to email such as those with high-quality graphics, technical diagrams or photographs.
  • Budget a few IT days for training. Switching applications creates stress, so plan for training, even if these costs are only opportunity costs for your IT employees. Not all organizations will need this, but it provides a safety net for companies where the transition to cloud-based technology is more difficult.
  • Develop a good change-management plan to help alleviate end-user pains. Switching from premises-based email to the cloud can be less onerous than switching vendors’ products, if you stay within the same company. Therefore, the change-management plan can be fairly simple, but make sure it includes employee outreach, reminders, training services, online guides, printed guides and contingency plans.

A hosted solution can provide a level of simplicity, reliability and functionality while offering a more professional-grade solution to emailing and messaging.




Note: The Yankee Group is a leading source of insight and counsel trusted by builders, operators and users of connectivity solutions for nearly 40 years. For more information, visit

Mike Maloney is a Vice President of Business Services at Comcast. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

How the cloud is powering a new era of business opportunity

Mike Maloney, Vice President, Business Services, Comcast

Cloud computing is revolutionizing information technology, and if it hasn’t yet impacted your business, it will soon, says Mike Maloney, vice president of business services at Comcast.

“Cloud computing is a new way of delivering resources, not a new technology,” says Maloney. “And the timing for cloud computing to reach critical mass couldn’t come at a better point.

In today’s belt-tightening climate, this new economic model for computing is enabling companies to accomplish more with less, and the move to cloud-based computing marks a historic point in the evolution of business.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how to harness the power of the cloud for growth, profit and success.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. The cloud allows users to connect from anywhere at any time, making connections via a shared platform.

Until the advent of the cloud, computing tasks were not possible without the application of software on a computer. You bought a license, installed the application and then used the program. With the development of local area networks, or LANs, the client-server model of computing was born, offering an opportunity to begin sharing resources.

Today, cloud computing has leapfrogged the client server model by providing applications from a server that is accessed from a web browser.

Is use of the cloud catching on with U.S. companies?

In a June 2011 survey of U.S. companies, only about 28 percent were using cloud computing in a meaningful way. However, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for cloud capabilities.

More than 90 percent of IT executives believe that the cloud will provide some kind of business advantage to their businesses, 63 percent say they’ll realize cost savings and 29 percent say they’ll achieve increased flexibility.

How can the cloud environment impact businesses?

When it’s deployed properly, it should give a business extra value over a long period of time. It should be able to address the quick-changing needs of businesses better than traditional IT services do, and the cloud should enable business innovation. When you go to the cloud you reap the benefits of speed, agility, price, innovation, simplicity, a managed system and availability. Most of all, it’s about scalability. Whether you’re talking SaaS, DaaS, IaaS or any of the services, you can quickly scale up your activities to meet demand,  add new users and cut costs.

What are the shortcomings of the cloud?

The biggest concern may be security, which includes privacy, compliance, and legal and contractual issues. To be considered protected in the cloud, your data must be properly segregated from that of another company. Data protection, then, is a requirement for any enterprise that seeks to protect the core of its business. Businesses must also address other key areas, including physical security where data are stored, and customers must be sure that they will have regular and predictable access to their data and applications.

Cloud computing can offer the enterprise or mid-sized businesses a significant business advantage, but it’s up to you to understand the opportunities and risks involved. When evaluating any cloud model, make a detailed checklist to ensure you answer all the key questions fundamental to a successful deployment and utilization. Smart customers ask tough questions before committing to any cloud vendor.

What other factors should companies consider when looking at cloud use?

For any company looking to move to the cloud, it’s important to note that you are transferring new operating risk and requirements on to your network. Upon moving to the cloud, 100 percent of your application has to travel the WAN every time users want to access it. So it’s critically important to invest in your network infrastructure to ensure you have the uptime and reliability you need.

As you conduct your evaluation of network providers you should look at four key criteria:

  • Absolute speed. What is the absolute speed of the underlying transport that is available to you as more traffic from all users begins traversing the network? Traffic doesn’t necessarily grow linearly, but it will grow with your users and the number of applications you add over time. Your ability to turn up bandwidth quickly is critical.
  • Network reliability. Now that you have 100 percent of your traffic traversing the network every time a customer or employee accesses the application, the reliability of your network becomes that much more important.
  • Scalability. This is critical to scale up to add applications, users and sites. The network must provide immediate opportunity for growth. In this new cloud-based approach, you can easily manage capacity by adding bandwidth, and that changes the conversation with your network service provider.
  • Application-specific bandwidth control. Not all applications are created equal. You must be able to deploy application-specific bandwidth controls so that  you can decide where to prioritize your traffic to address load conditions, or just to ensure that those mission-critical real-time applications get the bandwidth they need.

