Cloud gives marketing firm flexibility at low cost

Toronto marketing company 80/20 Solutions wanted to control IT costs and improve its ability to add capacity quickly as it signed new clients. So 80/20 moved from operating its own servers in a third-party data centre under a collocation agreement to cloud computing.

At first, requirements in some contracts to house client data in Canada held up a move to the cloud, says Jonathan Day-Reiner, manager of technical infrastructure. When 80/20 started talking to CentriLogic, Inc., an Ajax, Ont., cloud provider with data centres in the Toronto area and upstate New York, that obstacle disappeared.

Then 80/20 started having problems with some existing hardware and it was time for a quick decision. In late April, Day-Reiner called CentriLogic to see if the company could get 80/20 cut over quickly. The transition took place May 3.

Day-Reiner was impressed when CentriLogic dealt with his company’s hardware crisis quickly, and again when the company increased processing capacity in less than a week to help 80/20 accommodate a new client. Had 80/20 been relying on its own servers, “it would have taken two weeks just to get the gear, never mind actually implementing the solution.”

Robert Offley, CentriLogic’s chief executive, says quick provisioning is a major reason small businesses choose cloud computing, because it lets them respond quickly to customer needs without paying for capacity they aren’t using.

According to a survey that research firm IDC Canada Ltd. conducted last summer, more small businesses than medium to large ones see cloud computing as important to their IT and business strategy. Paul Edwards, director of research for SMB and channels at IDC Canada, says that’s because they expect it to help them overcome some of the limitations that come with being small, such as lacking capital and in-house IT staff.

He adds a warning, though: some small businesses expect too much of cloud computing. “They think it’s going to address all their issues, which is not the case.”

While 80/20’s move to the cloud was quick by necessity, Day-Reiner would have preferred more time. “It’s great that all this stuff can be done so quickly,” he says, “but when you’re going to make that initial jump, you’ve got to plan it out.”

Applications won’t necessarily perform exactly the same in a cloud environment as on dedicated servers, Day-Reiner says. Shared storage may mean transactions against a database run a bit slower, for instance. It’s not terribly hard to compensate for this, he adds, but careful planning will avoid surprises.

Security is one of the most talked-about concerns in moving to the cloud. 80/20 encrypts the personal data that it stores in CentriLogic’s cloud – possibly overkill, he says – “we’re not dealing with financial data, we’re not dealing with anything that’s quite that critical.”

Security is an important consideration in moving to the cloud, says Philip Grosch, partner and national technology consulting leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Toronto. Major cloud providers have the resources to provide top-notch security, Grosch says, but it’s important to understand your specific provider’s capabilities.

Other key issues, he says, are ensuring your cloud contract guarantees you time and support to transfer your data if you choose to leave the provider, and addressing integration among cloud providers and with in-house processing.

80/20 is saving money – Day-Reiner says quotes on a new collocation agreement to deal with his company’s anticipated growth indicated data centre space alone would have cost two to two-and-a-half times what 80/20 is now paying.  And, he says, “I love the fact that I no longer have to deal with hardware.”

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