Freeform Dynamics recently looked at the role that private and public cloud services play, both today and in the future.
We saw that most companies are keen to keep their IT in-house, but wish to optimise it to become more dynamic, orchestrated and automated by moving to private cloud architectures and operations (Figure 1).
These companies tend to view public cloud services as a tactical play, making use of them when needed but not moving their existing workloads out of their environment en masse.
But this still leaves a significant minority of companies that might be willing and able to run the majority of their IT through a public cloud or third-party hosted service.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with their quick and centralised decision-making, are the most inclined to adopt and use the public cloud to deliver the majority of their IT. Even here, though, the figure is still low overall, at around one in five seeing this happening within three years (Figure 2).
Is a positive sign for public cloud providers that SMEs seem to have a reasonable appetite for their services, but despite a strong initial uptake, around 70% believe it will take a long time, or might never happen at all.
From previous and ongoing research, we can identify certain areas that, if addressed, can make things simpler and more attractive for small businesses to grow up using public cloud services. We informally call the delivery of IT services without using internal resources, servers, storage, applications, etc, "the infrastructureless office".
Too many choices make for difficult decisions
Companies today typically need to buy many applications to cater for their back-office, productivity and collaboration needs. These have traditionally been licensed from a range of discrete software suppliers, such as Microsoft, Sage, Intuit or Adobe.
The market for public cloud services is typically arranged along similar lines, where different services may be bought from a number of separate providers. These may include those listed above, with the addition of providers that are solely cloud based, such as Salesforce.com.
This results in the tyranny of choice syndrome, where the decision-maker can be overwhelmed by the range of services on offer. It can be really hard to nail down what service does the job effectively, and can easily dissuade the decision-maker from proceeding.
Simplification for SMEs
This is an area where cloud providers or local integrators and resellers can try to simplify things for the SME market, by providing a suite of pre-integrated application services targeted for explicit verticals or country-specific conditions. The advantage is that additional services can be added to a subscription quickly and easily, with a minimum of integration by the customer and with a single billing relationship.
It may have been difficult, if not impossible, for a single software supplier offering on-premises software to pull together the range of software that small businesses want or need. But a service provider or delivery partner can work across multiple software suppliers to do the pre-selection and integration required for a "cloud suite".
Download resources on cloud computing from the Computer Weekly library
- Computer Weekly buyers guide to cloud computing
- Cloud Software Spending Survey 2012
- Computer Weekly buyers guide to optimising networks for cloud computing and virtualisation
- Computer Weekly buyers guide to SME IT
- Cloud computing for business
Cloud migration should be easy
Another problem many SMEs face is that there are few people around with time available to trial or optimise things, and many are not dedicated to IT. IT decisions are often made by business people who have to juggle priorities and whose attention is not really focused on IT.
To use public cloud services, they need the transition from what they currently use to a cloud offering to be quick and painless. In many cases, however, cloud service providers do themselves no favours by not having automated import or setup tools.
This may sound strange, but even suppliers of on-premise software often fail to consider the migration path to their own cloud offerings. Freeform Dynamics experienced this when it was looking to move from the desktop version of a mainstream accounting platform to the same supplier's cloud offering.
A stumbling block was that there was no easy-to-use or supported migration path between the two. Historical data and reporting would have to be split between the desktop application and the cloud service, requiring the old app to be maintained on an old PC.
This clearly mitigates some of the advantages that could otherwise be gained, such as much better backup and resilience, and ending a dependency on the app being installed on one particular PC.
Delivering cloud services through resellers
And this brings us to the final consideration, which is the sales and support model of the cloud. Newer public cloud providers often make the mistake of trying to go direct to all their customers, bypassing the SME IT channel.
Meanwhile, the IT suppliers with established channels have often caused conflict between their boxed offerings and their cloud services, which have caused channel partners to continue focusing on product sales rather than selling and supporting cloud services.
SMEs like to buy from local resellers they know and trust for software from global providers. We’re seeing the same preferences when it comes to cloud.
Probably the most important thing to encourage cloud adoption among SMEs will be for the major cloud players to engage properly with the established SME IT channel, particularly in finding a cloud-neutral way that enables them to support the full range of customer deployment needs.
Andrew Buss (pictured) is service director of Freeform Dynamics.
This was first published in February 2013