By Matthew Toth
In writing this, I understand that the general disdain with which the phrase “cloud computing" is treated with by IT professionals. It’s a word whose nebulous nature allows an unlimited number of definitions and henceforth, myriad solutions (infrastructure-as-a-service, disaster recovery-as-a-service and so on) carriers can claim the phrase as their own. Since this article will not define specific applications or solutions, the phrase suits the context of this article.
Technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate. Technology combines with more technology and it breeds … drumroll … more technology! So what does this mean for today’s organization that needs to stay on the cutting edge? It means that an organization needs to continually invest in the recruitment, training, retraining and retention of IT professionals. The fallout from the failure to do so will result in technological lag as they fall behind their peers that are able to utilize technology more effectively to communicate with customers, reach out to new ones, increase productivity, fully protect themselves in the event of a catastrophe or data breach, etc.
What about small and medium businesses (SMBs) that don’t have the budget or wherewithal to staff/train/retrain/retain several highly competent IT professionals? The answer is clear that they need to get outside help. The answer is shifting more towards the cloud.
Why is it shifting towards the cloud? There are many reasons, but here are a few:
- Disaster recovery — Most cloud providers will back up their applications and information throughout their own network, thus taking this off SMB’s plate.
- Scalability — Instead of buying and managing assets for applications whose needs may rise and fall, place these applications in the cloud and take advantage of virtually endless scalability.
- Security — Yes, security. For a vast majority of SMBs, it is more secure to place your data with a good cloud provider than housing the data yourself. Why? Because at the end of the day, your data can still be accessed through the Internet whether it’s stored at your facility or stored at a reputable cloud provider. Who runs a more secure operation? An SMB who may have a single firewall that may or may not be updated regularly? Or a cloud provider who has several layers of security and intrusion detection to know if the security walls have been breached?
So what’s the top reason why cloud makes sense for SMB that isn’t talked about enough? It’s the fact that this is very much an HR decision. Does the SMB want to hire, train, retrain, and retain talent that can locally support mission critical applications (CRM, ERP, etc)? Can an SMB do this? Sure. But what happens when that local IT person’s skills and knowledge set deteriorate over time? What happens when that person quits? What happens when support is direly needed and the onsite IT professional is on vacation? What happens when that IT person doesn’t set up and maintain the kind of security that is readily available with cloud providers? These concerns are lessened or completely eliminated when SMB hosts their applications at a reputable cloud provider. The cloud provider supports and manages the applications, hardware, redundancies and security allowing SMB to focus on their business. SMB can hire a local IT firm to support their operations, but getting all the right skill sets can be difficult. We also believe that this model encourages SMB to buy hardware and encourage those expensive customer site visits whose costs can quickly spin out of control.
Another wrinkle on this is the actual geography of a business. If an SMB is located in a more rural area, it may be extremely difficult to procure local IT talent that can fully support mission critical applications. It’s our opinion that placing the actual applications with a cloud provider and sourcing that cloud provider for its support structures is increasingly becoming the only way that SMB can keep up with enterprises as it relates to technology, and even more so in rural America. Is this a fairly broad brush stroke of a statement? Perhaps. And each SMB’s mileage may vary based on many different variables.
I look at this model for my own business. We host our CRM with Sugar today. For a per-seat license, Sugar hosts our CRM, supports it, backs it up, secures it and provides us with a mobile interface. Could I buy a server, learn how to support it, configure a firewall, back up my info to a secondary location and continually retrain on upcoming releases to keep my knowledge set relevant? Sure. Does it make sense? No. My opportunity cost in doing this is too high as I can’t focus on activities that drive value and increase sales for my organization. I can make the exact same argument with virtually the same supporting statements for hosting my phone system in the cloud as well.
What is becoming clear is this - SMBs had better have a plan for technologically keeping up with the Joneses. If they don’t, then they’ll have their lunches eaten by savvy competitors utilizing the vast resources available at the other end of that big cloud.
Matthew Toth, president of Collaborative Communications Consulting (C3) has been in telecom for more than 14 years, starting with WorldCom in 2000. In 2008, Toth founded C3, a brokerage of more than 80 telecom and cloud providers that provides data, voice and cloud.
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