Hybrid Computing for the smaller enterprise

We’ve written a fair bit on strategising technology and ensuring that the new style of business gets you the best advantage not only in terms of the hardware and software you use but also the exact way in which you work. A good implementation should allow your organisation a much easier means of achieving its objectives.

Except that some readers will see words like “strategising” and tears start to form in their eyes. They don’t have a strategy and they don’t perceive the need for a strategist; these are the smaller businesses and start-ups, who might well not have a dedicated IT support facility. If that’s you, it’s still important to get an idea of where you’re going with your technology. You might be able to manage a disparate system, cobbled together from the technology people happened to have in their personal possession and a few laptops plus some cloud apps, but managing this as you grow is likely to be a problem.

Hybrid approach

Many people use systems in the cloud and this is generally an excellent idea. The cloud can be any system that’s not on your premises or owned by you directly. You rent space in their servers and can do a number of things:

  • Just store documents and files – storage in the cloud is a possibility and many people do it.
  • Use entire apps in the cloud
  • Have entire desktops or servers in the cloud, so that when you log in it’s as if you were at your own computer – except you know you’ve logged on from somewhere else so if your physical computer blew up, you’re still OK. This is called virtualisation.

This might sound a little confusing for first timers but many people will be using such systems already. For example:

  • For document storage, read DropBox, Box, Hightail or any of those other systems people use to transfer files around the place.
  • For apps in the cloud, think about Google Docs or the online version of Microsoft Office, Office 365 – or any blog entry contact management system. You log on, you type, you forget that you’re not technically on your own computer. It makes no difference, you’re just blogging, or using a spreadsheet or whatever you might need to be doing.
  • Full-blown virtualisation is less easy to explain through examples as it’s less common among the small business market; essentially it just means that you log on and use your computer as you used to except “your” computer is somewhere in the cloud.

Not everything needs to be in the cloud. The cloud itself is divided into two distinct flavours: public cloud, in which loads of other people can use the same cloud facility (Google Docs is a good example of public cloud for consumers) and the private cloud, in which a provider reserves an area of their cloud for you and nobody else – you’re effectively ring-fenced.

Smaller businesses can find all of this a little intimidating but it’s worth thinking through where your compute is happening. The pattern you set early on will dictate in many ways what happens next. So if you’re relying on a bit of Google Docs, have a couple of Microsoft Office 365 licenses and you’re transferring big documents via whichever facility you’re using, you may find you don’t have much of a plan. Everything is in the public cloud, nothing has any privacy around it and you might be better off with a planned approach taking elements of public cloud, private cloud and on-premise software.

Then understand why each component is where it is and how this can be built upon. Engaging the right technology partner is vital to this process as they will help integrate all components into one coherent whole and also ensure that the hardware you use to bring it about is up to the job.

Summary: build to grow

It would be unethical to name them but there’s a major software supplier for small business that sells a particular product to self-employed people and those who employ up to five people. Moving on from this the customer has to upgrade to a bigger product, reasonably enough; the choker is that they have to throw away the old system and start again because there is no cross-compatibility.

It can be the same for a hybrid system. If it’s not designed with increased growth from the initial spec, it may be difficult to scale it when you need to. So choose those building blocks carefully. Hybrid is almost certainly going to be best long term – but know which bits are where and why and you’re likely to end up with a much better system overall.

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