Last reviewed 15 November 2019

Cloud computing has now expanded and evolved to offer a range of hosted services. Choosing the right cloud-based services is now critical to long-term profitability says Dave Howell

Small businesses are embracing cloud services at an unprecedented rate. IDC predict 40 per cent of all spending on cloud services will come from the small business sector. Being able to buy hardware and software combinations, off-the-shelf has enabled SMEs to reduce their costs and improve overall efficiency.

However, the cloud is not a panacea. Focusing too closely on cost-cutting will dilute the robust services the cloud can deliver. The most successful users of the cloud today are taking a holistic approach and building hybrid platforms tailored to their business's precise needs.

Lee James, CTO, EMEA at Rackspace advises: “Despite technology choices being a key driver, organisational transformation mustn't be seen as an afterthought. Companies mustn't underestimate the people and process not just within IT but other business units such as HR, security and third parties. This is particularly true given how much IT projects now drive wider business transformation, not just IT transformation.”

With Udi Weinstein, vice president of information technologies, Mellanox also commented: “The ideal strategy is to find the right mix of on-premise and cloud to support your business. Here, it is critical to figure out both the average and peak demand for critical workloads.”

Ultimately, your business must use some cloud-based services. However, what is becoming clear is that a wholesale move to the public cloud won’t deliver the secure services your business needs. Here, a hybrid cloud approach is proving to be the ideal solution.

A hybrid world

A wholesale move to the public cloud is reducing, being replaced by the hybrid cloud consisting of a mixture of public and private servers and applications. In the wake of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), the SME community, in particular, is developing its approach to data security using a hybrid cloud model.

Rackspace’s Lee James says: “Hybrid cloud enables businesses to drive transformation and constant innovation. By its very definition, the hybrid cloud is a dynamic model that can scale and deliver unlimited resources on-demand. This is why we're seeing more and more businesses turning to a hybrid approach, as it offers the flexibility and agility needed to quickly respond to changing customer expectations and market conditions.”

James also warned: “However, to ensure the best results from hybrid cloud adoption, businesses need to think about teams involved. They should assign people to different projects based on their experience, keeping teams lean and agile, and ensuring there is an opportunity for individuals to own certain parts of the project.”

The flexibility that a hybrid cloud can offer your business can’t be underestimated. Today, business compete on the personalised customer experiences they can deliver to their customers. The hybrid cloud is the ideal platform to create these connections, which will must be maintained over multiple channels.

NTT Communications, in their whitepaper, suggest: “Companies use the cloud in different ways, and not everyone is at the same stage of adoption. Standardisation and virtualisation are key steps in the cloud adoption process and require validation with strategic goals and the IT department. It is often easier to deploy a few less critical workloads, then usage ramps up and the next stage can be addressed. Initial deployment of a single cloud environment can be used to assess architectural/operational challenges and benefits, as other parts of the infrastructure are developed.”

Hosting future

The goals you have for your business will form the critical elements of your cloud strategy. SMEs in particular that want to remain agile in their marketplaces, see the cloud as the core technology to deliver efficiency gains to their businesses.

Using established cloud service providers such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft will deliver the most flexibility. Indeed, many SMEs are using multiple cloud deployments from different vendors. This cloud sprawl can become unwieldy if left unchecked. Think about your business’s overall cloud strategy. This will guide you to the most appropriate services, and the best-in-class vendor.

What has become clear over the last three years is that cloud services from a network and applications viewpoint will continue to proliferate. It's effortless to buy cloud services for your business's IT infrastructure and use hosted applications as their cost of entry is typically very low. It's important to place these options within your overall business strategy. Always ask yourself the question: why are you buying a particular cloud service? What are your goals?

And, always bear in mind your existing legacy systems and applications in use. Your staff may have long experience of using your systems and services. Making an immediate change could have a massive negative impact on their efficiency and productivity. When developing your business’s use of cloud services, small steps that always factor in the human element are vital to consider.

Your checklist

Whether your business is considering cloud services for the first time, or need to upgrade and expand an existing deployment, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is your IT infrastructure able to meet your current requirement?

    Adding new cloud-services has become very easy. Think about the use cases your business has for new technology. Look for cloud services that can meet these needs, and have a level of future-proofing built-in.

  2. Can your business access the data it has to reveal value?

    The public cloud is often used as a massive hard drive to store information. This is a very simplistic approach to take. Look at your business’s data needs and how the cloud could support these requirements.

  3. Are your staff struggling with legacy systems and applications?

    The digitisation of your business begins with understanding how your staff currently use the digital tools they have. Audit their use. Ask individuals and teams what frustrates them about the systems they are using. This will enable you to develop a migration strategy for more cloud services.

  4. Does your business need to manage highly sensitive customer data?

    In this scenario, many businesses that had moved this data to the public cloud are now moving this information back to private servers. Building a hybrid cloud environment gives your business the maximum flexibility with cloud services that are also highly secure.

  5. Does your business need to meet any specific regulatory requirements?

    GDPR must be complied with by all businesses. However, companies in the financial sector must ensure their systems meet a raft of regulations. Look closely at the SLA (Service Level Agreement) for each cloud service to ensure they can meet every regulation with the services they offer.

  6. Will your business need to expand or scale any cloud services in the near future?

    Services such as Amazon’s AWS are infinitely scalable. Look for cloud services that can be easily expanded and contracted as your business’s needs change. Also, take care when buying from multiple vendors. Take some time to test these systems to ensure they all work seamlessly together.

The cloud can be a great enabler to help SMEs move their business’s digitisation strategies to the next level.

Data is the new currency of business. The cloud can enable your business to leverage that currency. However, moving wholesale to the public cloud and using only hosted applications, is for most companies, not strategically valuable. Building a bespoke cloud environment will deliver much more lucrative rewards.