Where Is The Cloud Going For SME’s?

In my role as Sales Manager with Intuity, I regularly meet with companies who are in the process of upgrading their servers or looking at their future IT strategy. One of the most common questions I get asked is: “Can we now run everything in the cloud?”.

Nowadays we are surrounded by so much talk about “the cloud” that it’s fair and reasonable for people to ask this question. They see that practically all consumer based technical products have a cloud based offering, so why not their entire business IT environment too?

For a lot of companies, the fact is that yes they can run their business entirely via cloudtechnology. However, the reality is that each company’s setup needs to be taken on a case by case basis and analysed for its cloud suitability. There are a number of variables that must be taken into consideration that range from the ongoing monthly cost, to the applications required to run the business correctly through to the speed & reliability of broadband in their area (something Ireland unfortunately still lags behind on).

So where exactly is the cloud going for SME’s?

First of all, I think it’s important to understand where we are coming from. Cast your mind back 5–8 years when most Irish SMEs’ IT networks were based around a suite of onsite products and solutions. Traditionally a server ran the applications, managed email, stored all data with a backup onsite (usually tape). Over time, parts of the IT network have begun to migrate to the cloud to the point where nowadays the vast majority of Irish SME’s run their email via the cloud (Office 365) and have some form of cloud based backup. This was phase 1 of “where the cloud is going”.

Phase 2 focused on business applications available via the cloud – also known as SAAS (software as a service). Certain applications that traditionally had to be run onsite, were now available via the cloud. Applications like SAP or SAGE in the finance dept., CRM’s such as Dynamics in the sales dept. or even Microsoft’s own SharePoint product for collaboration. All of these were applications that a company could now subscribe to via the cloud, therefore, lowering the requirement for upfront infrastructure & licensing costs.

Yet for companies who have adopted both of these phases, most would still retain a server onsite for file storage and other technical functions such as user permissions. And so we arrive at phase 3 – where most Irish SME’s find themselves today. Phase 3 is the integration of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). It has been around for a long time but it is only in the past couple of years that it has started to gain proper traction amongst SME’s who choose to use the cloud as their full platform. Microsoft’s own cloud server platform called Azure is fast becoming a popular choice and worldwide it is now 2nd only to Amazon web services.

As part of the tec support process in determining customer “cloud suitability”, the team will analyse a company’s setup and evaluate the cloud as an option for IaaS. At this point, there are a number of key points to be considered:

  • What 3rd party applications are necessary and are they suitable for a cloud hosted environment?
  • What broadband speeds are users connecting from and does the office have a failover broadband option?
  • Does the customer fully understand the recurring costs versus the once off cost for an onsite server? (Typically, the cloud server will cost you more over the long term but on the other hand, it provides you with all sorts of redundancy that the onsite solution cannot offer).

In my experience, at this point, it is technically possible for most companies to go completely to the cloud but the actual cost of getting everything in place is what can sometimes turn people off.

So where is the cloud going to go for SME’s?

I see phase 4 involving more and more of the SME’s IT environment going to the cloud. There are a number of key factors I believe will determine how quickly this will happen:

  • The provision of better, faster broadband – especially in areas outside of the main urban centres.
  • The option of viable redundant line alternatives made available to companies to remove the over-reliance on a single broadband line.
  • The ongoing reduction in the cost of running a cloud base server will increase its attraction to SME’s. Ultimately this will be the biggest incentive to attract more and more companies to the cloud for their entire IT setup.

As these factors are resolved, more and more business applications become “cloud friendly”. Every sector has its preferred software application providers. Some sectors have been faster at moving to the cloud than others but eventually, most will offer a cloud option and this is the endpoint at which I believe a business can fully decide to run their complete IT environment in the cloud.