These criteria serve as a starting point, but you should pull back the covers on any communications company to examine the network infrastructure and the core attributes in the heart of the operation.

Mike Maloney is vice president of business services at Comcast. Reach him at [email protected]

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

How to curtail the rising cost of disaster recovery by moving to the cloud

Ram Shanmugam, Senior Director of Product Management for Recovery Services, SunGard Availability Services

If a disaster struck your company, could you recover? Do you have a place to store your data so it’s safe and accessible, and do you have a way to recover it after a disaster without bankrupting the company?

Investing in redundant infrastructure and hiring specialized staff to protect yourself is hard to justify in today’s business climate, especially when the rising cost of disaster recovery pushes other critical projects to the back burner. But the answer may be in the cloud, says Ram Shanmugam, senior director of product management for Recovery Services at SunGard Availability Services.

“Recovery in the cloud is offering customers reliable and cost-effective options to increase application availability,” says Shanmugam. “It’s no longer a matter of do you need higher application availability but how can you do it effectively and efficiently compared to traditional recovery models.”

Smart Business spoke with Shanmugam about the advantages of outsourcing disaster recovery to the cloud.

Why is the cloud advantageous?

Organizations require consistent and reliable availability of their recovery infrastructure to match the business value of their full range of applications and data. These range from mission-critical to less critical. Disruption and outages in the availability of mission-critical applications do the most damage to organizations financially and in terms of impact on quality of service, lost reputation and competitive advantage. To design and implement a recovery plan, the IT organization must determine the recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) for each mission-critical application. The RPO is the amount of down time and data loss the company is willing to sustain after a disaster, and the RTO establishes the timeline and priority for restoring critical business processes and applications. Finally, to meet the RPO and RTO requirements, the IT organization must invest in space, capital equipment and software, and hire experienced staff to replicate or back up data, then try to ensure recovery by executing rigorous testing protocols.

In contrast, cloud-based recovery offers a reliable and affordable alternative for achieving RPO and RTO requirements and ensuring higher availability for mission-critical applications. Cloud-based recovery solutions offer access to low-cost or pay-as-you-use recovery infrastructure, which can be provisioned on demand to recover mission-critical applications in the wake of failure events, with sufficient security and guaranteed performance.

What should executives consider before outsourcing disaster recovery to the cloud?

  • Cost savings is a significant driver.
  • RPO/RTO. Companies often forsake their RPO/RTO requirements because in-house solutions are cost prohibitive. The cloud offers the ability to significantly improve application availability in a cost-effective manner.
  • Reliability. The ROI of a recovery environment is in the reliability of its performance at the time of disaster. Compared to in-house solutions, managed cloud solutions offers higher reliability in recovery of mission-critical applications after failure events, with sufficient security and guaranteed performance.
  • Skilled resources. In-house recovery solutions require investment in talent to support the infrastructure. In contrast, the cloud eliminates the need for that investment, freeing up resources to focus on value creation.

Does migrating to the cloud create a loss of flexibility?

No. In fact, the cloud allows IT organizations to optimize their investment and resources by offering configurable options to meet the individual availability objectives of each application or business process.

IT organizations also have the flexibility to customize a cost-effective hybrid recovery environment by integrating cloud with dedicated internal infrastructure to support availability of large, complex applications and business processes.

What should CIOs consider when evaluating prospective partners?

Ask these questions to evaluate potential cloud partners when considering cloud-based recovery options.

  • Does it offer meaningful service level guarantees for recovery of mission-critical applications? Can it reliably recover mission-critical applications in the wake of failure?
  • Does it support heterogeneous computing platforms (e.g. Windows, Linux) and hybrid architectures that meet the recovery needs of the entire IT portfolio?
  • Does the staff have hands-on disaster recovery experience? Has it recovered from a disaster? Does it understand the entire disaster recovery lifecycle? Can it provide audit-ready test reports?
  • Can the partner support a broad portfolio of RPO/RTO requirements in its cloud solution? Does it provide options for high availability, as well as less critical applications, in a heterogeneous environment?
  • What is the range of options supported for moving data to the cloud? Does it use monitoring and automation tools to ensure rapid and effective response to failures?
  • Can the cloud partner handle your current and future needs? Can it expand and contract on demand, handle sudden growth or support large amounts of application data?
  • Can clients pay as they go?

