The hybrid model that is putting SMEs on cloud nine

Manish Sablok looks at what SMEs need to keep up with large enterprises and how hybrid is fast emerging as the favoured solution.

A recent survey by IDC Enterprise indicates 54 per cent of all enterprises are preparing to adopt hybrid Unified Communications and Collaboration by 2017, and that’s not just the big players. The new generation of hybrid UC&C platforms lets small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) protect existing investments by mixing on-premise with cloud to get the communications services they want, from data mobility and instant messaging, to video and cloud backups.

This year we have seen the near-ubiquitous nature of the services now available on cloud platforms. From backups on consumer smartphones to multimedia collaboration for large enterprises, cloud is here and is growing. IDC predicts worldwide spending on cloud services will more than double to reach $141 billion by 2019. This demand for cloud services is driving investment and innovation across the market, and SMEs are next in line to reap the rewards.

SMEs need to protect existing investment – they pick and mix with hybrid

The benefits of a hybrid cloud approach for SMEs are clear. You retain on-premise platforms to make the most of existing investment while being able to bolt on cloud-based services when necessary. With the right solution in place this can be paid for on a per-user basis – whether this is instant messaging presence, flexible multimedia collaboration or data storage.

Hybrid cloud adoption is the ideal solution. Not rushing ahead with full cloud adoption which may compromise existing investment – the too much too soon approach – but at the same time not falling behind the growing ‘cloud crowd’. By adopting hybrid, any further transition to a full cloud solution is far simpler than starting from scratch as it has already reduced the need for on-premise physical infrastructure.

SMEs need to offer employees flexible collaborative working

Today’s mobile workforce has led to a complete rethink of how employees collaborate in modern business. For SMEs, the open office culture typified by home working, geographically separated teams, and mobile workers across multiple timezones adds an unwelcome layer of complexity to providing a single point of collaboration. ‘Hot-desking’ poses a further question of how they too can adapt the traditional office layout, in which each employee might have their own PC at their own desk.

Most traditional SME-positioned communication solutions have not offered the scalability smaller organisations require as they grow and expand. This is forcing businesses to divert resources and make heavy investments in changing platforms altogether in order to continue supporting business needs. As acquisitions and mergers are becoming more common for SMEs, this lack of scalability hits home yet again. There has been a lack of cost effective options to adapt existing platform infrastructure, leaving smaller businesses at a technological disadvantage to their larger competitors.

This is the business challenge that hybrid cloud solutions address, enabling SMEs to take full advantage of flexible work options without the CAPEX investment. By picking only the functionalities that the business needs and paying for them on a subscription basis, SMEs can keep their IT footprint small at the same time as introducing productivity enhancing capabilities.

Licensing no longer an issue

The latest communications platforms address these workplace trends to a far greater extent than ever before.

Hybrid communication platforms tailored to SMEs are now looking to simplify the licensing of new users and devices, eliminating the previous requirement to pay for separate licenses for different devices which drove up the total cost of ownership. This new-found flexibility allows SMEs to maintain a cost effective ‘pay per license’ model to minimise the cost of enterprise class IT capabilities. It also provides the ability to rapidly onboard new employees and their mobile devices without any significant administrative effort or major infrastructural costs.

SMEs need the security of backup and support

A key aspect of the hybrid approach is the ability to keep ultimate control in-house, but shift the burden of service maintenance and support to the provider. So for SMEs, it is important to make sure any hybrid UC&C solution brings with it remote management and support – on demand.

Downtime means lost business. Network and communications redundancy is simply an unwelcome extra expense that few can afford, meaning there is zero room for network downtime. Hybrid cloud removes much of management and maintenance burden facing SMEs which may lack some of the IT skills available to larger companies, instead tasking the solution provider with maximising uptime.

An emerging trend for hybrid solutions is the use of remote management to ensure uptime for SMEs, in which solution providers can remotely access the network to provide support and troubleshooting. Hardware and software is updated remotely to eliminate maintenance delays and ensure security from external threats – and multi-year support contracts mean SMEs routinely benefit from major security and functionality updates.

Levelling the playing field

Taking into account the current business needs for SMEs, hybrid cloud is the perfect approach to take. You can maintain on-premise systems for when more control is needed over secure local services, and adopt cloud services capable of supporting enterprise collaboration tools. This puts SMEs on a technological par with the largest enterprises who can afford to invest millions of dollars into full cloud services and support – making them equally as competitive and productive.

For many SMEs with limited IT budgets, cloud is shifting from being unfeasible or overpriced to a model capable of addressing major current business needs. The hybrid approach plants one foot firmly in the cloud-based future, but maintains tried and tested on-premise infrastructure.

Manish Sablok is head of field marketing NWE at ALE.

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