When should a charity or SME consider a hosted desktop approach to cloud computing?

An increasingly common refrain, particularly from heads of finance and CEOs in charities and SMEs, is that moving the IT to the cloud will cut costs without any degradation of service.

Although they are correct - and in fact the service will typically actually improve - cutting costs isn’t always the starting point for a discussion about outsourcing computing to the cloud.

Several factors [see below] can come into play, each a trigger in its own right for the move and allowing for a different approach to the established one of keeping the IT in-house “because that’s what we’ve always done”.

Spending [sometimes big] on refreshing the IT infrastructure

With hardware starting to fail, one way or another, every few years and the replacement of it having to be paid for, every organisation has to keep an eye not only capital expenditure but support costs as well. Even where the hardware is patched up with new hard drives, screens, mice, keyboards and extra RAM to keep the computers going and overheads down, there is still a cost to it and to the support required to make those changes - and for the post-upgrade support.

An alternative to buying new or patching up is the hosted desktop approach to cloud computing. Some of the hardware - desktop computers and laptops - can be retained, to be used as dumb terminal-based access devices, but all the computing is carried out in the hosted desktop provider’s data centre, where the library files and applications are kept after the move.

Office move

Moving office should trigger a discussion about outsourcing the IT to the cloud. With a relocation, not only has the equipment got to be moved, installed and set up, it will have to be added to if expansion is afoot. The IT team might think it’s a great time to buy new – but moving office presents an opportunity not only to break past IT habits but to take advantage of new ways of working. Is all that office space really necessary? Can some people work full time or part from home, coming into the office less frequently? Those questions bring us to another trigger: flexible working.

Flexible working

Allowing people to work more flexibly makes sense in a mobile world, where wifi hotspots, 3G and 4G networks and home-based routers enable staff to work while on the move, at satellite offices or home. With hosted desktops, employees see the same familiar “desktop” work screen regardless of where they are working and on whatever access device they have.

Flexible working lays the foundation for a more agile, responsive organisation. There is also the “business as usual” fallback position [in the event of fire, flood or other major incident] to consider. Hosted desktops allow staff to log into the data centre as usual to carry on working regardless of where they are based or on a train or in a coffee shop. If the data centre is affected by an event, that is not a problem because a secondary data centre, which should be located remotely from the primary one, will allow work to continue. High end cloud computing providers have two data centres, one primary, one secondary, and definitely not in the same location.

Departure of a key IT person

A situation like this requires recruitment [with its associated costs] to swing into action but, alternatively, is an opportunity to see if the IT requirements are better met by a move to the cloud. If that happens, IT staff will still be required, in-house, as support, but their numbers reduced by some 75 per cent. That represents a significant saving. The human and hardware resources of the provider more than match those of the in-house equipment and IT team. Any in-house problems caused by absence due to sickness, holidays etc disappear.

Security of data and information – and online security

Most SMEs and charities can’t directly afford the robust, enterprise-grade level of security enjoyed by the largest companies and organisations, but by moving to the cloud they can because those costs are shared across a number of users, bringing them right down. Additionally, a strict backup regime in the data centres provides for data restoration and business continuity if required.

Requirement to save on overheads

Trigger 6 returns us to how this article began. If savings have to be made, “more of the same” may not provide what is really required. A radical re-think, including a cost comparison of in-house v outsourcing the IT to the cloud - and the benefits that flexible working can bring to the equation - leads to the answer of hosted desktops for all but the smallest charities and SMEs.

With savings in staff and IT equipment costs of up to 30 per cent achievable, this is a trigger that keeps the FD and CEO very involved in the decision making.

Joseph Blass, CEO, WorkPlaceLive

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