By Eric Wilson
Small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are more informed than ever about the nature of cloud computing, but are also presented with new decisions to make. A scant few years ago the cloud was a simpler place. Cloud service providers (CSPs) were still struggling to explain the basic advantages of cloud hosting and server virtualization, such as scalability of resources and global mobile access, while at the same time trying to alleviate concerns over cloud security. As of 2013 with the majority of SMBs either utilizing some aspects of cloud-based computing or already completely migrated, some companies still contemplating the cloud may be experiencing the feeling of being left behind. Is the cloud the inevitable destination for every SMB?
The fact that basic cloud benefits are more widely understood than ever is unlikely to be of much relief to businesses on the fence about the cloud, as the lesser-known products and services offered grow exponentially. With so many choices where does the SMB begin? Is it best to start with the provider? With well-known multinationals vying for every piece of the proverbial pie already out there, all the way down to the oft underfunded provider startups throwing in with everything they can, what is the SMB to do? Will the multinational care about a comparatively smaller company? Can this small provider offer the security measures needed? Does this mid-sized provider have the track record, infrastructure and services required? What are the quantifiable differences in infrastructure and services they provide? The decision of which CSP to work with is undoubtedly the most important decision to be made, but it is only one of the first in many to come.
As CSPs continue to expand the products and platforms they offer—some looking to carve out a niche they specialize in, some looking to offer as wide variety of products as possible—it has become more difficult for SMBs looking to make the move to the cloud to establish just who in the business is the right fit. This also can be seen as an advantage, as the perfect fit is more than likely out there for any SMB looking to the cloud for solutions. The first thing to tackle is to have an idea of what kind of services should be outsourced. Most likely it is a lack of capital for expensive infrastructure or a need for greater compute power and global mobility that encourages SMBs to look to the cloud for cost-effective solutions. Get an idea internally where the business can improve and grow. If outsourcing is the next logical step then it would be prudent to investigate what products are available both known and unknown.
This is where a CSP worth their weight in salt comes in. When working with an upper-tier CSP regardless of their size, SMBs should expect to be dealing with engineers that know the business inside and out. Not just all of the technical aspects on their end, but also what will be applicable to the specific needs of the client. Talking to a sales representative that understands a few of the products they offer is not going to cut it. There is far too much at stake. It also helps to collaborate with an engineering department that has worked with similar business models before. The working relationship with a CSP that actually knows something about the SMB’s model can not only assist in the initial needs, but also help plan for later developments and aid in avoiding previously experienced pitfalls. A few CSPs have areas that they really excel in—perhaps even offering products or advice particular to an SMB in a way that no other provider out there can. This level of engineering expertise is also indicative of the grade of infrastructure they provide.
There are also the personal aspects to consider. Do you like the contacts you have with the CSP? Is there an initial feeling of a collaborative atmosphere? Is there a genuine sense of comfort and trust? It may not be written about as often, but personality has played as big of a factor as any in important business decisions; gut feelings go a long way. Having a comfortable working relationship is essential and one of the main reasons that comparatively smaller CSPs get the business that might normally default to the larger multinationals. They are also more likely to build personal relationships with clients and more willing to go the extra mile.
As far as cloud inevitability for the SMB is concerned, it is unlikely that every “ma and pop” business on the planet will find total cloud integration to be a necessity, but the effects of global cloud migration are unavoidable. It is important to understand trends not only in a particular business and how to stay competitive, but how global shifts in business practices will affect the SMB in the future. At this point cloud growth is not just driven by the fundamental benefits of cloud computing, but also by much larger forces, including new laws allowing for governmental or nationally overseen agencies to move data and applications to the public cloud.
In part two of this series we will take a look back at the basics of cloud computing. We will also explore what is happening in government regarding data migration to the private sector as well as the difficulties larger institutions with governmental restrictions like those in health care are experiencing in the attempt to take advantage of cloud solutions. These national and global developments have a wide-range of effects on SMBs and the cloud—for the most part positive—as developers scramble to offer more products that are not only cloud-friendly, but increasingly niche-oriented to appeal to an even wider circle of businesses.