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How SMEs can create an effective cloud management strategy to enable growth

How SMEs can create an effective cloud management strategy to enable growth

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As many small businesses continue to adopt cloud technology, it’s important they have a robust cloud management strategy in place to ensure they are reaping the full benefits. We hear from industry experts at Rackspace Technology, Exponential-e and AssureStor, who offer their advice on how SMEs can build a truly effective cloud management strategy.

The benefits of cloud technology are widely accepted, and adoption has accelerated over the last 12 months due to the urgent need for digitalisation.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDCWorldwide Quarterly Cloud IT Infrastructure Tracker, vendor revenue from sales of IT infrastructure products (server, enterprise storage and Ethernet switch) for cloud environments, including public and private cloud, increased 9.4% year over year in the third quarter of 2020 while investments in traditional, non-cloud, IT infrastructure declined.

IDC believes the hardware infrastructure market has reached a tipping point and cloud environments will continue to account for an increasingly greater share of overall spending.

But as businesses, and SMEs in particular, rightly look to the cloud to enable business growth, it’s crucial that they take a strategic approach. We hear from three industry experts who give their take on just how this can be achieved.

Simon Bennett, EMEA CTO of Rackspace Technology

Simon Bennett, EMEA CTO of Rackspace Technology

The benefits of cloud computing are now well known in terms of streamlining operations, minimising IT costs and offering increased flexibility, scalability and security. Most businesses already leverage the cloud in some way. But what many don’t have is an effective cloud management strategy in place to ensure they are reaping all of its benefits.

Choosing the right deployment model is a good place to start, with the help of professional services consultants who can assess the current technology landscape. The realisation many businesses will come to is that the answer is multi-cloud – utilising different cloud environments that provide optimal performance for the business’ needs. In fact, recent research found that many have already come to this realisation. Whilst the majority of businesses (67%) were already either in progress or planning to move to a multi or hybrid cloud model in 2020, the pandemic has caused three quarters (73%) to accelerate these projects.

But with workloads spread across multiple environments, how do businesses ensure they are effectively managed? This is where active cloud management comes in, which can be provided by a cloud service or a managed service provider, or as Software-as-a-Service to enable independent management of the cost, reliability and performance of a cloud infrastructure.

With the help of third-party experts throughout the process, businesses can receive hands-on support for design, migrations and deployment. For example, gohenry, a prepaid Visa debit card and mobile designed exclusively for children, grew its customer base and needed to scale quickly and securely.

It migrated from existing private cloud infrastructure to Google Cloud with the help of Rackspace Technology. Now gohenry benefits from a custom multi-cloud environment – a hybrid set-up which allows it to connect its public cloud environment to private cloud to securely support its payments application.

Often benefit is found from expert third-party help and management which can help an organisations overcome internal hurdles and fill common skills gaps.

Flexibility of choice is also important, in particular for SMEs. We launched Service Blocks to enable a flexible and tailored approach to cloud management, allowing businesses to scale up or down their cloud services when required. This ultimately enables businesses to create their very own customised solution and address their unique cloud needs while maximising value.

Jonathan Bridges, Chief Innovation Officer, Exponential-e

Jonathan Bridges, Chief Innovation Officer, Exponential-e

Cloud management isn’t straightforward. It comprises a range of technical tasks. These include managing databases and servers, compliance and security and deploying applications. This can be challenging and time-consuming, and most businesses will benefit from adopting a holistic strategy to manage this complexity.

However, first things first. Any cloud management strategy must be built around a business’ key objectives to be successful. That means assessing the business’ wider ambitions and its Digital Transformation goals, and then envisaging how cloud helps fulfil them. Often this exercise will require IT teams to map out exactly how they use each of their multiple cloud environments, so they have a clear path both to achieving these objectives and seamlessly managing and optimising workload delivery.

This is where the support of a cloud management provider can be highly beneficial. They have the specific expertise to fill any gaps in skills or knowledge that may be present in-house. This means they can help with tasks such as improving cost optimisation, maximising performance and evolving the organisation’s cloud strategy in line with market and business fluctuations. Crucially, a trusted technology partner can also automate optimisation across multiple clouds and advise on future strategic decisions that might determine how the cloud supports the overall performance of the business.

Another benefit of a cloud management partner is that they will advise and support you through any migration processes. A lot of businesses considering cloud strategies have cumbersome legacy systems in place and it’s rarely advisable to ‘lift and shift’ everything in one go. For example, if data has to be hosted in a specific place for compliance purposes. This is one of the reasons why hybrid cloud strategies are becoming so popular, as infrastructure can be migrated in a phased way, mitigating a lot of these concerns and avoiding any disruption to BAU.

Cloud Management Platforms (CMPs) are best for ensuring true integration and optimisation. A CMP is a suite of software tools that supports the management of businesses’ entire cloud estates through a single screen. This can be especially useful if your cloud footprint consists of a mixture of privateand public cloud services. A CMP allows lines of business and IT teams to collectively analyse the productivity and usage of each of the company’s clouds, ensuring that it delivers on its potential.

While complex, a cloud management strategy doesn’t have to be cumbersome or difficult to implement. Opting for third-party expertise and a high-quality management platform helps maintain a smooth journey to enjoying the countless benefits of cloud.

Stephen Young, Director, AssureStor

Stephen Young, Director, AssureStor

With 2020 remembered as the ‘year of the pandemic’, it could also be remembered as the year of technology shift/overhaul where cloud services, driven by the immediate need for remote working and flexibility, became mainstream and barriers to adoption were finally significantly lowered.

Many businesses, both large and small, have embraced cloud computing as part of this shift, either in a hybrid fashion or completely, and have structured their operations around this new way of delivering technology to the business. This has required senior management to adapt how they perceive and deliver IT services. 

The first lockdown saw businesses urgently seeking solutions to allow them to work remotely, flexibly and affordably. This led to the acceleration of an already significant trend to the cloud and most businesses who took this route seem to have executed it quickly – and successfully. 

However, noticeably, we’re seeing that appropriate cloud management practices, effective data resilience, staff skills, realigned security, cloud provider scrutiny and a review of business and IT strategy, have lagged behind this important shift. With a move to cloud computing now seen as a business strategy, rather than IT, it is time to take stock of where these new working practices have taken the business and could potentially lead them.   

By adopting a cloud management strategy, many of these points will be addressed and allow smaller businesses to make well-informed decisions about expanding their technology requirements.  

A robust cloud management framework spans not just the technology aspect of a business, but also finance, operations and HR, all of which will help ensure:

  1. Costs are managed as these pivot from CAPEX to OPEX
  2. Software integration and interoperability are ensured across all platforms
  3. Chosen partners delivering cloud services are companies you trust and want to work with; it could be long-term and should be mutually beneficial
  4. Data communications employed by on-premise and home workers, is adequate and secure facilitating increased remote working 
  5. Security protects remote users and services hastily deployed – traditional ring-fenced security solutions may not scale well with a dispersed deployment of IT 
  6. Data resilience and system downtime are considered and mitigated – many cloud-based solutions do not provide backups, data recovery and resilience 
  7. Training is aligned to new requirements 
  8. IT and Digital Transformation is aligned to a refocused business strategy
  9. The business culture adapts to accommodate workers no longer at their office desks
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