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Cloud management for SMEs 

Cloud management for SMEs 

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Intelligent SME.tech spoke to industry experts about how SMEs can take a strategic approach to cloud management. 

More and more SMEs are adopting cloud technology, such as multi-cloud networks, for business benefits. As such, they can maximise efficiency and streamline productions, getting ahead and tackling the competition straight on. As the cloud has grown in popularity, it has meant that businesses are more readily flexible and scaling up for SMEs is easier than ever.   

Intelligent SME.tech spoke to three industry experts about how SMEs can take a strategic approach to cloud management, they offer their thoughts below… 

Geoff Barlow, Technology Practice Lead – Strategy at Node4 

Nowadays you will be hard pressed to find an organisation that isn’t embracing a multi or hybrid cloud model – large or small. As environments have evolved, so has the diversity of hosting infrastructure, be that private cloud, public cloud, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Hosting decisions are also being based on many more factors than in the past, including location, service responsibility or alternative cost models. There are clear benefits to this approach but one of the major downsides is huge complexity when it comes to monitoring, governance, compliance and cost management across these sprawling estates, or simply having the breadth of skills required to support multiple platforms (especially in today’s labour market). 

The major cloud providers have been aware of this challenge for some time and are fighting over control of ‘the edge’, where their services can extend beyond the traditional geographic bound regions. This has led to more integrated solutions being brought to market for managing workloads anywhere using existing tooling. This is an area SMEs can take huge advantage of when it comes to cloud management moving forward.  

Offerings, such as Azure Stack HCI and Azure Arc, can provide centralised management of workloads not only in the public cloud but in any location. Likewise, they offer the ability to push governance and compliance standards to workloads outside of public cloud, which in effect, gives a holistic ‘single pane of glass’ experience. These more integrated solutions also offer the ability to deploy common PaaS and serverless services onto hardware outside of public cloud regions, all while using the standard APIs and management tooling. Leveraging these offerings can help to greatly reduce the complexity SMEs are faced with when trying to manage their multi or hybrid cloud estates.  

Cloud management is anything but simple and the offerings available are only becoming more specialised and complex. SMEs often lack the in-house expertise to manage the sophisticated multi-cloud opportunities that are available to them. Weaving in the support of a cloud-led managed service provider into the initial cloud management strategy means SMEs can reap the benefits of specialised technology and on-hand subject matter experts that would not otherwise be freely available to them in-house. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Node4 echoed this where 87% of mid-market organisations in the UK intend to spend more on managed services this year.  

Tom McVey, Solution Architect, Menlo Security 

Every year more and more businesses see their previously stable and secure perimeter dilute and shift into the cloud. The services and applications they used to host safely internally are now publicly available websites with built-in web applications. And employees, who once always used the IP you expected, have left the comfy office environment and network behind and are now scattered far and wide with just home Wi-Fi router and VPN. Each has their own set of challenges and requirements that need custom solutions from IT. Even the directory, the single source of truth, the heart of an organisation’s network, has upped its roots and moved to sunny Azure to retire. 

It’s no surprise that SMEs are feeling a little lost with the cloud. This monumental shift in cybersecurity has proved difficult for even the largest of organisations. There’s no turning back, but there are strategies SMEs can use to make the transition as smooth as possible: 

Embrace the flexibility the cloud has granted you 

Gone are the days of struggling to employ people, the whole nation is now your talent pool. Connecting a new starter in Aberdeen with the team in London has never been easier. 

Start with security (don’t add it later) – and make sure it follows users to the cloud 

Many businesses are still using tools and solutions designed to protect users in the office. Often, IT teams provided a stop-gap workaround, such as a VPN to run external users through an on-premises security appliance. Move your security architecture to the cloud and you will find improved performance and efficiency over backhauling traffic to the office. 

Don’t lose sight of the biggest threat 

It’s prudent to be aware of your data footprint with SaaS applications. Risk assessments can grant visibility into what information is stored with which company and what the impact might be if their applications are breached. But remember that the most vulnerable vector is still the user. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) stated that human error was the cause of approximately 90% of data breaches. With users now interacting with more sites, tools and applications than ever before, and having left the relative safety of the LAN, CISOs are pushing for cloud-based security solutions that have no compromise.  

Be security aware of others you do business with 

Understand any third parties that need access to your cloud infrastructure and ensure that they are also part of your strategic security plan. 

Noel O’Grady, Director, Ireland, Sungard Availability Services 

Cloud technologies are mainstream, these investments are rooted in the ability to achieve more business agility and shows increasing recognition amongst companies of the importance of cloud adoption to boost business performance.  

With a solid cloud strategy, companies can confidently make effective decisions, charting a direct course through migration, transition and reaping the many benefits that the cloud offers.  

Here is what I believe are three key elements to determining a successful cloud strategy for SMEs: 

  1. Decide what the end goal is 

It is key to have a clear destination in mind before embarking. It must be the responsibility of business leaders to establish a clear cloud strategy and identify the goals and outcomes they hope the chosen cloud will deliver.  

Organisations require a clear vision for future direction and all strategic decisions must be based on this. So, when deciding on outsourced cloud solutions, business leaders must select a vendor whose processes, procedures and abilities best fit their objectives. 

  1. Know your IT estate 

IT estates may include a variety of platforms such as colocation, on premise and clouds and a careful analysis of each application is required before choosing a path to take.  

When it comes to migration, in some instances it will be straightforward. In other cases, the application can be refactored to allow for the new environment. Businesses must evaluate whether the best option is to keep the application ‘as is’ and either continue to run it internally or look for a hosting vendor that can support it in its current state along with cloud offerings. 

  1. Understand the advantages of different cloud types 

Companies must choose between private, public and hybrid options. In defining a cloud strategy, it is critical to understand the differences in operation, management, scale and security for each of these routes.  

Business goals should drive cloud choice, not the other way around. For example, a hybrid cloud solution that helps match the IT estate requirements against different end-states that could be the shortest path to a best-fit solution for some businesses. However, others might want to prioritise a scale out for application, in which case a public cloud would be the best fit.  

Establishing the full picture 

Understanding the complete business picture is the key to developing a solid cloud strategy. For business leaders and IT teams, it is key to choose the right partner and technology that can support them now and, in the years, to come.  

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