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Editor’s Question: How can SMEs ensure they have a solid IT infrastructure?

Editor’s Question: How can SMEs ensure they have a solid IT infrastructure?

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IT executives see the talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies, compared with just 4% in 2020, according to a new survey from Gartner. A lack of talent availability was cited far more often than other barriers this year, such as implementation cost (29%) or security risk (7%).

Talent availability is cited as a leading factor inhibiting adoption among all six technology domains included in the survey – compute infrastructure and platform services, network, security, digital workplace, IT automation and storage and database. IT executives cited talent availability as the main adoption risk factor for the majority of IT automation technologies (75%) and nearly half of digital workplace technologies (41%).

“The on-going push toward remote work and the acceleration of hiring plans in 2021 has exacerbated IT talent scarcity, especially for sourcing skills that enable cloud and edge, automation and continuous delivery,” said Yinuo Geng, Research Vice President at Gartner. 

“As one example, of all the IT automation technologies profiled in the survey, only 20% of them have moved ahead in the adoption cycle since 2020. The issue of talent is to blame here.” 

Emerging technology investments and deployments are accelerating

Despite talent challenges, infrastructure and operations (I&O) and other IT leaders have increased the adoption of emerging technologies to drive innovation as organisations begin to recover from the pandemic.

Across all technology domains, 58% of respondents reported either an increase or a plan to increase emerging technology investment in 2021, compared with 29% in 2020. Furthermore, I&O functions have witnessed a reduction in deployment timelines, with all technologies in deployment expected to reach adoption within the next six to 18 months.

“This indicates that organisations feel more comfortable directly deploying new technologies to accelerate growth, rather than relying on an extended observation period to develop the business case,” said Geng.

In addition, a greater number of leaders (both inside and outside of the IT function) are influencing technology investment decisions this year, driving the trend of ‘democratised delivery’. In 2021, 82% of IT leaders either agree or strongly agree that enterprise leaders outside of IT, influence emerging technology adoption decisions across all technology domains evaluated.

 Cloud and security technologies prioritised 

Resilience and improving critical IT infrastructure are top priorities among I&O and other IT leaders in 2021, according to the survey. As a result, they are prioritising cloud deployments and investments in security technologies.

To allow the smooth movement of information between physical and virtual locations, organisations are investing heavily in creating a strong hybrid cloud base, supported by multi-cloud technologies. Distributed cloud systems, cloud access security brokers (CASBs) and cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) are among those reaching the deployment phase in 2021, with respondents stating that resilience is the primary investment driver for 63% of these cloud technologies.

Three experts below explain how SMEs can ensure they have a solid IT infrastructure which can support new technologies and the day-to-day running of the business.

Surya Varanasi, CTO, StorCentric:

Today, most small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) find themselves in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new technologies that will propel them to new levels of innovation and growth. Advancements across the digital universe, combined with dramatic changes in how we work, learn, shop and live, have driven data creation to dizzying heights. However, in order to leverage this colossal amount of data, SMEs must have a solid IT infrastructure in place capable of supporting today’s business, IT and budgetary requirements, as well as flexibility and scalability to accommodate tomorrow’s opportunities.

One key strategy many SMEs find invaluable is to partner with a trusted advisor such as a systems integrator (SI), value added reseller (VAR), distributor, etc. that can help bring order to the seemingly infinite number of vendors and virtually endless choices of current, emerging and disruptive technologies. There are numerous benefits in working with an outside trusted advisor. To start, while nobody knows your business like you do – what has worked and what has failed – they bring a fresh perspective. An outside view can assist in moving past the way things have always been done and pinpoint areas that are ripe for improvement. Next, they enable you to focus on your core competency and keep your operations running smoothly, while they plan, source, co-ordinate, implement, test and even maintain your IT infrastructure on an on-going basis. And last but not least, they are able to secure the very best price for your IT investment from proven technologies that you can trust.

Whether working with a trusted partner or managing the entire process soup to nuts, the next step for an SME is to choose technologies that are real-world proven to grow as needed, when the SME’s business and IT requirements demand, and their budget allows. Certainly, data storage is a foremost consideration. It is a prime example of one size most definitely does not fit all. SMEs should seek vendors that are known for delivering the most reliable, safe, secure, cost-effective, flexible and scalable solutions. That means the vendor’s product design must start by understanding the specifics of workloads. And because workloads can vary dramatically, the vendor should offer a broad set of storage solutions where each product has clear intent and exceptional value. Whether you require all-flash NVMe for high-performance, cost-effective block storage for backup, scalable and highly flexible NAS or compliant ransomware protection, you must be able to trust your vendor to deliver reliability and cost-effective quality.

