The Cloud and the SMB: Diversified?

I was reading the post Small Business Virtualization and that really got me thinking about Small to Medium Businesses and what part Cloud Computing will play in that market.  There are plenty of small businesses in and around my area and I have a couple of friends that are the owners of a couple of these small businesses. A majority of these small businesses have a single or a couple of point of sale machines that feed to the accounting program.  It is these businesses that I think of when I think of what a small business is.  Would virtualization help these companies?  Sure, I think so but would it really be worth the cost to setup and maintain?

Let’s consider that that these small companies could set up a single host server, running the free version of ESXi, with a good chunk of locally attached storage.  This would work but obviously would not be a very good way of running things since; there would be a single point of failure on the system itself.  Let’s take things a step further and use two virtual hosts with some shared iSCSI or NFS.  That takes care of our single point of failure by having two virtual hosts and having some version of RAID on the shared storage.  With this in mind we could be looking for initial hardware investment of around five thousand dollars.  There would still be the licensing cost of the virtual machines as well as the investment in backing up the data but this could be a good foundation or starting point to build from as the infrastructure and the company grows.

Is this a good investment for the very small company or would running the business applications in the cloud make a better investment of the time and money in the long run?  Security has been a big concern when running business applications in the cloud especially when a single application houses all the critical information about your business and your customer’s information.  There have been plenty of posts on the security aspect so I am not really going to go into too much exploration on the security side of things and continue to focus on my opinion about how the cloud can really help smaller business manage and run those businesses.

In the Small Business Virtualization post, I really like Edward’s (Texiwill) definition and separation of the different type of small businesses as Small to Medium Business (SMB) and Small to Medium Enterprise.

The difference between the two environments could or would depend on how much appetite for downtime exists within an organization.

With the smaller companies, as long as the systems are available during business hours, they would be fine with downtime during the afterhours. Well at least until you add email to the equation.  What started out as a tool to communicate, email quickly morphed into a mission critical system in any organization that is guaranteed to make the natives nervous when email is not available for any period of time.   Email has also been available as a service in the cloud for quite some time now and has proven to run quite effectively from the cloud at a much cheaper rate then the cost of a full time administrator.

Living in Florida, backups and disaster recovery are topics that are near and dear to all those that live and or work in the strike zone for Mother Nature’s power and furry.  The need for having backups of your data and for that data to be kept offsite is as important as ever and with what used to be uploaded to tape backup can know be uploaded to the cloud and backups as a service has been able to provide the backup of your data as well as having the data available offsite.

I think that for a lot of small businesses the accounting / point of sale, email, and backups are the foundation of a majority of the small businesses.  These services could be run in the cloud and pay for themselves in lieu of full time staff to manage and administer.  There are other things to consider before making the dive into the cloud, like how to spread your mission critical applications across geographies and perhaps clouds to improve availability, and for small businesses this could easily bring a level of service and uptime that the larger organization achieves.

What are your thoughts about the cloud:  As the small business owner? As the person in charge of your mission critical applications? There is quite a bit of news today about the current failures with Amazon, does this change your mind about entry into the cloud? Or would you plan on spreading your mission critical applications across geographies and clouds so that not all your eggs are in one basket? Are the costs low enough and the cloud solutions diversified sufficiently to further protect your mission critical applications?

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