Saturday, 5 March 2016

Cloud Computing Challenges in Regional Australia

Out here in the bush we have a fundamental problem with Cloud Computing. We can’t get to it! Our internet access is 3rd world at best and generally that’s being charitable. Recently I was at one of the incredibly rare Microsoft road shows in this area - we generally do not see any big companies come through here. Our regional population is around the 100,000 mark so we’re a small fish in a big ocean.

The key message being delivered by the Microsoft chaps was Cloud, cloud and more cloud. So the outlook for the presentation was cloudy. Azure, Office365 - all that good stuff. Great for Microsoft - everyone moves to a subscription model, doesn’t need onsite hardware and you pay - continuously - for ever! Some of the stats were interesting. 

Of those taking up a hosted Exchange, very few had taken up Office365. The presenter was surprised by this, but I don’t know why. We have a lot of clients using Office2010 or 2013 who have either purchased it very recently (in the case of 2013) or have specific applications or processes built around the way that Office works. They are not likely to change any time soon - the ROI on their purchase has not yet been achieved. And amazingly, some of these clients don’t want to pay for the software every month.

We have some clients, quite a few sadly, that have sub 10Mbps ADSL2+ connections who are absolutely staying away from cloud anything. All well and good to have their data in someone else’s server, but they can’t get to it! With such a crap internet connection, it’s almost impossible to upload data, let alone pull it back down. The pain for having to move to a different cloud provider - especially if the data has to come back to site first before leaving to the new hosting is going to be considerable. 

The question I didn’t get to ask the Microsoft lads was: “What is Microsoft doing to promote better internet connectivity so we can sell all your cloud stuff?” Such a large company, with fingers in so many pies - get us better internet! 

While it’s true we are Google Apps resellers, and Microsoft Partners and we do have quite a few hundred Office 365 and hosted Exchange subscribers out there, we are severely limited by the ability to provision these services.

Access is not the only challenge we have. Data sovereignty is a major issue for our clients too. They don’t believe that they maintain full control over data sitting on someone else’s servers and, quite understandably, some of our clients are not big fans of that. Truth be told, it’s a fair jump to make for someone. “Let’s put all our gold in someone else’s chest! Screw that!” - this was a message given to me by one of my clients. He viewed his data as gold and didn’t want anyone else to have control and to be fair, it’s the result of his life’s work. 

There have been lots of issues around someone else maintaining and holding client data - privacy, security, accessibility being the big three. Who is held accountable etc are all the questions we are asked many times. Microsoft have not helped their own cause with some of the stuff they’ve done over the years - anticompetitiveness and their major hate on for Linux to name two. Being a massive company that doesn’t pay it’s taxes in Australia and is US owned are more strikes against them for the purposes of this argument and in the minds of many rural business owners. These are hard things to overcome, especially when I’m asked about my own cloud usage.

I live on a farm. Can you guess how great my internet connection is? The pigeon delivering my USB of data each day is pretty fast, but nothing compared to an urban fibre connection. So by necessity my cloud interactions are controlled and largely minimal. There are plenty of business - who are in rural cities - that do not have internet connectivity as reliable or “fast” (I sniggered when I wrote that because its a 3.5Mbps connection on the best of days) as I do. No cloud for them!

Before you go hell for leather selling cloud services to clients, stop for just a moment and consider all the variables beyond what Microsoft is telling you. They want very much for you to be locked in with their model, using their servers and services for ever because then you have to pay for them every month for the rest of eternity. There are other ways and its important to keep those options alive for people. Onsite servers are not dead - not by a long shot. Let me reiterate the main point of this article - we have to provide data to our clients in a secure, reliable and accessible way. Doing so is the important part. How we deliver it is the challenge.

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