The pace of change of technology causes problems for organisations of any size, but for the small to medium enterprise (SME) sector, it can cause critical issues. A new investment in an up-to-date technology platform can rapidly become a constraint on the business as newer technologies come through, but the business just cannot afford to continue investing in keeping everything up to date.
Consequently, many SMEs consider outsourcing some or all of their IT systems. But this can be fraught with danger and any SME looking for outside help needs to be aware of what options are available to them.
The Pros and Cons of SMEs Not Outsourcing
The positive aspect of deciding not to outsource is that the SME retains full control of everything – but this is also the main negative aspect. The SME needs to have:
- The available datacentre facility in which to house the IT equipment;
- The internal expertise to manage all IT equipment and update and patch all operating systems, applications and device drivers as necessary; and
- The ability to create a cost-effective, highly available system that supports the business in an ongoing manner.
Whereas in the past, it was possible to put in place a platform that could last for a few years, today’s technology dynamics tend to force changes on at least a yearly basis.
How Much IT Should the SME Be Outsourcing?
An option not generally taken by SMEs is to use support outsourcing, where the IT department is effectively outsourced to a third party. Large organisations often do this, letting a systems integrator such as IBM, CSC or HP take a greater or lesser control of their in-house datacentre. This lowers the company’s need to maintain levels of expertise in their employees, as the outsourcing company now has assumed that responsibility – and service level agreements (SLAs) can have more teeth.
SMEs are usually better advised to only outsource break/fix needs (the replacement of equipment under and SLA when it fails); basic systems management (root cause analysis (RCA) and base problem identification along with remediation where possible); and overall asset lifecycle management (the installation, management and secure replacement of equipment over an agreed life of the kit).
The SME Datacentre, Kit and Stack
Next is the choice of a co-location arrangement. Here, a third party provides a shared datacentre facility where the SME can house all its IT equipment. However, the IT equipment along with the software stack still remain the property – and therefore the responsibility – of the SME itself.
The SME still has to have the expertise to create a suitable IT architecture and maintain the software stack itself, although many co-location providers will either help a SME in their design or insist in vetting any design before allowing equipment into their facility. With co-location, power distribution, uninterruptable power supplies (UPS), cooling, internet connectivity and physical security are all looked after by the third party, so reducing the load on the SME. Big players in this market include the likes of Equinix, Savvis and Telehouse, although there are a growing number of smaller ones to choose from.
The Hosted Model Option for the SME
A further option is to move to a hosted model. A hosting supplier provides the facility as with a co-locational provider, but also provides the IT equipment. Hosting comes in several different flavours, many of which are moving towards a highly virtualised model based on cloud concepts. However, the one that has predominated up until now has been a simple model of a SME renting IT equipment that generally includes an operating system (usually Windows or Linux) from a hosting provider on to which they can load their applications.
In this model, the host provides support for the facility, the equipment and the operating system – the SME has responsibility only for the application itself. The equipment being rented may be physical (an actual server) or virtual (a defined amount of IT resources agreed with the provider). Providers in this space include the likes of Memset, Rackspace, UK2 and 1&1, although many of these are also moving towards providing cloud options.