Special Note: My “new year” column usually ends up being my February column, which I write in December. The start of a new year is also meaningful to me, since my first Tech Talk column appeared in the January 2001 issue. I’ve now been writing each month for 18 years.
The challenge of writing a long-running column is coming up each month with something new, interesting, and ideally, useful. Nominally, the topic of Tech Talk is the intersection of business (the focus of the magazine) and technology (my area of expertise, although tech is so far-ranging that no one should claim to be expert). I often fail at tying business into the equation because every business owner approaches technology differently. Someone who is tech savvy has a different perspective than someone who is tech averse, so I welcome and encourage your feedback. In the meantime, thank you for maintaining my status as the longest-running Northbay biz columnist.
What’s my number one recommendation for the New Year? Don’t do it yourself anymore.
There was a time when you had to run software yourself. There was no secure, public internet, no way to provide remote access to software. Now, almost every application you need to run your business is available in the cloud. Office suites such as word processing, spreadsheets, email and calendaring are available from both Google (G Suite) and Microsoft (Office 365). Quickbooks Online does small business accounting, and NetSuite does the same for larger businesses. Everyone offers some form of file sharing, so no need to run an in-house file server. Slack has become the established way of communicating within teams and companies. And these companies take care of the details such as backing up your data, and ensuring those backups actually work.
Sure, you’ll still need some form of IT support, internal or third party, to manage your individual laptop and desktop computers, and ensure network access. But the need to run in-house servers to support your business applications and processes is, except for highly specialized applications, well on the way to being obsolete. For example, the company I work for relies primarily on Google’s office suite. We use Atlassian Confluence for internal documentation, Slack for in-house communication (I rarely e-mail my teammates anymore), and another Atlassian application, JIRA, for tracking issues with our software. We support thousands of users who play our mobile games using Amazon Web Servers, which run our backend game software. We wrote that software ourselves; it’s our business after all, but we let Amazon worry about the hardware it runs on.
A common worry is that a cloud-based service will become unavailable just when you need it most. Of course, that’s also a problem for locally based services if you’re thinking clearly about it. The difference is that you believe, possibly without good reason, that you have more control over assets you own. I’m willing to bet that for most companies, a cloud-based provider has a better recovery plan for outages than you do. They expect it, and are constantly working to avoid it. For example, the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for G Suite promises 99.9 percent monthly uptime. Worst case, that’s 44 minutes of downtime, based on a 31-day month. But in my experience, G-Suite downtime is non-existent. When we have problems, it’s because our connection to the Internet is having issues, not G Suite.
I wouldn’t have advocated migrating to cloud-based business applications a few years ago, but advances in browser technology, especially Google Chrome and the death of Internet Explorer, and improved network speed and reliability, coupled with cloud apps that are every bit as capable as their desktop counterparts (without the hassle) make it a no-brainer. I used to write my columns using Microsoft Word on my laptop. I still use my laptop, but now I use Google Chrome to type my column into a Google Doc.
The other argument against moving towards cloud-based applications is always, “It ain’t broke, so why fix it?” There’s some truth to this: change always entails risk. Given that, will we ever see the end of desktop software? It’s rare that something, which provides value, goes extinct. And now that the network allows the delivery of desktop-based software essentially for free, a major driver of obsolescence (cost) has been removed. A desktop can devote all its resources to a single app, but the total resources of the cloud will always be greater. The biggest obstacle now is software, which can harness those resources. It’s a different way of thinking, but certainly one that is taking hold everywhere.
I’d love to hear from those of you who think that they can’t possibly move to the cloud, or from those who have and now regret it. If you’re one of those, drop me a line at email@example.com. Help me out and let me know what you’d like to know about technology as it affects you or your business, or just why you’re happy with the tech you have now.
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