Cloud services for small business

Totheclouds-ShortThe maturity and availability of cloud services at both infrastructure and application layers reinforces my view that now can be a time of technology led transition. Many business and individuals are looking at cloud offerings with the mandate to examine them for applicability to their own requirements.

There are a few common points which might server as a reminder of lessons learnt in the past.

  • Before the term ‘Cloud’ became common parlance for remotely hosted services at the application layer, the term ‘Grid’ was not uncommon, however Grid was never really successfully pitched as platform for the mass adoption.
  • We also used the term ‘managed services’. A number of offerings currently labelled as  ‘Cloud’ may be seen as re-branding and scale-out exercises applied to ‘managed services’

Bearing in mind the above points, it’s plausible to say that in the last twenty years, we have seen something of a life-cycle in technology systems. There were moves away from big centralised IT, to build-it-yourself, managed service or Grid, and now to Cloud utilising offerings such as the Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure platforms.

The reality of this has been driven by service provider scale out leading to the growth and development of ‘Cloud’ as a model, but has also been contributed to by tough economics dictating the consolidation of tech sector jobs, supplier-manufacturers gaining insight into the advantages of owning the developers and premier experts and running their systems in-house. In essence these were the foundations of the nascent ‘cloud’ business models and we have arrived at a point where most business should be asking, ‘are we doing the right thing with our IT’.

As a small business with technology integration, there are a few ways in which to begin some internal assessments on the applicability of moving to cloud solutions, ask three questions to start.

  • Is IT your differentiator?
  • Is your IT performance critical?
  • Is there scope in your business process to leverage current cloud offerings?

Asking these simple questions can enable you to take a measured approach on how to begin forming a ‘cloud’ strategy.

There is a beguiling depth to those seemingly simple questions, if IT is your market differentiator, tread carefully and develop a conservative approach with maintenance of that advantage, at the top of your agenda.

If performance is critical, take extra care to isolate which aspects of performance really underpin your needs, and ensure you don’t move forward with a platform and model that cannot maintain performance.

Lastly, does your business process have the flexibility and scope to move into the cloud? You should include your people in making this assessment, as they will be instrumental in the success.

In the event that a flight to the cloud is decided upon, something to be acutely aware of is that moving to a cloud platform does not negate risk. You still need to determine if and when you need a particular SLA, you still need preparation for disaster scenarios, and you should still perform test those procedures, there is a potential upside, that some small businesses may obtain a beneficial risk reduction by access to better quality IT.

It is possible to visualise this balance of value, risk and complexity as shown in the quick sketch below.

ValueRiskComplexityTriangle

In summary:

Business may put competitive edge at risk by ignorance of new developments around cloud technology, and it’s capabilities.

The tide is running in cloud direction, and opportunities to get aligned with that tide abound as there is competition in the market.

There is still a long way to go to ensure business process, people are accommodated correctly, and the value/risk issues are handled appropriately.

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