Is data in the cloud secure?

A cloud partner should offer multiple levels of security and service options to fit your needs. For those concerned that some data are too sensitive for the cloud, despite security, they can use a private cloud, while selecting a shared cloud for everything else.

One size doesn’t fit all, so a cloud partner should offer a range of private, hybrid and physical environments to make sure your data is secure and can be recovered after a disaster.

Ram Shanmugam is the senior director of product management for Recovery Services at SunGard Availability Services. Reach him at [email protected]

When the cloud breaks: cloud security and your business

Bill Mathews, Lead Geek, Hurricane Labs

Smart Business spoke to Bill Mathews of Hurricane Labs about what happens when the cloud fails, and how to not panic when it does.

I’ve written quite a bit on why I think business should cautiously embrace the cloud and see what happens. I promise it is not as terrible as a lot of folks are telling you but it does have its faults.

Many folks seem to think that I sing the cloud’s praises and speak nothing of its many faults. This is patently untrue. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I pretty much dislike almost everything and find fault in nearly everything — the cloud is no different. A lot of applications in the cloud have many, many issues. For instance Twitter, which runs in the “cloud,” has its own share of documented issues. From being over capacity (hello fail whale) to just simply being down, cloud failures do happen and it is not a nirvana. Gmail has developed quite a reputation (unfairly some would say) for being down. Here’s the challenge I have for you though: Measure your network and application uptime against theirs. Let me know the results.

One question I am asked: what do you do when the cloud breaks?

Lots of prayer if you’re into that sort of thing; then you really dig in. If it’s a software or infrastructure as a service you really have no choice but to wait, it’s not your code or your servers, so waiting it out is really the only option. I know that sounds terrible (and it is, believe me) but no one is more motivated to keep their systems up than these providers. Every minute they’re not up is a minute they’re not billing you, they don’t want that. Economically speaking it’s in their best interest to keep their stuff running. This may sound like common sense but there are a lot of FUD spreading folks out there basically claiming that Google and Amazon just throw things up there and put no thought into it. I’m not going to go so far as to say they put the stuff up there and never under-think anything, but chances are, if they’re putting something up for you to pay for, then they’re going to want to make sure it is available as much as possible. Availability is a big issue in the cloud, and it should be.

My advice is to measure their uptime (the amount of time a given system is available) with yours and see what the difference is. If yours is significantly higher than theirs, congratulations, you’re better than some of the biggest tech companies in the world (and you should be proud). But, if not, you should investigate it a little further. If you’re not measuring your uptime then we should have a separate conversation. The point is, don’t be dismissive. You might actually be able to increase your service and decrease your cost, and that sort of thing is truly rare.

What improvements would I like to see from these sorts of providers?

Logs, logs and more logs. Let me know what’s going on with my instance of the application — a little more truth in monitoring. If something is down, let me know so I can work around it. Don’t make me find out by hitting refresh and waiting until you timeout. Every cloud provider should have both a truthful status dashboard and an emergency broadcast Twitter account (that maybe sends to Facebook and Google+ too for good measure), when there’s an outage. The guys over at 37signals do this very well with their Twitter account whenever their Basecamp or related services are down or have other issues. It wins with their customers because they’re being up front and honest about it. We’ll be launching a few cloud based services very soon and, believe me, this sort of approach will be baked in.

My overall point isn’t to be a giant cheerleader for the cloud — it doesn’t need me to do that — but to get smart and good people to lay down their fears and try something new. A lot of these folks can bring a lot to the various realms of cloud security and can help make massive improvements. Instead of saying “No, no, no,” I’m just looking for an “Okay, let’s try it out and see what happens.” Is that too much to ask?

Bill Mathews is Lead Geek of Hurricane Labs, an IT security services firm founded in 2004. He has nearly 20 years experience in IT, 13 of that in information security, and has been interested in security ever since C3P0 told R2D2 to never trust a strange computer. He can be reached at @billford or @hurricanelabs on Twitter, and other musings can be read on

Why more businesses are transitioning to the scalability and savings in the cloud

Christian Teeft, Vice President of Engineering, Latisys

More and more businesses are making the move from traditional colocation and hosting to cloud-based solutions. But what are the biggest reasons for this mass migration? Is it security? Scalability? Cost savings?

