Jun 12 2014

Are Small Businesses Overlooking the Cloud and the Internet of Things?

An IT expert weighs in on what many SMBs are missing out on by forgoing or not investing enough in emerging technologies.

With decades of experience in IT analysis spanning DataQuest, Giga Information Group, Forrester Research and a who’s who roster of top-name tech companies, Rob Enderle, president and principal of the Enderle Group, offers one of the most valued perspectives in the industry.

A quick scan of his most recent articles reveals the breadth of topics he addresses in some of the biggest industry outlets: security in higher education, processor power envelopes, Google Glass and public spying, artificial intelligence, converged cloud technology and much more.

Enderle’s expertise lies not in the breadth of his industry knowledge — which is massive — but in his ability to connect the dots and synthesize fresh insight. For small and medium-sized businesses that care to listen, he is an analytics guru sitting atop a mountain of IT wisdom.

We spoke with Enderle to get his take on the latest IT trends — such as the cloud and the Internet of Things — affecting SMBs.

BIZTECH: Given the current state of the market and cloud technology in general, are SMBs making sufficient use of cloud services for their own good? If not, what remain as the key barriers to adoption?

ENDERLE: They aren’t. The capability in the cloud has changed, and continues to change, at a rate SMBs can’t keep up with. As such, they simply aren’t aware of how much more they can do and how much money and time they can save doing it in the cloud now.

BIZTECH: What do you see as being some of the prime cloud capabilities or services that SMBs are overlooking?

ENDERLE: If a given business operation doesn’t require people on-site, and sometimes even if it does, it can increasingly be done by a cloud service. Accounting services, HR compliance, desktop hosting and analytics are likely the categories most underutilized by SMBs, either because of concerns over control, lack of knowledge or inability to accept the change.

BIZTECH: Are there general types of data or applications for SMBs that simply don’t belong in the cloud — or at least are a bad fit?

ENDERLE: Not really. We now have viable hosted desktops, which closed the last gap. The only class of work that likely should remain out of the cloud is that which is illegal or tied to very unique hardware that you can’t yet network well. But even in this last group, things are changing to bring these devices into the Internet of Things-class of connected products.

BIZTECH: The Internet of Things and the analytics underlying it are a hot topic right now, but is there an SMB play with this technology? Nearly everything you see in IoT headlines revolves around big enterprise.

ENDERLE: Asset management and security fall to the heart of IoT technology, and both are relatively young. However, asset management is a historical area where SMBs are exposed, and the cloud companies that provide these services could close that gap significantly. Security is a bit more iffy. The best technology, in terms of being comprehensive, comes from Intel’s security arm, McAfee, and their cloud services are ramping [up] nicely. But I doubt many SMBs are fully aware of the risks they are taking by not securing or monitoring these new classes of connected devices.

BIZTECH: Could you give a couple of examples of these risks? And more importantly, what steps would you recommend for SMBs to start plugging these security holes?

ENDERLE: Since the devices can include HVAC systems, manufacturing systems, refrigerators, security systems and even toilets, a successful attack could have damages that would be far-ranging and shut the firm down. The toilets alone could cause flooding if all were constantly flushed at once and the resulting flow exceeded the sewer pipe junction’s capacity. But risks range from pranks to catastrophes depending on what is hacked and what the hack does.

BIZTECH: What do you recommend as some best starting strategies for SMBs who want or need to adopt a hybrid cloud approach?

ENDERLE: Go to conferences targeting their industry and chat up people on what they are doing, what vendors they are using, and what is working — and particularly what isn’t — to get a feel for the scams and risks in the market. You don’t need to be a pioneer here. Learn from the mistakes of others.

BIZTECH: Many users are increasingly reliant on consumer storage services like Dropbox, Google and the like. Local RAIDs increasingly get used more for archiving than regular work. Is this the direction you think businesses should be going?

ENDERLE: You need to own your own data. If a cloud service is compromised, goes bankrupt or is hit by a catastrophe, you don’t want to go out of business. The best practice is to make sure you have designed some geographic redundancy into your data solution so that one of these problems doesn’t effectively put you out of business. This can range from having a secure in-premise storage solution to using two geographically remote secure cloud services.

Sergey Nivens/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos

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