Making the journey to the Cloud can be a daunting process, especially for the small to medium business. There are many factors that a company would need to take into effect before they just dive into the Cloud. There are a lot vendors and many uses for the Cloud and Cloud services that can make it difficult for a small business owner to understand what suits their needs or where to begin. Thankfully we are no longer at the Cloud year one. It’s been awhile now, and while it hasn’t been 10 years or more, we’ve had a good look at the Cloud and it’s being adopted at a more rapid pace. What does that mean for the SMB? It simply means that it’s been done before and there’s plenty to learn from. Let’s outline the top 5 things an SMB should take into consideration before dedicating time and effort into building a cloud initiative.

#5 Do you need the Cloud?
There is a lot of hype around the Cloud and it seems everyone is in a race to adopt it in some form, but it’s first necessary to take a second and a deep breath and then make sure it’s something you need and not just an excitable response to the hype. At some point in time, we’ve all heard the phrase “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. Does this best describe how you feel about your SMB IT infrastructure? If so, you may be missing a key area of value delivered by the Cloud. For example, you may be able to simplify or streamline your efficiency using the cloud. A Cloud service may allow you to automate processes such as backup that increase operational efficiency and reduce administrator burdens.
Many of the success stories from companies that have moved to the Cloud have stemmed from something that was broken in the physical on-site infrastructure. As a small business if you are facing replacing hardware such as servers, storage or backup equipment, you might find significant cost savings by moving to the Cloud. Simply put, the Cloud has multiple uses and the benefits vary depending on the problem you are trying to solve. Make sure you understand what you are getting and what your goals are before making the leap.

#4 Know your end users
Who are your end users? Being an IT contractor for the past 12 years, I have been in a lot of client spaces and the dynamic between the end user and the IT team is not always ideal. Before you decide to delve into the Cloud, stop to think about how it would affect your end users? Are they struggling with the applications and technology that’s currently in place? Would moving data and applications to the Cloud cause mass confusion and extra work for your team? Both are considerations that need to be taken into effect before introducing any new technology to a group of end users, especially anything that has to do with the Cloud. It can be a confusing subject matter for many end users.
On the other hand, would your end users fully welcome a change to the Cloud? I’ve also been in client spaces that are very fluid and most of the end users are tech savvy. This is an ideal situation to move to the Cloud seeing that your end users are on board with anything new. This is rare, but it does happen. End users are benefitted by many Cloud applications and functions, and in most cases are probably already using tools like file-sharing services or free SaaS applications to improve collaboration. Decide how to sell the Cloud to your end users first, and you’ll have better success.

#3 Avoid the common mistakes
Cloud computing can really take off if given the opportunity to grow, and that’s the main mistake that companies make when adopting the Cloud, they don’t account for growth or they aren’t scalable. Ensure you have an intelligent architect that can design your cloud strategy or work with a partner that has experienced staff who can help you build and make it scalable. The last thing anyone wants is to not buy enough storage and be faced with customer demand that’s not feasible with your infrastructure. On the flip side, don’t buy too much! In order to be successful in moving to the Cloud you have to understand how much you need, don’t build it too small, and don’t build it too big. Look at your current pre-cloud situation, account for growth and build accordingly.

The Cloud does not replace your IT team! The idea that with your data and infrastructure in the Cloud you no longer need dedicated IT staff is a major misconception. The Cloud can help to improve IT efficiencies and automate tedious processes, but you will need IT staff to monitor, manage, deploy, add new users and ensure proper use of your Cloud environment. You will also need to allow your administrators, developers, and help desk people (if you have them) full access to everything that is going on in the Cloud.

The last common mistake that you want to avoid is picking a Cloud provider that offers little to no support or that sees your SMB as anything different from a large enterprise. A Cloud provider should be equal opportunity regardless of the size of your company. Confirm that they offer 24/7 support in the event of an issue that the IT team cannot resolve on their own.

#2 Educate yourself, your team and everyone who’s willing
As an SMB you may not always have dedicated IT support staff. In the event that this describes you as the owner or partner of the company, you should dedicate time to educate yourself and your staff on the Cloud, how it works, who your provider is, support numbers and any pertinent security information. The last thing you want is for one of your employees to upload something to the Cloud that could be harmful to the other data being stored. Additionally, be careful what goes into your Cloud to make sure that content is categorized properly as either public or internal facing. Company wide education and a well-formed Acceptable Use Policy will help avoid those pitfalls when it comes to placing data in the Cloud.
If you do have a dedicated IT staff, spare no cost to get them up to date on certifications, training or anything else they would need related to your Cloud provider and their partners. Many times you can receive a partner discount on training that is directly related to vendor hardware/software. Far too many times IT staff doesn’t get the education they need to perform their duties 100%, don’t let this be your fault.

Lastly, educate your end users. YES, that’s right, educate your end users. Some of the most harmonious office environments I’ve experienced are that way because the end users have been formally educated on the technology used. Whether it’s a computer-based training (CBT), PowerPoint presentation, or small conference room whiteboard session, just get it done. Educate yourself first, your IT staff, the end users and then anyone else who’s willing.

#1 Cost, cost, cost!
The number one consideration for SMBs moving to the cloud is cost savings. The Cloud is a great solution in most cases, but poor planning or inefficient use can remove those savings over time. It’s also a different cost model which can complicate things for the non-technical folks making the money decisions. There are tools to gauge what’s needed and where your costs should be with what you are trying to do. You need to understand the different pricing models such as per-user models and pricing models based on use, compute, and memory. A helpful tool is the Cloud Price Calculator, it allows you to plug in your numbers and get an idea of what your cost would be. It’s important to sit down with your IT staff and gain an understanding of what your company needs and what the team expects to have in the Cloud to work with.

Take these five tips into consideration when thinking about adopting the Cloud for your SMB. As with any technology, don’t be afraid, you’ll never learn if you don’t ask questions and take notes. You can feel confident in your journey if you apply these considerations and make an informed decision.

Greg W Stuart
Greg is the owner and editor of vDestination.com. He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He works as a Sr. Consultant at VMware and resides in Northern Virginia, 15 minutes west of Washington DC.

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