Scalability a top priority for cloud adoption
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The organisation used to be client-server driven, says Scott Gassmann, PAN’s manager of innovation.
“Everything we used application-wise was stored on one of our three in-house servers.”
The PAN team was also getting more and more mobile, he says. The CEO, for example, takes about 300 flights a year.
“We had a situation – we had an extremely mobile sales and client management team and everything was stored on a server in Brisbane.”
Gassmann joined the company two years ago, with a specific focus on technology.
Previously, when a sales member went offsite, there was the ability to synchronise CRM and email on their laptop, but it could mean a data transfer of up to 40GB was necessary.
“I had a focus to change that, and then develop our own proprietary applications for our members to use, either within their business or with their clients,” says Gassman.
It was Gassmann’s first transition to Google Apps and his fourth deployment of Salesforce.com.
“Google Apps was an easy decision,” he says. “You look at the other products in the market and none of them really stack up to Google Apps from my point of view.”
The solution is “completely cloud”, he says, in the sense that there is no client level application needing to be installed anywhere. When an employee comes to work and opens up their email, it looks exactly the same, whether they are at home, on the road or in the office.
“That could seem almost superficial, but when you really think about it, change management – in my experience – is 60-70 percent worth of the effort when you are migrating teams across [to cloud-based applications].”
Now the entire business is run on 23 cloud applications – everything from project management to CRM, marketing and automation, Gassmann says.
“Funnily enough, one of the smallest features of Google Apps has been the biggest increase on productivity for us – Google Chat.”
Being exposed to more and more cloud applications, people started realising that they actually could be anywhere to do their work, he says.
“All you need is your iPhone to hook up to a 3G internet connection, and you have access to everyone within the organisation. You can just send them a message. We’ve seen at least a 20-30 percent increase in productivity, just because we can all communicate, no matter where we are.”
The organisation has also released eight of its own cloud applications for its members. These apps aim to bring “more proactive ways for accountants to work with their clients, and be able to share that information back to their clients – all within Proactive Accountants Network”, says Gassmann. One of the apps is PANalytics, which connects to a client’s accounting system and gives the accountant business intelligence about how that client is performing. It also has a planning module that lets accountants set targets for their clients, he says.
Around 200 accountant firms across Australia are currently using the cloud apps, he says. PAN is now in the process of rolling the platform out globally, with a target to sell 20,000 licences in the next 12 months, he says.
Security is always on people’s radar, says Gassmann. But if you are going to chose someone to partner with “Google is probably not a bad choice”, he says.
“The underlying question is, what happens to your business if you don’t [move to the cloud],” he says.
You should also ask yourself if you think Google is more or less secure than your own infrastructure, he says. There is always the possibility things might go wrong, but that may happen whether you have your own infrastructure or use an external provider.
PAN used Cloud Sherpas as its implementation partner.
“With no previous exposure to [a Google] migration, deployment and change management process, it was easy to see that connecting with Cloud Sherpas would solve a lot of those problems,” he says.
“It wasn’t cost-prohibitive for us to do it – in fact it was quite attractive when we looked at the work involved and the time it would take for us to do it ourselves.
“On the day of launch, we had bean bags, chips, cricket sets and all sorts of crazy stuff going on. We knew that day was going to be a write-off anyway.”
Cloud Sherpas’ team was in the office, assisting with training and questions.
“In my history of deploying cloud applications, it was one of the easiest ones. It just worked,” Gassmann says.
Online holiday home booking company Bookabach runs three consumer-facing websites – www.bookabach.co.nz, www. bookastay.com.au and www.bookastaypacifica.com.
The company also offers property management web apps. The entire platform is hosted in the cloud at ICONZ, says Bookabach CEO Peter Miles.
Bookabach has been around since 2000 and was initially implemented in Adobe ColdFusion with a Microsoft SQL database, says Liam Donaldson, Bookabach CTO.
“We started out with shared ColdFusion hosting over at 2day.com (now part of ICONZ). As the popularity and traffic grew we needed to go from shared hosting to our own co-located servers, [and] as we added more servers, cloud hosting started to look more and more attractive.”
The company wanted to keep the sites hosted in New Zealand for “practical support reasons”, as well as for keeping network latency speeds down – about 70 percent of Bookabach’s traffic is domestic, say Donaldson and Miles. Because they were already happy with their experiences at 2day.com, they decided to stay with ICONZ.
Flexibility is the main benefit of the solution for Bookabach.
“Knowing we can ramp up our platform resources quickly if we need to – without having to purchase and setup a new physical server,” says Miles.
Any initial concerns about going into the cloud were quickly overcome.
“As a membership-based website the most important thing we can do is choose a reputable cloud hosting partner, and make sure we take all the necessary security measures at application and database level,” says Donaldson.
Being “on the cloud” also makes it easy to tap into other technologies, such as distributed storage and serving of content via a CDN (content delivery network), he says.
“It also makes disaster recovery planning a breeze, with the potential to spin up a new clone of an existing server in minutes.”
Their recommendation to other organisations that might be considering cloud is to “go for it”, or at least trial a test platform.