Answering the Cloud Question

May 21, 2014
For many small and mid-sized manufacturers, the time to make a decision on whether to keep IT resources in house or move them to a cloud host is drawing nearer. A common first step for most is with mail hosting.

Just as many once considered Ethernet an unsuitable option for plant floor networking, using the cloud to host manufacturing applications no longer seems as far-fetched as it once did. Despite the clear economic advantages of moving to the cloud, however, a number of concerns remain for many manufacturers.

The most common questions I see brought up for manufacturers to consider as they mull this decision include:

• If we maintain hosting in-house, are we up to date on the latest security technologies required to protect our data? 
• Are our IT administrators properly trained to manage our messaging architecture?
• Can we guarantee uptime at a reasonable cost? 

According to Adam Stern, founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual, manufacturers who use dedicated Exchange server hosting can answer yes to all these questions. Of course, Stern, as owner of a company that provides hosting services and the cloud-based InfiniteERP software, is biased toward the advantages of cloud-based servers. However, his advocacy of Exchange Server hosting is supported by evidence. And many manufacturers see hosting of mail servers as a good way to test cloud hosting with a critical business function not directly tied to production systems.

“Until Exchange 2010 arrived, many organizations viewed hosted Exchange deployments with skepticism,” Stern says. “They had concerns about the security and stability of hosted options versus on-premises infrastructures or a hybrid approach.  But these concerns are rapidly diminishing.”

The issue for many manufacturers today is how to secure communication between the hosting company and the client endpoint.  Stern says virtual Exchange Server hosting can be more secure than an on-premises Exchange deployment.  

However, Stern does not claim that virtual Exchange Server hosting is bullet-proof. “No computer system is 100 percent reliable,” he says, “and when manufacturing concerns move to the cloud, the focus changes from the high availability of its own servers to redundant network links. Providers make extensive investments in uptime since their business success depends on delivering on their promises. These investments tend to be more significant than what most organizations can afford on their own.”

That’s where the primary advantage of Exchange Server hosting comes in, according to Stern, via the reduction in hardware and software costs, along with reduced staff/administration costs. 

Manufacturing organizations may also consider cloud-based email services for reasons other than cost.  “Companies may lack the in-house resources to properly support Exchange, or they may want to free up technical resources for other projects,” he says. “Ultimately, making the decision about moving Exchange to a cloud provider isn't simple, but the benefits are there for organizations that do their homework.