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Bringing in a new era: Going beyond public and private cloud solutions

Tom Hassan

Digital Marketing Executive at Node4

As Cloud computing has matured and developed, it is becoming clear that one Cloud solution is not suitable for all. This is particularly the case for SMEs.

Unlike large corporates, SMEs need Cloud solutions that give them specific tools and applications but they don’t have the budget or resource to develop their own private Cloud.

For an SME, a fully-fledged private Cloud solution is likely to be too much of a cost burden or simply overkill considering the actual needs of the business and its employees. At the same time, businesses with tight IT budgets may need a scalable solution to trial before committing to a more complete package.

Rather than taking all encompassing private Clouds, SMEs increasingly need and expect Cloud solutions that are truly customised to their specific needs, are redesigned and developed on an on-going basis, and can be scaled to match the changing needs of the business.

Many SMEs realise the financial sense of using Cloud services, but are confused and perplexed about how to move off their existing solutions or to integrate Cloud elements into their existing infrastructure. According to our own research, 68% of technical decision makers in UK SMEs believe using Cloud services would make businesses more innovative. Nearly three quarters of the respondents agreed that moving to a fully Cloud-based infrastructure is inevitable.

This article will set out how only bespoke Cloud infrastructure solutions can deliver maximum value. It will assist IT professionals with finding the best combination of applications and tools that are going to support their business, help them win against competition and better serve customers. And finally, it will help vendors establish what they should provide to deliver the real flexibility businesses want from Cloud solutions.

Why customise the Cloud

No two businesses are the same. Every company has different needs and different levels of existing IT infrastructure. The benefits of Cloud-based infrastructure are well documented and in our experience IT managers have moved away from questioning the benefits of the Cloud as a concept. The real focus has shifted onto the specific applications, services and data that are delivered through the Cloud.

Basing the applications that are important to each business on flexible Cloud-based infrastructure, means that they can also be customised to meet the individual needs of a business. So, it’s not just about customising the Cloud, but how flexible Cloud solutions allow other IT services to become more bespoke.

With businesses thinking much more specifically in terms of the flexibility they want from specific applications and services, one-size-fits-all off-the-shelf Cloud infrastructure solutions can rarely deliver maximum value and businesses are entitled to expect more from their IT supplier.

Whether SMEs need a single development server, a load balanced dual-site set of web servers, a comprehensive Disaster Recovery strategy or a private virtualised environment, vendors should be providing more bespoke solutions so that an SME and its employees get exactly the right balance of services to suit their individual needs.

So what are the key things Cloud providers should be providing to deliver the Cloud solutions that SMEs really need? Here are Node4’s 5 top tips for Cloud providers:

1. Scalability

Cloud-based solutions are becoming more sophisticated all the time. For SMEs, the flexibility and quality of the solution and the individual services delivered through it are paramount. They need to be sure that the solution they are getting is scalable and built to last. One of the key advantages of a Cloud-based infrastructure is that SMEs only need to have as much resource as they need at any one point and so scaling down is going to be as common as scaling up. For example, a local hotel may need a scalable web application as its business is seasonal. Vendors need to demonstrate to SMEs that they understand this.

2. Collaboration

It is becoming critical for Cloud providers to work far more collaboratively with their customers. SMEs are entitled to expect a provider to work alongside them to find a solution that suits them in terms of what it provides, how much it costs, how they pay for it and that the individual services provided through the Cloud are in line with business needs. For example, what are the advantages and disadvantages of a usage-based model as opposed to a subscription-based model for telephony services hosted through the Cloud? Collaboration ensures customers receive answers based on experience and expertise to all their Cloud-related questions.

3. Consultation

We are moving towards a market where SMEs increasingly demand (rightly so) Cloud providers to offer sound consultation as well as infrastructure and support. By consultation we mean real advice explaining the benefits and constraints of each solution in simple terms and where mixing and matching may be advantageous. Businesses may require advice on whether Cloud-based infrastructure is the best way forward for them, and if so, how much emphasis should be placed on Cloud-based services. Furthermore, having concluded a Cloud-based model is most appropriate; businesses may wish to consult with the Cloud provider on the best architecture for their solution in order to meet the specific needs of their organisation.

4. Simple billing

Cloud solutions for SMEs does not always have to come with the large capital investment usually associated with a virtualised environment. Instead businesses should be benefitting from the latest technologies with a simple OPEX based pricing structure. For example, for enterprises that traditionally have cash-flow problems such as building and construction businesses, it may be beneficial to pay for services as they are used rather than pay a lump sum up front and potentially not get the most out of the investment.

5. No more ‘lock ins’

Some Cloud solutions can make it difficult for SMEs to transfer their data out when they want to change providers. SMEs should be demanding virtual environments that won’t lock them in, making it easy to change provider - and providers have to get used to this way of working. Furthermore, vendors should be ensuring that their customers are not locked into using certain solutions packages – if they need to add or remove certain services, or increase or decrease the amount of a certain service being delivered through the Cloud – providers should have the build-in flexibility to make this a possibility. Moreover vendors should be sensitive to a business’ existing infrastructure and provide a solution that protects existing services while migrating customers to a Cloud-based environment.

Value of a bespoke Cloud

Fast growing SMEs across the world are evaluating Cloud services as a tool for reducing costs, limiting risk and providing the flexibility they need to run their businesses in a fast paced, technology driven workplace. Ultimately the test for any Cloud solution is asking: does it deliver real value to your business?

The Cloud undoubtedly provides unprecedented levels of flexibility for SMEs to meet the ever-shifting challenges they face. But unless SMEs have exactly the right solution for their business’ individual needs then it is unlikely they will get the full benefits that the Cloud can deliver.

This means going beyond the accepted limitations of private, public or hybrid solutions and entering a new era of truly customised Cloud solutions. The onus should be on vendors to provide these capabilities and SMEs need to ensure that they are working with the right suppliers.