Smart Business learned more from Christian Teeft, vice president of engineering at Latisys, about the key motivators swaying companies over to the cloud environment.

What in particular is motivating this growing interest in cloud computing?

The cloud is really a natural next step in a trend we’ve seen for years as customers evaluate the move from on-premise hosting to colocation to managed services and managed hosting — the desire to transition from capital investments to operating expenses. The more you outsource IT, the less capital intensive your business becomes. The cloud takes this one step further, giving businesses the agility to add and release IT capacity as their needs change without having to oversubscribe for peak usage. This can be a game-changer in terms of cash flow.

Secondly, in a traditional on premise or colocation environment, organizations require a full team on hand — IT personnel skilled in maintaining and optimizing their own equipment. Managed hosting and cloud solutions enable organizations to rely on the provider’s technology expertise, reducing total cost of ownership and allowing precious IT resources to focus on the business.

Does this loss of control through outsourcing keep some organizations from making the move to the cloud?

The beauty of the cloud is that it’s really more of a trade-off. When you own and self-manage your hardware, you are obviously in full control over configuration and performance. But as you outsource more and move toward the cloud, what you lose in direct control over hardware you gain in complete control over IT resources and usage. The cloud enables you to spin up and down virtual instances on demand, tailoring storage, RAM, CPUs and more in ways you simply couldn’t do cost-effectively in a dedicated environment.

How can an organization decide between private versus public cloud solutions?

In the public cloud, apps and data run on the same shared public pool of resources — available to anyone with the swipe of a credit card. This may make sense for some of your IT outsourcing. But when security and compliance matters, when workloads and applications are mission-critical, or when hands-on expertise is necessary, the private cloud often makes the most sense.

What part of an organization’s IT makes the most sense to move to the cloud?

Certain applications are clear matches for the burst-ability and elasticity cloud solutions provide: file sharing, social media, testing and development, e-mail, server virtualization and SaaS. For these types of applications, organizations should investigate how best to migrate these to a dedicated or multi-tenant cloud platform.

But there are many applications where the answer isn’t as clear-cut. Specifically, legacy enterprise commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) applications require significant due diligence due to the hierarchical nature of their architecture. These applications may be a great fit for the cloud, but traditional hosting may be a more ideal solution. More than ever, it’s essential for companies to carefully evaluate the costs associated with transitioning to the cloud and be realistic about what they’re trying to achieve.

What should an organization look for in a cloud service provider?

The service provider must be a strong fit with what is most important to your organization. This might be:

  • 100 percent uptime and stability
  • Multi-tenant isolation
  • Granular control over access and traffic
  • Performance analytics for smarter decision-making
  • Maximum scalability with no capacity thresholds
  • Modular integration that can build for the future
  • Or all of the above

But they also have to have the ability to support you in the planning and migration process. The move to the cloud will be one of the most important IT decisions your organization makes. Make sure your partner has the resources, expertise and commitment necessary to make it happen.

Christian Teeft is the vice president of engineering at Latisys. Reach him at [email protected]

Everything in the cloud: finding the right security and performance solutions for your company’s IT needs

Bill Mathews, Lead Geek, Hurricane Labs

Smart Business spoke to Bill Mathews of Hurricane Labs about not letting an irrational fear of the new keep you from using cloud solutions for your IT dilemmas.

We have an expression at my company, “Everything in the cloud!” Basically it means, if you’re asking for infrastructure then have you considered the cloud? If not, why not? We tend to get very wrapped up in the security of things so we shy away from putting anything out of our control, but lately we’ve come out of our shell a bit and moved some things to the cloud that made some sense. This is the story of those decisions and their reasoning.

Download site

We host a download site for our customers, which is basically a large (approaching 105 GB at this writing) software repository that houses the software we need to do our jobs for our customers. While cost was definitely a factor — the site costs a few dollars a month to host — the biggest issue was speed. When we hosted the download site ourselves it was slow, especially overseas. Basically there was nothing we could do about that other than — you guessed it — everything the cloud! Now customers are able to download things fast with really little regard to their geographic location, and it’s been great.

