Appetite for the cloud has increased immensely throughout the business community over the last few years, with the widespread availability of mobile devices and Wi-Fi prompting professionals to look to cloud-based apps and computing models that enable them to work on the go. Yet while enterprises with large IT departments have dedicated time and resource to cloud working, smaller businesses have had to forge their own route – in some cases with trepidation. So what are the biggest barriers to cloud in the SMB? And what should smaller firms think about when making a move?
A recent survey by the analytics firm ComScore confirmed that the reasons many UK SMBs are yet to move their business applications to the cloud are because they are afraid it may create problems around data security and are concerned about reliability. Apprehension about cloud can stem from an underlying fear of change. Rather than considering the flexibility and potential productivity gains cloud computing offers – especially in terms of bringing remote access to shared documents and applications – reluctant SMBs often perceive the cloud as being too high tech, insecure and costly.
From a technical point of view, one of the biggest challenges businesses face is how to mix cloud computing with their existing IT assets and infrastructure. As with any new business investment, the starting point should always be to establish specific business requirements and objectives, along with any perceived risks. From here, the business can decide which cloud model offers the best chance of achieving these objectives and is likely to make the best fit for the business.
A public cloud model relies on a third-party for servers, data storage and applications. As this is a shared model, it is one of the cheapest options. However, the main disadvantage is that data is not stored by the firm and therefore could be more exposed to certain external security threats. Depending on the nature of the business, this may also raise compliance issues. In order to ensure legal regulations on data storage and transfer are followed and satisfy the regulator, key questions to ask are: Where is my data located? How is it going to be sent to the cloud? How is it going to be secured on that cloud?
For these reasons, some firms opt for a private cloud model which is implemented within the corporate firewall. The main benefit of this approach is that businesses retain control of the IT infrastructure but can access their systems in ‘the cloud’. However, this is also generally more expensive and time-consuming for the internal IT team, which is why the private cloud model is predominantly deployed in large enterprises.
For small businesses, a self-hosted ‘private’ cloud can be both a secure and affordable route to cloud computing. Unlike traditional remote access tools which essentially allow just one user to view their PC remotely, new technology can enable SMBs to virtualise applications and PCs. In turn, this allows multiple users to access business applications and desktops remotely – in a similar way to private cloud.
Rather than being forced along the private cloud route, this is ideal for companies with offices in several locations, or for third-party providers such as accountants who need access to their servers. Team members can remotely access their data and any applications they need, such as Excel or QuickBooks, from any device. Whereas the cost of cloud-enabling a large, internally-managed data centre can make the private cloud model prohibitive for larger enterprises, the fact that small businesses don’t have this existing infrastructure effectively works in their favour.
Applications stay running on computers and servers that are in the office and the data remains on site. External connections are supported by high-level encryption which is provided by the solutions provider. Only authorised access is permitted, while any remote activity is enforced against the existing office security systems. From a productivity perspective, if the internet goes down, only remote workers will be affected and it is business-as-usual for those in the office. In contrast, using a public cloud model, loss of connectivity results in all workers being unable to access their applications and data.