As cloud computing continues to mature and develop, it is becoming increasingly apparent that one cloud solution is not suitable for all, particularly when it comes to SMEs. In contrast to bigger businesses, SMEs need scalable cloud solutions that provide them with tools and applications to help support their specific business needs. One of these requirements is keeping costs to a minimum, as smaller organisations often don’t have access to the same budget levels or resources as big enterprises.

A cloud solution that is truly bespoke and customised to the needs of SMEs and is agile enough to enable redesign, development and scale out on an on-going basis, could provide the answer that these smaller businesses are looking for.

Why customise the cloud?

Recent Node4 research reveals that 25% of mid-market companies say that their needs are overlooked by IT providers. A one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf solution will very rarely deliver maximum value to business, so IT suppliers need to deliver solutions that work for these smaller organisations. Obviously, no two businesses are the same, and every company has different needs and layers of existing IT infrastructure, so it’s important to base applications that are relevant to each business on flexible cloud infrastructure.

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

So, what should cloud providers be focusing on to deliver the cloud solutions that SMEs need? Here are Node4’s five top tips:

  1. Scalability

For SMEs, the flexibility and quality of a cloud-based solution and the individual services delivered through it are of greatest importance. These small-to-medium sized businesses need to be very sure that the solution they are getting is both scalable and built to last. One of the main advantages of a cloud-based infrastructure is that SMEs only use what they need when they need it, so scaling down is going to be just as common as scaling up. For example, a chain of hotels may need a scalable web application as its business is seasonal. They’re likely to receive hundreds of booking requests in the run up to Christmas, but in February they may only get a fraction of this. As such, vendors need to demonstrate to SMEs that they understand this constant change and should be able to provide a solution that is custom-tailored to the business’ requirements.

  1. Consultation

It’s not just infrastructure and support that SMEs are demanding from cloud providers. They also expect sound consultation, and rightly so. By using ‘consultation’ we mean real advice, explaining the benefits and constraints of each solution (in simple terms), and where mixing and matching may be beneficial. It is crucial to have the business objective in mind at all times when designing the solution that will support them for what might be 5+ years.

  1. Trusted Advice

It is becoming ever more critical for cloud providers to partner with their customers. SMEs expect vendors to work closely alongside them to find a suitable solution that works well for the business, considering all options. This is regarding what is provided, how much it costs, how they pay for it, the total cost of ownership/ROI and clarity that the individual services provided through cloud technology are correctly aligned with business needs. For example, what are the pros and cons of a usage-based model versus a subscription-based model for telephony services hosted through the cloud? A trusted advisor from their cloud provider ensures customers receive independent answers based on experience and expertise to all their cloud-related questions.

  1. Easy, simple billing

Cloud solutions for SMEs do not necessarily have to come with the large capital investment usually associated with a virtualized environment. Rather, businesses should be benefitting from the latest technologies with a simple OPEX based pricing structure. For instance, for enterprises that traditionally have cash-flow problems (e.g. building and construction companies); it may be beneficial to pay for services as they are used rather than pay a lump sum up front. This will help them get the most out of the investment.

[easy-tweet tweet=”SMEs should demand virtual environments that won’t lock them in.” hashtags=”SME, Cloud”]

  1. Say goodbye to ‘lock ins’

Some cloud solutions can make it tough for SMEs to transfer their data out when they are looking to change providers. SMEs should demand virtual environments that won’t lock them in, making it easy to change providers when required. Vendors also have to get used to this way of working. If SMEs need to add or remove certain services, or increase or decrease the amount of a certain service being delivered through the cloud, vendors should have the built-in flexibility to make this possible.

Value of a bespoke cloud

Fast-growing SMEs are continually 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 whether it delivers real value to the business.

The cloud undoubtedly provides unprecedented levels of flexibility for SMEs to meet the ever-shifting challenges they face. However, unless SMEs have exactly the right solution for their businesses individual needs, then it is unlikely they will reap 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 responsibility should be on vendors to provide these capabilities, and SMEs need to ensure that they are working with the right suppliers.