FOR years businesses of all sizes have been told that the future of IT is moving in the direction of anyplace, anytime access to everything you want to know about your data. Enormous sums of money have been spent by multinational corporations in pursuit of this Holy Grail and the reality still fell way short, for the most part, of what could theoretically be delivered. Small to medium sized businesses, however. weren’t even able to scratch the surface of this dream, unless the business was small enough for the owner or director to carry most of the information around in his or her head anyway.
Developments over the last few years, in particular the strides made in server virtualisation and cloud computing, allied to the ever increasing power of mobile devices, have now (almost) made this vision practical and affordable for SMEs. So what is server virtualisation? Virtualisation simply means taking one large server and spitting it into, say, five virtual servers.
Each of these virtual servers is completely secure and private with none of the applications and data on that server being visible to, or accessible by, any of the other virtual servers. So instead of five physical servers, the SME can install one machine and have five virtual machines. Or, which is more exciting, the SME can have a solutions provider host the physical machine for them.
Of itself, server virtualisation is just the first step in the IT revolution that is transforming things for SMEs. But it is a crucial I first step. One of the problems SMEs have faced – and not just SMEs, but large organisations too, is that it is not a good idea to run multiple business applications on the same physical server, since they can each degrade the other’s performance.
This has led to servers breeding like rabbits, as it were, with even mid sized organisations finding themselves running ever larger numbers of servers as the number of applications in the organisation mushroomed.
A not insignificant cost is the cost of electricity for a single server this can run to £500 plus a year. Then there is all the maintenance work associated with applying all the operating system and application patches, which appear on a daily basis from providers, and all essential to keeping the system secure.
Plus there is a huge workload whenever the company decides to upgrade its operating system, say from Microsoft Vista to Microsoft Windows 7. Doing this just once instead of five or ten times, brings obvious time and resource savings.
However, virtualisation opens up far more than this. It is not just the servers that can be virtualised. The same ‘split and compartmentalise’ approach can create virtual desktops. So instead of everyone in the company having to have a PC on their desk loaded with all the applications they require, you can have a single instance of each application virtual server.
Each user then has a profile” which lists their entitlement to various applications and hey presto, they can have a desktop that can follow them wherever they are in the world. All they need is the ability to log on to the server remotely and they immediately have access to their desktop with all its applications. Best of all, the organisation doesn’t need to constantly upgrade its desktop PC fleet every few years since all the power and memory resides on the server or centrally on a storage network.
With desktop virtualisation, you are already into cloud computing, and not just cloud computing, but “private cloud computing. Wherever the user goes, they are surrounded by their own private cloud. unique and personal to them and completely secure. The point about the “cloud” part of cloud computing is that it emphasises that the actual applications can be hosted remotely from the user. The hardware can literally be “anywhere in the cloud” and the limits of the cloud are defined only by where your broadband connectivity reaches – i.e. globally.
Immediately, this opens the way for SMEs to buy “software-as-a-service” or SaaS, where instead of buying their own systems and running these from their offices, they simply rent applications on a per-seat basis, paying per month.
This does away with the need for up front capital costs and with the need for IT staff, but users should expect to have to pay a fee that will be roughly proportionate to what owning the kit outright will cost them. However, an SME buying SaaS will get vastly better and more robust business continuity from their provider than they could ever afford to create for themselves.
Many applications providers are moving their software to the “cloud” in a phased, module by module approach.
Today, what makes it particularly appealing for SMEs, is the cloud product can be customised to reflect a mid-sized company’s highly specific requirements, while still being easily updated every time a release an upgrade to the system is required.
This cuts down hugely on the company’s maintenance costs while still giving it access to a powerful suite of business software. the 80/20 rule, 80% of the business’s requirements out the box, and the other 20% to make the system an exact SME fit..