I had the pleasure of recently interviewing Zubin Gidwani about the cloud and what it means for Dynamics GP users. Zubin is a GPUG All Star and founder of Dynamic Budgets, which is a budgeting, forecasting, and reporting solution for Dynamics GP and NAV. He was once a GP user customer just like you and is always on the lookout for streamlining and simplifying processes. The following 5 answers are Zubin’s responses to some questions to help us better understand the cloud and its direction in our work environment today.
1. What is the cloud?
The cloud is just a term really pointing to internet-based resources. So instead of you trying to run an application, a database, a Windows machine, etc., in your local corporate environment, it really just generically refers to transferring those items and using something that is based on somebody else’s machine and paying for it as a service.
The cloud is just basically anywhere outside of your building. So, point to your WiFi connection, point to your internet connection, and it goes up somewhere into all the connected servers across the internet. You have Amazon, Microsoft Azure, you have private and public clouds, and applications as a service and things like that. There’s a lot of different terms regarding platforms as a service and applications as a service. Things out there like SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), etc. It’s just a matter of a mix and match. Basically, the cloud in general refers to an internet-based service that you would turn to.
2. What is an important variable to keep in mind when considering the cloud?
What we’ve seen with a lot of our customers is that those that were already set up with remote access capabilities (that they had a Citrix or terminal server environment established), had a smooth transition, but only if they were used to a large number of their employees working remotely.
For those that had remote capabilities for a few key executives or financial analysts who would occasionally work from home, maybe just nights or weekends, they had the physical access, but they had limited connections and limited physical licenses to log into something called their VPN or the remote terminal servers.
Or one of the challenges that they had was that they had their networks optimized for all you employees sitting at your desks but only occasionally surfing out to the internet when you’re inside the building. They had an internet hosting plan that gave them fast download speeds. However, if you wanted to be able to stream music or go to the websites and retrieve information, etc, they had a minimal plan on terms of uploading data to the internet (how often are you uploading files to the internet versus downloading files).
So when you work outside of the corporate building but need to access corporate building data, you’re now leveraging that upload speed to be able to retrieve data from the corporate building. So when you’re working from home and trying to access GP from home, you’re coming in over that slower upload speed. So basically you’ve now reversed the nature of physically being inside the building. For IT teams, the first thing that they needed to do was go renegotiate their contracts with their internet providers to try to get more speed, if it was available. Maybe it wasn’t available, or maybe they only had 10 licenses for people to work outside of the office, and all of a sudden they needed 50 or 100. There were impediments that people ran into. If you were working in the cloud already, you didn’t have to worry about how fast your upload speed was with your internet provider; the cloud hosting providers had already worked that out. It’s just part of their business. You don’t even have to worry about that, so speed wasn’t an issue. Connections were just a matter of if you had more people working remotely, maybe you have to pay for some more accounts, but it was much, much more seamless for people who were already in the cloud to make that transition.
3. How does security work in the cloud?
So, in this day and age, I don’t think working/hosting your data, running your applications, etc., from a cloud environment versus from your corporate environment is much different. I think you have equal risks on both sides. You want to make sure that you’re comfortable with the security measures that your hosts have in place. But if a hacker is motivated, I think they’re going to mole their way through, tunnel their way through either a corporate environment or a hosted environment equally. Now the question is how many people do you have in your IT security department dedicated to trying to prevent hackers from coming in? Is it the CIO who happens to do that as one of his myriad of tasks, or do you task a support person to occasionally watch and monitor security? If you were hosted with a company like Microsoft, they may have an entire department or division dedicated to that. They are constantly building out tools and constantly focused on that.
When you’re working with the Azure environment, they’ve recently rolled out an advanced security management option that you can pay to add on to your accounts where they will do advanced monitoring of your services and try to identify potential breaches, potential hacks, or potential vulnerabilities and make suggestions. I’m not completely familiar with all of its inner workings, but again, just kind of keep it simple: how many people do you have in your own IT department completely focused on security and do they have adequate budget, adequate hardware, adequate software to be monitoring this full-time? And if not, would you be in a better position if you had another service that was better equipped to do so?
4. Does the cloud equal more productivity?
Generally, I would say, as an oversimplification, is that it would generally be faster and a little bit more seamless. It just depends upon how you need to access an environment. The benefit to a company is that you are now no longer investing in hardware and no longer have to be worried about hardware upgrades every X number of years. If you find that your machines are running slowly, an IT manager can go into the account, change a setting on the portal, and all of a sudden you have more RAM, you have more computing processors allocated to it, simply on the fly changes. Those changes can be made during the day and during the week. If you process checks on Thursdays and you know that you need double the computing capacity, maybe Wednesday night, they double the resources on the box. So, when you hit the print checks button in GP, it doesn’t slow it down for everybody else. And then the Thursday night, they can slow it back down for the calm periods over the weekend, et cetera, and not have to be charged for the extra computing power. There’s so much more flexibility when you’re working in a virtual environment on these cloud servers, that the employees will see the benefit that you can do this variable configurations and speed things up, slow things down, when you need it, when you don’t need it. And then the newer versions of these technologies is actually automatically monitoring the demand. So, if you had switched your environment to automatically change its resources and automatically become a bigger, faster computer when you need it and then slow it down when you don’t need it, or even turn itself off at five o’clock when the last person goes home, you might not even be charged overnight for this machine who will put itself to sleep. So, there’s just a lot more things that you can do that you can’t do with traditional machines. And the end benefit to the employees is generally a better, faster experience.
5. How do you decide to move to the cloud?
Unfortunately, I don’t see the Coronavirus going away anytime soon. I think the availability of the vaccine is going to take a while, arguably six months if some magic ability to replicate and create and mass produce a vaccine becomes available. I’m hearing estimates as far as 12 to 24 months out before things would return to a more normal state. So, if what we’re experiencing currently is the new normal, you just have to look back at what is your experience now? We have a lot of customers who are still struggling with slow connections, slow inbound connections to the corporate environments. And if that was the case, what are we going to do to solve it? Do you need to buy more licenses? Do you need to change your internet hosting plan? Do you need to buy a bigger box, a faster box? Do you have the capital/the cash reserves to be able to put forth big capital investments right now to improve your infrastructure versus should we just export this out to a third-party service and pay a monthly bill for that privilege? So, I see a lot of some people are already in a position to be able to do this, but a lot of our customers are not, and it’s becoming a more and more attractive option. A lot of companies are going to be more willing to embrace work from home conditions more frequently and hopefully that changes their attitudes about it. And then if our attitudes change about working conditions and working remotely, the IT has to be able to adapt to be able to support that and in certain circumstances it may be easier to outsource that service.
Thank you to Zubin for his time on this interview. If you have further questions regarding the Cloud, feel free to reach out to him at email@example.com if he can provide you some top-level guidance or feedback as to some of the things that he has seen over the years and some of the things he is currently doing with his own systems.
If you’re working with a GP consultant, he would recommend that you can turn back to your GP consultants to ask them for some guidance, as to what they think the best strategy might be and go forth from there. Your partners have a wealth of information, and they know some of the options. They know some of the idiosyncrasies of your systems and see how it might be able to transition.