Cloud Coverage

By Thomae, Joe | Journal of Property Management, July/August 2009 | Go to article overview

Cloud Coverage


Thomae, Joe, Journal of Property Management


IREM Member shares software strategies for economizing your tech budget

Until recently, our company was like most small- to medium-size companies in terms of its computer technology infrastructure. Our e-mail was managed via a Microsoft Exchange server; our corporate data was housed on another server within our network; and we gained remote (out-of-office) access via a Citrix connection. There were some firewalls and routers thrown into the mix to complete the system. This is a very common server architecture, yet it is expensive to build, takes very specialized training to manage, and must be updated periodically as new Internet threats appear, or as holes in its software are exploited. Furthermore, servers- like all computers- age and break down over time. Because servers typically run 24/7 without rest, they might last only 3 to 5 years, depending on dozens of factors.

At my company, we were at the point when our servers were aging enough that we began looking for solutions for replacements. To accomplish this, I first solicited bids to replace the existing servers and migrate e-mails and data from the old system to the new. I walked away with sticker shock. A four-year analysis of anticipated server costs and maintenance came in at $320,000! This analysis assumed several conditions that were unlikely to happen: (1) no increase in our maintenance costs; (2) no increase in the cost of replacement servers in 4 years; (3) no disasters. In other words, the $320,000 cost estimate was low, probably by a factor of at least 15 to 25 percent. I therefore began searching for an alternative that would be as reliable but more cost effective.

CLOUD COMPUTING

I found the solution in cloud computing, also called Software as a Service (SaaS). You may not know this but you may already be practicing cloud computing. For example, do you use Yardi or Onesite for property management? Is your payroll done with a common outside payroll service? In each case, you are cloud computing, or using other people's servers to run software that they own, update, manage and maintain instead of running it on your computers in your office. All it takes is an Internet connection. The best news about cloud computing? A fiveyear analysis showed a cost of just $40,200 for using two cloud computing applications that will replace over 95 percent of our server architecture.

E-mail server

In spring of this year, we completed our transition from our Exchange e-mail servers to a cloud computing e-mail service and document provider. We migrated approximately 150,000 e-mail messages as well as all folders and contacts for 50 users. Not a single message has been identified as lost. The migration will allow us to retain all of our e-mail addresses, all of our old e-mails and all of our contacts. The cloud service has a calendar that is more intuitive and more easily shared then the Exchange calendar we were using.

The few issues we did run into included archived e-mail files stored in odd locations on the network, which had to be manually migrated to users' in-boxes. A shared contact folder with an odd file path did not make the automatic migration either but we were able to fix it manually.

We did extensive training with our staff to prepare them for the change to the new product. It helped ease the transition: There were a few users who needed crash-refresher courses on some aspects of the new products, but over 90 percent of the staff made the transition with few or no questions. …

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