Although small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are aware of the benefits a cloud-based IT infrastructure has for their business, some are still reluctant to implement cloud services for several reasons: they still have concerns about data privacy and security and lack of trust in cloud service providers (CSP) with regards to continuous availability of the rented infrastructure. But more than these, complexity is a big factor: where to start and which provider to use. Despite these concerns, cloud services do offer many advantages and can solve several problems for SMBs. One of the main benefits being that companies can focus on their core business as cloud services are immediately available. In addition to this, their implementation allows better collaboration as the services are available anytime and anywhere and also require no financial CAPEX investment due to pay-per-use pricing models. This also means a company does not need to invest in their own hardware and additional staff to maintain the system in-house. Finally, SMBs can respond much more individually and flexibly to dynamic resources claim.
Important decision criteria
It is possible to operate all IT services in the cloud. The challenge for most SMBs is to find a Cloud Service Provider (CSP) that fits their needs. In general, a reliable CSP should have already established itself on the market for several years. Extensive technical product features, a current product portfolio and certified security standards ensure that the CSP is trustworthy and experienced in this sector. The three major decision criteria an SMB should seek in a CSP are:
- Reliability: Small businesses should look at whether they have positive statistics on continuous availability disposable and how they manage. They should also consider whether the provider is a start-up company or part of a well-established company. The financial stability of the CSP should be also taken into consideration. Evaluating reliability from a technical perspective means the infrastructure should have a stable availability in order to guarantee a customers´ project is always accessible. Professional cloud service providers, for example, have implemented technical measures to ensure continuous availability when there are power supply disturbances and have DDoS attack prevention implemented to guarantee availability
- Security is also essential, although the level of security depends on the industry. Financial services require a higher security level than just a hosted website. Nevertheless, every SMB requires a secure service where unauthorised access to data is prohibited. With regards to data protection laws, it is highly recommended to choose a provider that offers a local data centre in your country which also means a better performance. A majority of companies expect that their data – especially when stored in the cloud – underlie local data protection standards.
- Easy to use: CSPs can offer so many technical features that businesses might feel overwhelmed. The best product, especially for SMBs is often the one that has an easy to understand user interface with exactly those enterprise features that are needed.
Important requirements: generally and technically speaking
Besides the major criteria, some general requirements should be considered while selecting a CSP. A company should develop its own checklist but nevertheless, a couple of things should be mandatory:
- A short contract period allows customers to change the provider quickly if this is needed. Be aware that often the best price is only available when you commit to a long term contract – meaning, flexibility is lacking.
- Pay-per-use: Meaning you are only billed according to the actual use. A transparent and accurate cost tracking is important. Check what is included in the price and choose preferably a CSP that includes unlimited data traffic. This prevents a higher bill in case the number of visitors on your website increases seasonally.
- Price/performance ratio should be considered during the selection process for your CSP as well. A very affordable solution which lacks features is not the best choice as many additional costs can occur and increase your monthly bill. On the other hand, a very extensive solution that has a lot of features included but which you do not need for your business is also not the ideal solution. Therefore, you should have a deeper understanding of your specific requirements and the relative price and decide accordingly for a CSP that offers the best price/ performance ratio for your individual case.
- Local language support on multiple channels is required. Fast and reliable help should be available via phone, chat, e-mail or also on the popular social media channels
- Certifications like ISO 27001 confirm a provider’s high-quality infrastructure from an official side.
- Independently conducted performance testing is also a good indication of a CSP being a reliable partner.
Going a little bit deeper into the technical requirements, the following technical features should be included in a cloud service:
- An up-to-date virtualization technology–it is important for SMBs that they can rely on a stable and market standard solution.
- Short provisioning time makes sure the service is available rapidly. Nothing is more annoying than waiting hours or days before a service is available.
- The latest storage technology should be used – for example, SSD/SAN based storage is significantly faster than traditional HDD storage and guarantees a quick response time for each project.
- Increasing resources as needed without downtime is a massive advantage as one does not need to re-start the systems once resources like RAM, CPU and storage are topped up.
- Integrated backup options are necessary to back-up the system – many CSP offer those features as an add-on feature but at least a simple backup solution should be available free of charge.
- Shared storage is a good feature to exchange information between the Virtual Machines (VMs) of a cloud server. It saves time and money, as the data only has to be stored once and can be used for multiple projects.
- Load balancing distributes data requests across multiple servers allowing consistent access times for website visitors.
- If you want to automate your cloud infrastructure yourself, check if a fully documented Cloud Application Programming Interface (API) is available that allows you to integrate your own software.
From a business perspective, the cloud is the most suitable solution for SMBs to store and process their data. If you have chosen a CSP, the cloud is easy, fast and reliable with many technical opportunities that were previously reserved for large companies from the enterprise segment. SMBs can concentrate on their core business and the specialists at their CSP take care of the infrastructure 24/7 – a service that an SMB could never usually realise without massive investments. On top of that, lower costs and scalability offers new freedom.