20110928-Abizcover-0101Wednesday, September 28, 2011
By Erin Z. Bass

Local tech experts say the future of data storage is in the cloud.

Since he entered Lafayette’s technology scene by founding Planet Symphony in 1994, Doug Menefee has been making a name for himself. In 1995, his company gained national attention when it staged the first-ever Internet video broadcast of Mardi Gras. That same year, Menefee sold Planet Symphony to The Graham Group and another company that was eventually acquired by Yahoo, but it wasn’t the last Lafayette would see of him. He led Graham Group’s convergence of traditional and interactive media and founded another company, Menefee INSIGHT, before landing at the Schumacher Group in 2005.

As CIO of the fast-expanding emergency room staffing company, Menefee is in charge of processes and equipment for almost 1,500 employees across the country and 3,000 contracted physicians (Schumacher ranks No. 2 on ABiz’s list of the region’s largest privately held companies with $439 million in annual revenues). Menefee was specifically hired to help overhaul Schumacher’s IT services and has since led a multimillion dollar initiative to upgrade and replace all of the company’s systems.

Instead of just purchasing a bunch of new equipment and software, Menefee turned to cloud computing. A buzz word in the tech industry these days, the “cloud” is quickly becoming a preferred method of data storage for both small and large companies.

“It’s an environment in which your data does not physically live at your geographic location,” explains Menefee. “I’ve kind of led this charge inside of Schumacher group in leveraging cloud services for business continuity and disaster preparedness because of hurricanes in our area.”

While cloud computing does offer greater stability, especially in the event of a disaster, it’s advantages don’t stop there. “One of the driving principles, and why I’ve been a heavy leader of it, is that instead of having an IT professional maintain the server environment and the architecture of those servers, you can take and refocus your resources on really optimizing the applications and being innovative.”

Menefee is taking a hybrid approach to data storage at Schumacher, using a cloud for about 85 percent of processes but still maintaining a data center with servers for large file storage. Schumacher also uses web-based applications like Salesforce, Workday, Host Analytics and Google, which essentially operate out in a cloud rather than in a program on your computer and are set up to help businesses with functions like planning, payroll and management.

“For example, two years ago we needed a new financial budgeting and forecasting solution,” says Menefee. “We deployed Host Analytics to 150 managers in a three- to six-week period of time. Had we done it with an on-premise solution, it would have taken longer just to install the server.”

Lafayette company Aristotle’s Alexander acts as a third-party vendor for cloud services. Founder and CEO Christopher S. Hebert says he sees a lot of companies jumping on what he calls the “cloud bandwagon” and believes there’s a need for these types of services in the local market. “What we realized is it’s really a game changer for lot of companies,” he says.

From a cost standpoint, Hebert says using a cloud can make a huge difference in a company’s bottom line, especially for small businesses. “You generally pay for resources as you use and when you use them as opposed to building your own infrastructure,” he explains. On the software side, companies pay by subscription instead of having to purchase an expensive license up front.

“There’s no one size fits all cost reduction,” adds Hebert, “but there is the opportunity to take a product to market in days to minutes rather than months.”

Hebert says he gets asked about cloud services often but that many business owners are concerned it’s just the a trend that will fade. “There’s a lot of interest, but folks are having difficulty getting beyond the hype and seeing the real business value,” he says. “We help them navigate beyond the hype and get from cloud conception to actual implementation. It’s definitely a viable long-term solution for many organizations out there today.”

Menefee suggests that businesses first identify what problems they need to solve and compare on-site solutions to those available through cloud services. For those concerned about security, he advises they think about processes in their daily lives that basically operate the same way.
“Travelocity, Facebook, gmail … a bank is a software service provider, so consumers use it every single day,” he says. “It’s really about bringing it into enterprise and releasing control of the infrastructure.”

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