Small Medium Businesses (SMBs) are increasingly digitizing their business processes. For most SMBs, IT is currently an important enabler of their business activities and of their overall competitiveness: it allows them to automate processes, reach global markets, organize teams and more. This is the reason why SMBs are budgeting for IT infrastructures and computing, much in the same way the IT departments of larger companies do. Although important, the IT infrastructures of SMBs tend to be simple, easy to manage and cost-effective. In this direction, SMBs had better follow some best practices regarding the deployment and use of their IT infrastructure. These best practices can help them to make the right choices about the type of IT infrastructures that they need (e.g., on-premise or cloud), but also how to best configure, manage and expand their IT resources.
Nowadays, many SMBs opt to completely outsource their IT infrastructure and applications, based on the adoption of some form of cloud computing such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). The main reason for this is the flexibility that cloud computing provides. Specifically, cloud computing enables SMBs to access the IT resources they need based on “pay-per-use” models. These models enable them to pay for more resources as they grow rather than undertaking costly capital investments upfront. Despite this compelling value proposition, many SMBs are still deploying on-premise infrastructures. This happens for various reasons that range from the lack of trust to cloud providers to legacy compliance issues.
An on-premise infrastructure for SMBs comprises different sets of components, including hardware and software assets, as well as networks and services. These infrastructure elements must be deployed and configured in ways that enable them to support their business goals. The business objectives of the SMBs are in most cases driving their IT strategy as well. The latter should aim at establishing a sustainable and scalable infrastructure that meets short- and medium-term goals while being expandable in order to accommodate future business targets. To this end, the size of the SMB and its industrial sector should be considered. SMBs are nowadays able to benefit from a rich set of networking and computing technologies, which support services like file sharing and collaboration while addressing the ever-important network security and stability aspects.
Hardware is the cornerstone element of an on-premise infrastructure. Purchasing the proper type and number of servers is the starting point of an efficient IT infrastructure. To this end, the number of users must be considered, as the users-to-servers ratio is a decisive factor for the performance of the infrastructure and the productivity of the users. As a rule of thumb, one server for every 10-15 users should be purchased and deployed.
When it comes to software, SMBs should do their research in order to license the packages that best suit their needs. In some cases, the selection of software packages and suites is influenced by the operating system the company is committed to (e.g., Windows, Linux or Mac). However, most SMBs dispose with some popular suites that support common tasks like office automation and project management. Beyond office tools and other popular support software, companies identify other software products in support of their business needs. As a prominent example, in the area of e-commerce, retail businesses evaluate and select POS (Point of Sales) software technology.
Beyond hardware and software, SMBs need to set up a proper communication infrastructure. The latter should support one or more of the following communication modalities: e-mail, messaging, groupware, teleconferencing and more. Following the outbreak of COVID19, it becomes easier to justify investments in collaboration and communication infrastructures. Collaboration and communications are increasingly becoming digital and supported by a rich set of different platforms and tools, which vary in terms of scalability, functionalities, and cost.
Maintaining an on-premise infrastructure can be challenging, as it requires IT administration resources. Hence, SMBs can opt for outsourcing IT management tasks, even when not adopting a cloud solution. Moreover, they can run part of their infrastructure on the cloud and another part on-premise, as a means of achieving a good balance between legacy compliance and cost-effectiveness in IT infrastructure management.
Hiring a third-party IT service can obviate the need for employing IT personnel in-house. Moreover, it can enable SMBs to benefit from the third party’s expertise in areas like data protection and computer security. Most importantly, access to such expertise comes at a lower operational cost. As already outlined, this leads several SMBs to a complete outsourcing of their IT department, as part of a cloud solution.
No matter whether an SMB deploys an on-premise, cloud (outsourced) or hybrid infrastructure, here are some guidelines and best practices for building and maintaining it:
Overall, IT infrastructure management can become a pain for SMBs, which do not typically possess the knowledge and equity capital needed to deploy and manage a large pool of IT resources. Fortunately, SMBs can take advantage of a wide range of options for deploying and operating an IT infrastructure, including on-premise and outsourced options. With the multitude of services that are today available, SMBs can scale their costs and functions in-line with their business requirements. In this post, we have provided some tips to help them move in this direction.
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