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Cloud Strategies for the SMBs

In my consultancies more and more SMBs are emphasizing that the cloud is for the big guys and the cloud solutions are unreachable for them. When I dig deeper, I find out that the SMBs are either not doing the math correctly because they are making mistakes in comparing cloud offerings or making wrong assumptions. Let’s see the cloud landscape from an SMB perspective.

SMBs are making assumptions on their own and the assumptions are not necessarily correct. The first one is about the service levels that they are receiving. The claim is that they do not need the 99.99% availability from the cloud service provider. Although I can say that an SMB does not need the uptime and availability of a bank or a busy container terminal, I cannot agree with the “slack” service levels. SMBs operate in competitive environments as the large enterprises but they cannot enjoy the economies of scale that comes with the high levels of production. Similarly, they cannot enjoy the discounts and other freebies that large enterprises enjoy. You get the idea. SMBs cannot think themselves as “second class” or settle for worse. Their struggle is bigger and they need the acceptable service levels and support they need.

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Another assumption is about exaggerating the cloud. SMBs think that cloud service providers have an unmatched expertise and knowledge that they do not have to employ an IT professional. Not so. Although there are the cloud services, even turn-key solutions, IT expertise is different. There are still the administrative issues such as installation, configuration, migration, troubleshooting, training etc. that should be carried out by an IT professional. SMBs cannot rely on the cloud vendor for all of their IT issues.

Next, SMBs tend to think that they are not subject to the same compliance requirements as the large enterprises. After some years of consultancy, I still cannot believe I am hearing this. It may follow that smaller institutions are less frequently visited by the authorities and auditors compared to the large enterprises. But they are subject to similar, if not exactly the same requirements as the enterprises. In my country, Turkey, all businesses, irrespective of their sizes, have to keep e-mails for five years, to be presented as soon as possible when required by the authorities. That means, even you are an SMB with – say – 5 personnel, you still have to have access to 5 years back: authorities do not care if the e-mails are online, offline in a USB disk, on a NAS drive or on a tape drive; they care if you can present them or not. Following that, treating yourself as an inferior company will, not may, have serious repercussions.

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In some ways I agree with the SMBs, especially in bandwidth and storage issues, where the prices can rise up above the clouds. These two are the biggest concerns for my SMB clients.

Although my personal preference is clear-cut solutions, there are times where I need to apply some hybrid solutions. This is one example. My clients are concerned about the shaky Internet connection, which in turn impairs access to the files. E-mails are more or less manageable thanks to the mobile devices; people can work on e-mails from their smartphones but cannot work on complex documents. That leaves us with access to the files and backups. My choice in these scenarios is to go with a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that has Internet connectivity. Many NAS devices today allow users to install additional applications and many online storage providers have their own applications. With this flexibility, I am able to address all the concerns: on and offline access, backup and with an incremental amount, offsite backup (something like SkyDrive Pro, CrashPlan or Box).

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Today, there are cloud connected NAS solutions but tomorrow there will surely be more services that address these hybrid concerns and provide the SMBs with the tools they need. With that excellent news, SMBs have to reconsider their assumptions and carefully plan their steps.

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