A New IT Model for a New World: Cloud Computing Apps

by Guido Marchetti

Small businesses have been struggling over the past few years with the demise of the Celtic Tiger.  Gone are the days where they could invest significant amounts of hard earned cash in the latest version of Small Business Server or its equivalent.

Over time, small businesses have become reliant on technology as it has enabled them to offer an enterprise-class window to the world and to do more.  However,  over the last two years, their efforts have been concentrated on battening down the hatches and trying to survive.  During this time, IT assets are aging – depreciating with time and the capital cost of a technology refresh is climbing steeply.  In fact, these costs are already well beyond the reach for most SME organisations.

A dark cloud is looming with the fear that this technology might fail.  IT partners are encouraging an upgrade sooner rather than later,  as the technology itself will become more of an administrative headache for them too, resulting in increased service cost to the business.

But, with every cloud comes a silver lining.  And in this case it is within the cloud that we might find the answer.

Cloud computing and cloud computing applications have exploded over the last 12 months and have been heralded across all media spectrums as the next disruptive technology – a technology which is going to fundamentally change that way we purchase and use IT services.  This has led to an eagerness to learn but has also created its fair share of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt.  So what is cloud computing and how can it help?

What is cloud computing?

Put quite simply, Cloud Computing is the use of business software hosted in a datacentre that is charged on a per user basis, for example Microsoft Office 365. This delivers a change on two fronts for the Irish market place across SME and large enterprise sectors.

It challenges the traditional purchasing model of capital expenditure, where we invest heavily in hardware and software and in some cases end up writing some of that investment off. Let’s not complicate this by trying to point out that you double the investment to deliver High Availability of systems.  Let’s keep this as simple as possible.

Negating the need for capital investment, we simply pay as we go on a monthly basis which is scalable, reliable, accessible and cost effective. For the enterprise space, companies continue to benefit from the high standards of technology delivery that they would be used to but can reduce costs on replication and deliver higher Service Level Agreements.

For the SME market we are now delivering enterprise technology and availability at a small user price, enabling them to have all the benefits of enterprise level technology without the large cost and the necessity for in-house IT skills.

Let’s take the example of a small business currently using Microsoft Small Business Server 2003.  To protect the continuity of their systems, they would now have to look at upgrading to Microsoft SBS 2011 and making a similar investment to what they did 5-6 years ago (longer in some cases). This needed VPN technology to get email, or SSL certs for email delivery.  Most SME companies use Sage 50 which also runs on that server too. That is a lot of eggs in one basket.

How would it work?

Under a new hybrid model, we can completely redesign the IT infrastructure of that small business with clever on-premise server technologies such as Windows Server Foundation and SBS 2011 Essentials (designed for cloud integration) coupled with cloud services to deliver email, collaboration and communication tools (Like Microsoft Office365) and finance packages such as Sage that are also now online.  This delivers a breadth of feature-rich productivity tools that small businesses could not afford to deliver in the past.  It also changes how we as a company work and how we allow our employees to work.

This is a cultural change that we will start to see take root in the Irish market over the next 12-24 months as more of these solutions move to the mainstream.  These technologies will allow us to securely access our email data, financial data, share files and communicate in more cost effective ways without adding complexity to our IT systems and needing an IT degree to access data that we need.

Cloud services for the first time in the IT industry do not focus on the “T” of “Technology” but rather on the “I” of  “Information”. Information is our intellectual property and it is that information which allows us to engage with our colleagues, clients and partners. To be able to access this information on the move from any device without having to manage the complexities of an IT network in the back office is ultimately where we want to get to – allowing ease of access and ability to work smarter.

That is clever computing; that is cloud computing and that is why more and more companies of all sizes should investigate if cloud services are a fit for them. Some companies will embrace cloud computing; others will hide behind misconceptions of security concerns but most companies will find that cloud services will keep their business just one step ahead of the competition.

IT made simple without the pain.  Sounds like a great idea to me.

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