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Essentially, a firm chooses to slice an aspect of their own private network off to a cloud somewhere, thus creating a hybrid model having both a private, on premises cloud and a thrid party cloud (or clouds) off site. This is what many think is a hybrid cloud, but it's not; it’s what I would call a "Franken-cloud."
A hybrid cloud really occurs when there is the following:
- SSO (Single Sign On) -- where a user can use both clouds with one set of credentials
- APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) -- where the clouds communicate to one another through the use of APIs
- Seamless Provisioning/Migration -- A server and/or storage can be moved seamlessly across clouds through an interface versus actually having to move/shut down/build/etc. the storage/server on the other end/cloud
So what many firms have done lately is create a "Franken-cloud" where they have strung together non-connected parts to tell a bigger IT narrative. This, like in the story of Frankenstein, doesn't work out too well for the creator of such a creature. In theory, stringing together solutions that cure particular problems is a good thing, unless of course the solutions do not work in concert and/or dismiss the presupposition that they should indeed work in concert.
A simple way you know you have a Franken-cloud is when you have to go to multiple places, multiple times, and use multiple passwords to get through an average day. Here are some graphics to help explain the moving parts involved in both a true hybrid cloud and a Franken-cloud. As you can see, in the Franken-cloud you are relying on a few vendors to deliver a variety of resources.
In the end, philosophically I think a hybrid model could be a valuable asset for the enterprise - but that's not a reality right now (actually not even close to be being a reality for a CPA firm). Let it be clear that I am not at all in favor of the Franken-cloud model that has crept into our space. The Franken-cloud model breaks down for the following reasons:
Inefficient -- Users have to go multiple places during their day, which means wasted time and a certain level of inefficiency built into every process. These mental fidgets are death by paper cuts in a billable business.
Not Connected -- The clouds aren't connected. To get a document from one cloud to another, you have to email it to yourself or download it, then upload it into another cloud. That's just one example.
More Overhead -- You have costs to support your internal network of people, cap-x, and recurring expenses. Your third-party vendors have those same cost centers (perhaps at more scale, but still have them), plus the need to make a profit. It's simple math at this point - you are spending more in smaller chunks.
More Management -- More clouds means more vendors, more bills, more contracts to negotiate - the whole nine.
Who’s on 1st? -- When something isn’t working just right, who do you call? Which vendor can manage the issue until resolution? Where do you point the finger? It gets very confusing. When it comes to IT management, I like the adage “One throat to choke.”
In the end, I believe a whole-cloud model works best for CPA firms. This means building a cloud in-house that can serve your firm’s needs or trusting a strategic third party that can support your whole cloud strategy.
Roy Keely is the VP of Market Strategy at Xcentric, a company that specializes in cloud computing and IT consulting for CPA firms. He offers a broad range of experience in marketing, sales and consulting and is passionate about technology, productivity and market strategy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
See also his article on Top Cloud Considerations for CPA Firms