Cloud computing for SMBs

CIOL Bureau
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In coming years, growth of Indian Economy would be highly dependent on Indian SMBs. At a time where small and medium companies in India are starting to innovate their products and services to be able to compete at the global level, it has become important for them to focus on their core competences. Not to mention how IT has become a key enabler in every business, helping SMBs reduce their operational costs as well as helping in building better products. At times non-IT SMBs face quite a bit challenge before they can fully take advantage of IT. This is where cloud computing comes in. With cloud computing, its not only easier to automate your processes and take full advantage of IT, you would not have to worry about maintaining your infrastructure.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing can be a little difficult to define, but here we are going to stick to its general definition, not getting into the technical part. Simply speaking, cloud computing can deliver pretty much everything from processing power to core business applications as service to your desktop anywhere or anytime you want. In a cloud computing application, you do not have to worry about setting up infrastructure and deploying the application in your premises. You can simply sign up with any of the cloud service providers; all you would need is a desktop or laptop through which you can access these applications.
Many service providers also offer customized services, where the application on the cloud will be customized according to your company requirements and processes. A classic example of this is web based emails such as Gmail. You just use it easily, without worrying about where your emails are stored or how the other background processes work. Yet can you imagine life without email ? Or do you worry about the fact that your email service provider can find out what you are upto ?

Benefits for SMBs

Now you are probably wondering, why should you invest in cloud computing? What about my privacy and security of my data? Starters can easily lower your IT as well as operations costs with cloud computing.  As the application is hosted at cloud provider’s premises, you save on infrastructure costs (costs of hardware, space as well as power). With technologies changing so fast, hardware RoI has become quite low. These days its best to buy the hardware which you presently need, without considering the future. Another cost reduction comes in the form of man-power. With less infrastructure, you need less people to manage it. Another advantage is you pay for what you use and you can expand whenever you like. For instance suddenly you have decided to expand your business to another city or even country for that matter. You can simple take licenses for more users from the cloud provider, and they can access your existing applications within no time.

Mobility has become the need of every business. Here again if you have your applications running on the cloud, your employees can access these applications from anywhere and pretty much from any device including smartphones and netbooks, which has become key enablers in mobility.

Another problem that Indian SMBs often face is that of attrition which is not  just in the IT department.  With your business applications running on the cloud, all data will be present at a consolidated place. So when a new person comes in, he/she can find all required data at one place, without having to contact other people or previous employees.  With cloud computing, you leave the management of infrastructure and the maintainence of apps to the experts. In case if something goes wrong, you will be provided a 24x7 support from your cloud provider, which also means reduced problem resolution time and less trauma on  the end users. 


Biggest question around cloud computing is that whether my data is safe on somebody else 's premises? There is always a huge debate around this. Speak to any cloud computing service provider, they will tell you that all data is encrypted on their servers and they have highest possible network and physical security of their data centers. Its not always feasible to visit service providers premises and check all this out yourself. You can always lookup what security standards the vendor is following and what certification they have acquired. But eventually who ever you choose as your cloud computing provider, you will have to trust them.  Then you have to always follow regular security practices such as ensuring that a proper access control is in place and checking logs often to see activity, along with ensuring your internal network is malware free and firewall enabled, as there is always a possible that someone can get into your network and capture your username and password for the cloud service and access your data.

Offerings available for SMBs

Apart from ever popular Google docs, earlier this year IBM launched Lotuslive ( targeted towards SMBs, which is a cloud-based web meeting and online collaboration services suite. Being a cloud-based solution, users can conduct/attend web meetings from anywhere in the world. Microsoft recently announced availability of its ‘Online Services’ in India for SMBs ( Under ‘online services’ umbrella MS offers Exchange Online (for e-mail), Office SharePoint Online (portals and collaboration) available separately or as suite together with Office Live Meeting (for conferencing), Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services and Microsoft Office Communications Online (for instant messaging).   They are also providing the customers with the power of choice to select how to deploy software - either on premise, in the cloud, or a combination of both.

Online Services significance - SME's and startups would get enterprise class solutions at a nominal monthly cost. There is a wide range of choice and customization scope in these services. A customer can avail specific products according to their needs. Business Productivity Online Suite and Business Productivity Online Deskless Worker Suite and their stand alone services are part of Microsoft's Software plus services strategy that offers choice in how they purchase, deploy and manage business critical software through on premise servers, online services or a combination of both.

 # Stand alone services for customers — Microsoft Exchange Online with Microsoft Exchange Hosted Filtering, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Office Communications Online and Microsoft Office Live meetings.

# Business Productivity Online Deskless Worker suite — Low cost solution designed to meet the needs of workers who typically spend a small portion of their workday using a computer but still need to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and partners.

# Security - Microsoft has multilayer security for data best in the world. Clients like Mc Donalds have trusted  them for their data storage.  Data Security in a cloud is more secure than their own devices as money is safe in a bank vis-à-vis own premise.

# Significance of Partners - Development and adoption of broadband service providers is improving and Microsoft intends to partner with ISPs also along with companies like Infosys, HCL etc who are providing value added services — educating SMBs and enterprises about these services and providing all support for adoption, usage and maintenance of Microsoft Online Services.