By Dawie Bloomberg, Managing Director of Green Apple IT
Cloud computing offers many benefits for the Small, Micro and Medium Enterprise (SMME), including the ability to access the latest technology to optimise business efficiency, improved scalability and flexibility. On top of these is the advantage of moving this technology from a capital expense to an operational expense with a monthly bill for services instead of a large investment for technology infrastructure and software. However, connectivity is critical to leveraging cloud services. Without stable, fast and reliable connectivity, cloud solutions and all of their benefits remain inaccessible to the SMME. Organisations wishing to move to this model need to address the foundations first, to ensure that cloud solutions deliver on the expected benefits and function optimally.
Cloud computing effectively eliminates the need for businesses to have infrastructure and servers on site. Using this model, SMMEs can instead access infrastructure owned by a hosting provider, leveraging economies of scale and reducing the footprint of equipment on site. This in turn lowers power consumption and reduces the amount of physical space that organisations require for technology such as servers. This is particularly effective for distributed small businesses, as instead of requiring a server at each site this can all be pushed into a central cloud.
Hosted services tend to be more secure than on premise solutions, particularly for small businesses, as they can leverage the latest enterprise grade security technologies and methods. Hosted providers also utilise more stringent enterprise level physical security, as well as adhere to best practices with regard to redundancy and dual power supplies. This is particularly beneficial to the SMME, which works on tight budgets and often cannot afford to maintain this enterprise grade level of solution in house. The infrastructure required to deliver these services can be very expensive, which puts it out of reach for the majority of SMMEs. However, using the cloud services model makes IT and technology solutions more affordable for cost-conscious businesses, improving cash flow and ensuring more predictable expenses along with improved services.
The benefits of cloud computing for the SMME are clear, and connectivity remains the only barrier to entry with regard to accessing these services. While availability and affordability of bandwidth has improved dramatically in recent years, balancing speed, availability and cost remains an issue. Organisations need to fully understand their needs and the available technologies to ensure that bandwidth and connectivity support their cloud objectives.
When it comes to connectivity there are many options available for SMMEs, each with their own pros and cons. ADSL is the most popular option for businesses, as it is cheap relative to other options and provides acceptable speeds and availability. However, ADSL has is challenges such as stability, cable theft and outages to mention a few, forcing organisations to explore other options, and when lines go down they can take time to repair and get services back up and running. 3G and more recently 4G or LTE connectivity is another popular option as it is prevalent in most of the country. However it is more expensive than ADSL, and for enterprise use does not provide the levels of stability often required. Other available options include satellite, WiFi and Metro Ethernet, which have a high price point relative to other technologies, as well as the relatively new microwave links which offer high speed stable bandwidth but which are not available in many locations outside of city centres.
In order to achieve the maximum ratio of uptime, reliability, stability and speed, organisations should look at obtaining an ADSL router which provides automatic failover to a second ADSL line, a 3G line or a microwave link. These routers are available with two or more WAN ports which are able to aggregate several lines of different technologies and provide auto failover between the lines for an improved user experience. This enables businesses to also incorporate multiple ADSL lines into a single connection with failover to another technology, to ensure that connectivity is always up and running and will not impact a business’ access to services.
These solutions can be tailored and scaled to meet the needs and budgets of the SMME, making them highly affordable. However in order to make maximum use of connectivity it is vital to firstly understand exactly what the needs of the business are from the outset. This will be determined by the type and number of cloud services that need to be accessed, as well as the number of users who need to access them. This will then ensure that the right mix of connectivity options can be put into place at the right price, with failover capability for maximum uptime.
Partnering with a specialist consultancy service can help organisation to ensure that they assess their needs accurately and can take advantage of solutions that meet their needs and budget. A consultant can also help to ensure that the cost of implementing cloud solutions and the connectivity required does not outweigh the benefits of these solutions. Understanding the business case for cloud computing is a critical aspect of success, and a consultant partner will be able to assist organisations to do this effectively.
Cloud computing typically delivers a more cost effective path to accessing technology, with a scalable, pay per use, flexible delivery model that suits many budgets. It also delivers the ability to test out new features and functionality without extensive capital outlay. However connectivity is critical to accessing these services, as without a stable Internet connection the user experience will be poor and access to information will be compromised. Connectivity is the foundation of cloud computing, and must be adequately addressed before any move into the cloud is even considered.