The case for SMBs and different clouds

May 2, 2018 Kostas Roungeris

Over the last decade, as cloud computing has become ever more popular in the IT space, the chances are that you, as an SMB business leader, will have considered cloud as an IT or business solution. Yet, with strong links to Digital Transformation, cloud computing is usually seen as an initiative taken on by larger enterprises.

But it shouldn’t be.

The reality is, SMBs are uniquely positioned to adopt cloud services to run their businesses – in fact, they probably already do, in one way or another. And – although we often (mistakenly) refer to cloud as “scalable, flexible and cost-effective compute resource,” – it’s actually so much more than this. Cloud is not a “product” per se, or one solution to address all needs at once. In fact, there’s no such thing as “the Cloud”, only lots of different clouds, which are interconnected.

Before we go into details, let’s clarify some things.

Not all SMBs are the same

The SMB segment represents around 95% of all businesses in the world. Not that employee count has much bearing on an SMB’s IT requirements, or its approach to cloud. However, it is important to keep in mind that an SMB’s IT needs can be vastly different, depending it its vertical. An asset management firm, for example, will have different cloud requirements to that of a manufacturing company.

Business value comes from networks

All businesses function online today. Granted, many functions of an organisation don’t have to be online, but the business value comes from the interactions within “networks” – not only from connecting areas of your company but also the connections you make outside of it.

These networks can be anything from a small office – and its users – with a DSL line or multiple branches to one or more data centres, connected via a small dedicated solution.

And just like any internet or connectivity service, there are added-value options to make your life easier: from managed (or “cloud-managed”) services with centralised capabilities to virtual private networks, SD-WAN solutions, to resilient networks with failover and analytics visibility.

It might not say it on the tin, but outsourcing connectivity services offering centralised control, dashboards, and embedding security is a strong cloud use-case.

What about software?

After the network, software is probably the most critical part of the equation. Today, there’s always a niche SaaS provider somewhere that will offer functionality to fit your vertical perfectly.

If your business is just starting up, you wouldn’t go and buy software and install Office or set up an internal email server, you would simply use cloud services from the right SaaS vendors across employees’ different devices.

For larger organisations, the ones with an existing footprint of in-house productivity apps, or a contract with a vendor, the decisions around the cloud economics of Opex vs Capex – and the existing dependencies – kick in to determine the right switching point. But smaller companies have an edge because they don’t have as much legacy technology to replace or to integrate.

If your company is B2C or B2B, with customer or partner-facing apps, you are more likely to benefit from scalability and elasticity, just as a large enterprise would from public cloud hosting. Well, perhaps slightly less due to a smaller “economies of scale” effect – but who in 2018 hosts external-facing applications on non-elastic, non-scalable infrastructure, anyway?

Cloud is a platform, really

If you need to develop, or tailor, and maintain your own applications, you might want to use IaaS or PaaS on a public cloud, such as AWS, Google, Azure, or IBM, or maintain compute resources in a data centre – yours, or hosted with a partner.

Depending on the vertical your company is in, that compute resource might be a requirement to keep sensitive data stored. And this is where things get interesting with cloud. It’s what’s driving the market at the moment – the ability to leverage public cloud platform tools and microservices (PaaS), either as a standalone or as a seamless extension of your own environment to build or to extend functionality. Think Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning or sleek and agile mobile development capabilities.

Just like any other user, your developers (and whoever needs to access those public cloud resources) would need security and access. There is a wide range of “very cloudy” solutions you could deploy, which enable you to monitor and manage your applications from one location to another, i.e. from your data centre to a public cloud.

No-one really wants to manage IT anyway (and SMBs are no different)

Similar to any organisation, but especially if you don’t have an internal IT army, you may look to outsource your IT management across all the above areas to keep overheads low. And that’s why we say, “cloud = outsourcing, therefore cloud = good for SMBs”.

Gone are the days when any business would have its own server that needed to be maintained, or that needed to be fixed to deal with an outage – leaving this to experts at technology vendors means staff can focus on projects with more strategic value.

A great example of this, in addition to connectivity, is security. Cloud-managed security, that not only takes away the pain of looking after the solution but also protects all your assets across all the environments you operate.

Chances are, you’re not being targeted by hackers in some distant-to-you country, but since you and your users now probably already live in different clouds, your security has to live in the cloud as well.

In most of the cases, security will be embedded in all the areas we’ve discussed – for example, SD-WAN and cloud-managed Wi-Fi solutions – or will be integrated by the public cloud vendor in IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings. However, thinking across users, devices, data, and applications is the way to go (and all the clouds you operate on).

Therefore, just like any other business, SMBs should think about solutions that “follow” and protect the user, its device, data and applications wherever they go.

Find out more about the potential benefits that cloud computing can have for your business with Cisco's small medium business cloud solutions.

Adopting cloud computing is just part of the solution – discover more at Cisco's SMB productivity resources page.

About the Author

Kostas Roungeris

"Constantine" is a member of the Cisco Cloud corporate team, big fan of all things Cloud Computing and all the different meanings that everyone has for it. His professional experience has been always focused on the paradigm, via various product and business development positions. Born and raised Athenian, keen footballer, avid snowboarder and slope explorer; vinyl collector and piano/guitar enthusiast, hopeless wannabe band frontman; pretentious cinephile and road-tripper. You can also follow Kostas on the Cisco global Cloud and UK&I Blog.

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