Obviously our download site isn’t what you would call “confidential” or “private” information so it was a pretty easy decision to move it to the cloud and be happier campers. Of course, we took all the necessary security precautions. For instance publicly available links can be made to expire after a certain amount of time, which is great. An increase in customer happiness plus less infrastructure to purchase made the business owner in me very happy. Cloud: 1, Irrational Fear of the New: 0.

Log storage

We need to be able to keep A LOT of log files around for various reasons. These can get very large very quickly; buying the infrastructure up front is expensive and it can be cumbersome to maintain. What should we do? That’s right, everything the cloud! This one was a little trickier because logs can contain very sensitive data, so we dug into our brains and came up with a pretty simple solution: encryption. Encryption is cheap and, if you do it right, it’s easy. I ended up writing a tool called “logsup” (Log Secure Upload) and basically it does exactly what it says. First we generate a private key (which stays on our site), compress the data, encrypt the data and then upload the encrypted data to our cloud storage. The cloud storage then implements the rest of our security. We never make the files “public” and we provide no other interface into it. Secondarily, logsup writes out a receipt for the log file so we can better keep track of what file is where. No system information or other identifying information is ever stored with the encrypted file. Really it’s a simple and novel solution to what, on the surface, appears to be a big problem.

This one hasn’t gone into production yet but it will soon. It should cut our storage costs significantly and actually increase the security of our long-term stored log files. This is another instance of a practical application of old principles to supposedly new technologies. Encrypt early, encrypt often, I always say. Cloud: 2, Irrational Fear of the New: 0.

The moral of these two stories is that new technologies do not have to be scary. We didn’t have a large learning curve to implement this stuff (all done on Amazon Web Service, by the way) and while it did require a small coding effort, it was just that, a small effort. New things can be scary but you should always be willing to give it a shot with the appropriate amount of caution, of course. Security matters, performance matter, just make sure you’re worried about the right ones in the right order.

Will you be increasing the cloud’s score?

Bill Mathews is Lead Geek of Hurricane Labs, an IT security services firm founded in 2004. He has nearly 20 years of experience in IT, 13 of that in information security, and has been interested in security ever since C3P0 told R2D2 to never trust a strange computer. He is also not a cloud fanboy, but likes to apply new technology where it makes sense. He can be reached at @billford or @hurricanelabs on Twitter, and other musings can be read at

Doing business in the Cloud

SaaS (Software as a Service) can help organizations improve their processes, increase efficiencies and reduce costs. By doing business in the Cloud, it’s possible to swiftly position an organization for significant growth and increase its competitive advantage.

Here at Smart Business, our question was: How aware are small and mid-sized business (SME) leaders of SaaS, the Cloud and their potential?

To better understand this issue, as well as the adoption of SaaS by SME executives, Smart Business surveyed 1,000 of our senior-level executive readers from organizations with $50 million to $1 billion in annual revenue.

Our premise was straight-forward: Cloud Computing is growing in popularity. Organizations in the middle market have traditionally been quick to adopt new technology as an effective tool to accelerate business growth and differentiate themselves from the competition. We wondered:

  • How many companies were doing business in the Cloud?
  • What was the depth of their Cloud knowledge?
  • What perceptions – and misperceptions – did they have regarding Cloud?

To accomplish this, Smart Business partnered with SAP, whose SAP® Business ByDesign™ is a SaaS product already used by 85,000 SMEs around the globe.

What we found surprised us.

Most intriguing was that there was no clear understanding of SaaS and Cloud Computing, despite 100 percent of those surveyed – who included C-level executives, IS and IT directors and managers – saying their organizations used software and technology as a strategic tool to make them more effective and efficient.

Also, SME leaders were worried about the affordability of SaaS, believing that the costs are high and that there is no clear path to achieving an ROI.

There were concerns about accessibility, primarily whether doing business in the Cloud ceded control of an organization’s data or made it less accessible when it was most needed.

And, a majority of those surveyed mentioned their belief that SaaS held inherent security issues that put their data at risk.

Smart Business’ exclusive white paper is designed to address each of these misconceptions – and others – expressed in the Smart Business survey and dispel the myths that we found exist among SME business leaders. Get a copy of the white paper here.

And then, join us from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, for a special Webinar where we’ll present business leaders and an SAP expert, who will bust myths about the security of doing business in the Cloud. Click here to register!