Honestly, today's SMBs, they don’t know they’re born. Previous generations had to get up at the crack of dawn to clear a parking space on the off chance that the telecoms man would turn up, after which they’d make tea for the photocopier engineer - then find time to head to the IT shop. There they’d have to carry the box of software and printers home, unpack it and install it themselves. By contrast, today’s youthful businesses can get everything, from apps to infrastructure, hosted for them. But will they do it? No, they just don’t want to.
They give all kinds of excuses for not going to the cloud, which boil down to five basic arguments. Migration fears are often blamed, but they also identify security, performance, costs, migration and their future as potential issues. In the current climate, SMBs do have much to worry about that many of today’s big companies didn’t have to deal with when they were small. Let’s examine the validity of their objections in turn.
Small businesses will cite compliance issues, the danger of downtime and fears about the various types of conmen (hackers, virus writers, phishers and so on) who inhabit cyber space, as reasons not to do cloud computing. These are all types of insecurity complex.
“There is no reason why virtual machines running on a properly configured cloud infrastructure will not be just as secure, if not more secure, than a dedicated server,” says David Barker, technical director of colocation and connectivity supplier 4D Data Centres. There is a growing trend for local cloud computing providers to host your computing in local data centres, so there is no need to worry about data being subject to foreign compliance laws. You also have the reassurance of knowing exactly where your equipment is, and you have a ready made IT department.
Worries about downtime and the availability of service are perfectly understandable and all part of the insecurity that SMBs understandably feel, says Chris Baldock, MD at service provider Inty Cascade. “They’re all valid, unless you choose the right, trusted IT provider,” he says.
All good in theory, but small businesses want convincing. The reality is that SMBs are already proving the concept of the cloud with apps like payroll, CRM (with salesforce.com) and telephony (Ring Central), says Kapil Raina, director of products at Zscaler. “Security is simply another service,” says Raina. If that’s not enough, SMBs can look for assurance from affiliations with standard bodies like the Cloud Security Alliance.
Performance is the next biggest worry, and this is expressed in terms of computing, connectivity and support usually. It’s all very well having service level agreements, but policing and enforcing them is another matter.
The amount of computing power and connectivity available is trickier to prove, judging by these sentiments from Catalin Cosoi, chief security strategist at Bitdefender.
“The issue of service availability and reliability is much more complex,” says Cosoi, “responsibility is shared between the cloud provider and the in-house admin team. This is bound to create friction. But cloud infrastructure tends to be more resilient than whatever an in-house team can set up, simply because of their scale and experience.”
While your raw computing power and bandwidth can be monitored, the support you need is another issue altogether. The fears that paralyse SMBs with indecision are typically these, according to Zscaler’s raina. Am I a small cog in a big wheel? How important is my business to them? “Opt for a provider that targets SMBs, demonstrates good account management and offers solid technical support,” says Raina.
Businesses have tended to believe that the hidden charges involved with software licenses and renting resources will ultimately mean that they pay more, according to 4D’s Barker. This is where the IT industry’s reputation precedes it.
‘It’s too expensive for us’, is an argument Simon Yeoman, general manager at Fasthosts, is familiar with. Small businesses argue that since they only need to buy new servers every couple of years, they will be we’re saving money.
Strictly speaking they’re not, he says. “Having to overhaul your entire on-premise system every couple of years will cost a lot more money than paying a monthly fee to a cloud provider,” says Yeoman. In addition, an SMB will save itself money by not having to pay for an in-house IT expert. The financial director will appreciate the lack of capital expenditure.
Migration is another reason not to go to the cloud. Who can blame a company for that? It’s only the IT industry that likes so-called disruptive technology. “The thought of someone lugging your company’s crown jewels from A to B will always be a daunting one,” says Inty Cascade’s Baldock.
There are a few cases of cloud migration gone bad too, he admits. So the buyer must ensure their prospective provider has the expertise and experience of dealing with a company like theirs and can transfer of service with minimal disruption.
“A disproportionate amount of time will be spent putting in place a test plan and a safety net,” says Baldock. Still the audit of the business processes alone could be worth it.
The reality is that moving to the cloud generally is much faster than migrating to another on-premise solutions. The best thing is you can test them on a few select users. “Cloud based services lend themselves well to doing beta trials and rolling that process into production,” says Zscaler’s Raina.
But can SMBs get out of their cloud as easily? The fear of being locked into a service they can’t escape from is still vivid among potential cloud computing customers. Which is explains the next reason for not using cloud services.
Freedom of choice
After years of suffering from incompatibility of systems, users are very wary of new services. Years of being frustrated by PCs, Macs and smartphones, all of which have rival systems they don’t like to work with, have made the consumer wary of getting the same treatment from a cloud service provider, once they become the proprietors of the SMB’s systems.
“The debacle associated with switching ISPs has done little to assuage this fear,” says Baldock. A good service provider must be happy to discuss this ‘what if’ options and explain the process before you sign a contract.
“Cloud is ripe for the SMB market, but many are yet to take the leap, citing valid reasons for not doing so. It’s down to the industry to do a better job alleviating SMB fears and to demonstrate a clear understanding of this market's specific needs,” says Baldock.
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