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Cloud Computing for all: What SMEs need to know

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As technology advances, SMEs are gaining capabilities previously only available to larger enterprises. Cloud computing has proven to be an effective method of levelling the playing field: allowing SMEs to access a wide range of software, platforms and infrastructure as a service Put simply, by offering IT as a utility rather than a product, the cloud can offer cost effectiveness, operational efficiencies and scalability that is very desirable to most businesses. Cloud has become viable for SMEs as a means of supplying services both externally and in-house. They now need to know what they should be expecting from cloud providers and what they should be implementing in their own private cloud environments.

The cost efficiencies gained through using IT as a utility are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with the traditional model of IT. However, in order to take advantage of the cloud, SMEs must ensure the foundation of the infrastructure is not built on quicksand. In order to do this they do not necessarily need to become experts in the technologies supporting cloud, but do need to ensure the infrastructure involved is resilient and recoverable if they are to maintain business critical operations.

Virtualisation has become the key technology for making the most of the cloud and had led to the point where cloud is now a viable solution for SMEs of all sizes. Without virtualisation, implementing the vast bank of physical servers needed to underpin a strong, reliable and most importantly flexible cloud infrastructure is a costly exercise.  Virtualisation allows for more effective provisioning of physical IT resources and also provides the foundation on which cloud is based. However, like all technology the management of this virtual cloud infrastructure is absolutely critical to long-term success.

Some SMEs will have the resources and structure to make developing a private cloud worthwhile: essentially an in-house infrastructure offering services across the organisation which can bring substantial benefits in terms of increased efficiency and reduced costs when compared to the traditional IT model. However, in this case it is imperative that the infrastructure is correctly managed and protected. All the cloud services in the world are worthless if IT infrastructure is difficult to manage or there are problems recovering data in the event of a disaster.

 

For most SMEs, using cloud-based services from external providers has allowed them to minimise costs while receiving the tools they need on-demand. However, these organisations need to ensure that they are using the right cloud provider with the right tools to manage services essential to their business. When choosing a provider, SMEs need to make sure that the provider has the right guarantee in their SLAs that they are able to quickly recover data in the event of a data outage and have minimal if not non-existent impact on their business operations.

Whether implementing  private cloud or using a public service, SMEs need to be aware that the implementation of new technology means new approaches are required. Ensuring the continual availability and recovery of data in the virtual environments that form the backbone of the cloud cannot be adequately done using the same tools and techniques that have served so well for physical environments. For example, in comparison to the several hours it takes to provision a physical server, a virtual machine (VM) takes literally minutes. Without using tools and techniques suited to the environment, performing traditional management tasks such as backup and recovery, adding and removing machines, and monitoring and allocating resources can be extremely cumbersome. This has a substantial impact on business efficiency.

SMEs looking to transform their business by making use of the coud could suffer a rude awakening if they or their providers simply rely on IT management techniques designed for the physical world to solve virtual world problems. Before making any significant investment or long term commitment, SMEs must ensure their dreams of the cloud are thoroughly grounded with solid management tools and techniques.

This guest post was contributed by Ian Wells, Director, Northern Europe, Veeam Software

 

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