And in today’s dynamic, highly competitive and even potentially dangerous data management environment, you must further employ a solution that empowers you to move your data seamlessly and safely to where it needs to be. The solution should support vendor agnostic data migration, data replication and data synchronisation across mixed environments including disk, tape and cloud. And it should provide the capability to transfer millions of files simultaneously while protecting data in transit with SSL encryption.

Charbel Khneisser, Regional Director – Technical Sales, META at Riverbed:

Through the pandemic, as organisations found themselves under immense pressure to adapt IT models to support rapid and dramatic changes to workforce and customer engagement dynamics, a clear solution emerged. Cloud computing, which had already gained significant momentum in the years leading up to 2020, suddenly presented the most rapid, and often most cost-effective means by which organisations could maintain Business Continuity.

Now, over a year into the pandemic, with fundamental changes to the customer and employee engagement looking set to persist, it is clear that the cloud will be increasingly important to businesses. This is especially true for SMEs for whom the costs, flexibility, scalability and ease of manageability benefits are significantly magnified. With this in mind, SMEs now need to ensure they have developed the IT infrastructure that will enable them to optimise the performance and security of cloud services.

Performance

Slow SaaS applications reduce workforce productivity and significantly impact an organisation’s ability to execute in this highly competitive economic climate. On the other hand, by improving the performance of critical SaaS applications, organisations can not only address present challenges, but also set themselves up for long-term success with the ability to rapidly accelerate time to market, increase competitiveness and drive revenue growth.

To ensure the performance of their SaaS applications, SMEs must turn to the new breed of SaaS acceleration solutions, such as the Riverbed SaaS Accelerator, which are purpose-built to facilitate fast, agile, secure delivery of SaaS applications to any user, anywhere. This ensures that even the most far-flung and mobile employees stay productive, and business continues. Such solutions can dramatically improve user experience and business outcomes by eliminating performance gaps and disruptions that interfere with an employee’s ability to stay connected and productive.

Visibility for security

To gain complete, full-fidelity visibility over the network and activity on it, SMEs must collect and record data from across the virtual enterprise to build a holistic view of their entire digital environment. Network Performance Monitoring (NPM) solutions – that are capable of gathering flows, packets and data from cloud VPCs, VDI endpoints, data centres and the traditional network border – are vital to this. Harnessing the power of intelligent analytics, these solutions create thresholds for ‘normal’ activity and proactively warn IT about outliers and suspicious looking activity. The data can also be manually analysed to identify and mitigate cybersecurity risks by helping with threat hunting, incident response and forensics.

For SMEs, the rapidly expanding cloud services market will continue to level the playing field. But these businesses should recognise that it doesn’t stop at having the right SaaS or collaboration solutions that work effectively. By embracing tools that not only enhance network visibility and performance but also maximise application performance, even small scale organisations can feel safe in the knowledge that they can maintain employee productivity and continue to innovate and grow.

S Kumar Subramania, Senior Vice President at MAST Consulting:

Businesses, especially SMEs, had to scramble to adapt in the past 12 months or so; due to COVID-19 and the new trends that have emerged in its aftermath – especially since they are likely to have a lasting impact. The next normal, and the changes it is driving, present a whole new set of challenges and opportunities; and adopting the right IT infrastructure will be essential, if businesses are to succeed in addressing such a rapid shift.

Many of these changes are the result of dramatic changes in customer behaviour. For instance, social distancing norms led to much longer queues than usual, at physical retail outlets and malls, forcing shoppers to move to digital platforms. Since the reopening of the economy, SMEs have realised that they will need to adopt advanced tech-enabled solutions that are faster and more agile to address supply chain redundancies, improve data security and implement other relevant enhancements in their operations. In fact, the COVID-19 crisis has sped up the transition, in areas such as AI adoption and digitisation, by several years.

For an SME to keep pace with such a rapid rate of change – and adopt the appropriate IT solutions to serve constantly evolving requirements – they need to provision for the elastic usage of computing resources, secure handling of business data, automation of workflows, implement dynamic performance dashboards and quantify their risks and opportunities.

The design factors that most concern SMEs, in the context of IT infrastructure, include scalability, security, governance, sustainability, budgets, effectiveness, areas to outsource, shared IT, managed services and delivery speed.

For SMEs to have dependable and robust IT infrastructure – which can support the integration of new technologies, as well as the day-to-day running of the business – they need to design the architecture to address: access control and asset management; infrastructure and data – integrity and availability; information security incident management; information systems – acquisition, development and maintenance and continuity management. They also need to document SOPs and ensure that they have effective resources to handle them. Holistic improvements in information safety and security for SMEs need to be contextualised at the organisational, workflow, information and technical levels.

Creating and setting up IT infrastructure isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be difficult either. If it’s your first time doing so, we suggest consulting with a professional to avoid wasting any resources and reduce time to market.

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