When a small company finds itself growing, it often faces serious challenges in maintaining an IT infrastructure capable of keeping up with the rest of the business. Leveraging cloud implementations can provide huge benefits to small companies facing these challenges. However, as with any IT initiative, a sound technology strategy can make the difference between success and failure. Here are some important considerations, based on my consulting experience:
- Move as high up the technology stack as possible. Cloud providers offer solutions at numerous levels, including Software, Platform, and Infrastructure as a Service (SaaS, PaaS,and IaaS, respectively). Often, an IT professional’s first instinct is to migrate existing virtualized workloads to cloud-based virtual machines (IaaS). However, most often, moving common workloads such as web services and databases to a PaaS provider is more efficient, less complicated and easier to manage. The same applies for applications: SaaS approaches can greatly simplify the process of deploying, scaling and managing an application. In general, use higher-level cloud offerings wherever you can, and lower-level ones wherever you must.
- It’s not all-or-nothing, so prioritize your projects. Organizations don’t have to make large-scale shifts to a public cloud provider all at once. By identifying lower-risk, higher-reward areas for initial deployments, you can build experience as you go. Common first candidates for cloud deployments are development/testing environments, applications with few dependencies and the creation of new high-availability/disaster recovery sites.
- IT best practices are more important than ever. One of the greatest lures of cloud-based service offerings is access to a self-managed infrastructure and high-end features that are often priced out of reach for small businesses. However, system management can be even more important. An IT organization is still responsible for the end-user experience and for troubleshooting. Rather than thinking of “off-loading” applications to the cloud, IT professionals can use cloud services as an opportunity to focus on higher-value technology projects. This also helps alleviate the fear of IT professionals’ jobs becoming obsolete. Basic IT duties such as managing security, integrating applications and proactive, end-to-end monitoring will remain vital functions.
- Extend your data center. To realize cloud benefits, it’s not necessary to rip-and-replace data center infrastructure. Cloud service providers can provide ways to extend your on-premises infrastructure with cloud-based offerings. You can choose to spread applications between local and cloud services, and allow them to communicate with minimal reconfiguration.
- Take the opportunity to do some housekeeping. Over time, most organizations amass significant "technical debt" — the side effect of taking shortcuts and making rush decisions and deployments. Business requirements often change too quickly for IT departments to keep pace, leading to less-than-optimal solutions. The resulting proliferation of servers, services, applications and infrastructure can cause huge maintenance overhead. Rather than migrating the existing solutions, some organizations might find moving to cloud-based services a great opportunity to consolidate, realign and re-architect important services.
Overall, a cloud-based strategy can provide dramatic improvements to a small business’s technology infrastructure. The key for IT professionals is to thoughtfully plan for, implement and manage new services and workloads in a way that works best for the organization.
For more on how small businesses can use technology to grow effectively, check out, "Small Business Growth Requires Strategic IT Planning."