What Type of Cloud IT Support Does My Small or Medium Business Need?
Cloud computing has become an essential investment for small and medium businesses (SMBs) modernizing their operations, but knowing how to support it can be its own challenge. Compared to on-premises hardware, the cloud allows businesses to be more flexible in a variety of ways: stronger security, lower costs, and better operational efficiency to name a few. Amazon Web Services provides customers with a solid platform on which to build and grow their business in the contemporary digital landscape, without having to undertake the undifferentiated heavy lifting of maintaining legacy infrastructure.
While this allows business leaders to focus staff and resources on delivering core business value, it is vitally important to consider the role of cloud infrastructure support in managing risk. As more critical systems move into the cloud, how do you decide what level of support you require from your vendors? And how does this fit into your operating model?
In this blog post, we will share a framework for this decision and highlight some of the key considerations needed in making the right choice for your business.
What is an IT function, and why does my company need one?
First, let’s start with the basics. Information Technology (IT) teams are responsible for operating the technology systems used by a company. The IT function works with business owners to ensure that business systems are available and correct fits for each purpose. Not all SMBs have an in-house IT function, but many use IT in some capacity. That is why it’s so important to understand various roles that can help your business thrive depending on its resources.
The typical roles played by IT teammates include:
- Administration: Supporting end-users (such as employee laptops and overall connectivity)
- Operations: Running and maintaining IT systems (such as e-mail, databases, and back-office systems)
- Procurement: Engaging with other vendors who help improve employee productivity (such as software companies and tech partners)
- Development: Your product or in-house system (such as developers, engineers, and staff who help build and maintain proprietary systems)
The sum of all IT teams is what composes a company’s IT function, whose goal is to enable the non-technical business functions to perform their intended roles in a competitive manner.
The roles played by the IT function varies according to the company’s size, as well as the IT workloads that the company runs and consumes. Examples of workloads are: marketing and e-commerce websites, the back-end for a mobile app, business intelligence platforms, and more. Workloads vary in levels of complexity, from static websites to experiences with multiple data stores.
Typical IT function engagement models for SMBs
There are many different ways to engage with IT services. Particular workloads demand different models. Each model requires the business owner to be involved to a different degree. For example, an SMB might choose to use an in-house team to manage their application servers. In this case, this team fulfills the roles of operations (and possibly development). In contrast, the same company might consume e-mail services through a subscription. In the second case, their in-house team has a role(s) for procurement.
The level of engagement from the IT function is clearly different. Simply put, the SMB is highly engaged in the first case due to the demands of supporting application servers. There is less engagement required in the second, simply supporting the email vendor’s contract.
These are the most typical IT engagement models our SMB customers use. Determine which one might best suit your company:
Software subscription (Software-as-a-Service and Integrated Software Vendors)
- Software such as email, enterprise resource planning, and business intelligence tools are consumed through a subscription or contract-based model.
- This might be charged per user, per year, or per storage requirements to name a few.
Ad-hoc tech consultancy
- Third-party consultants are engaged to provide specific, agreed upon deliverables.
- Examples range from packaged software, audit reports, or upgrading an existing system.
- Team members hold IT responsibilities for the organization. This could be a dedicated role, or an added responsibility.
- A dedicated department or business function, usually found in larger, well-established SMBs.
- Often containing dedicated staff who may or may not be responsible for every single workload.
Managed Services Provider (MSP)
- An ongoing relationship is established with the provider to manage services for an organization. MSPs are invested in your business’s long-term success whereas consultants (mentioned earlier) are focused on a few specific technical challenges.
- Often a trusted friend, family member, or acquaintance who knows more about IT than you and provides free advice and support. You often get what you pay for.
- Typically not sustainable for long-term business growth.
Identifying the model that best suits your business is key. Leaving it as an afterthought can pose risks to your business’s digital operations—whether it’s data loss, a security event, or website downtime.
New to digitization or looking to add more cloud capabilities to your SMB? Explore solutions by industry, benefit, use case, and more on AWS Smart Business
How AWS helps SMBs with its IT needs
In a legacy IT model, the responsibility for tech maintenance sat entirely with the business’s IT function. Some of these aspects, despite being of the utmost importance, are actually sunk operational costs. This means they are necessary but do not provide business value. For example, an SMB’s e-commerce platform typically requires servers to run, which in turn often need to be placed in a datacenter, requiring cables, patching, electricity, and physical security. In that sense, the platform itself provides business value, but the effort of running and maintaining the infrastructure does not. Resource-constrained SMBs may not know how to budget for these types of activities and defer maintenance.
How AWS takes care of this undifferentiated heavy lifting for its customers varies depending on the service and customer preference. At a minimum, we can manage the security of the cloud infrastructure but can even support your most critical application’s runtime. At AWS, we use a Shared Responsibility Model where we manage the infrastructure itself and customers are responsible for securing the files and data they store in the cloud.
It’s key to understand that AWS is not a replacement for an SMB’s IT function but rather an addition. It takes some of those responsibilities and reduces the burden on the IT function, allowing your company to focus on improving business outcomes. Here are the different ways AWS (and its partners) can augment your team:
We recommend this for any critical workloads that need a Business Support Plan (at minimum). It offers expert-level technical support 24/7, verifies service-level settings on AWS products for assisted troubleshooting, and provides general guidance on integrating with AWS products. It’s enabled on a per-account basis, with four different plans to suit different business needs.
- Support plans have a minimum 1 month commitment.
- Enabling support or changing plans is not instantaneous. Doing so during production incidents can increase recovery time.
If you need help with on-going projects, operational support, migrations, or maintenance of your systems, we recommend using our certified software vendors and partners. Specialist partners can help when you have a very specific or advanced need and do not have the resources to handle the project.
- Partners can play a key role in helping your business with its products and workloads.
- When using partners for AWS Cloud infrastructure projects, make sure to discuss who will be responsible for supporting it after the project has concluded.
- If you already have an AWS account team, they can help you identify the right partner. If you’re totally new to AWS, you can ask an expert or contact us for general support.
We recommend this team of global experts when you want to achieve specific business goals in the cloud. If the project is complex and requires a long engagement, it may be the right fit for your SMB. This team assists with cloud adoption across diverse industries through global speciality practices.
- AWS Professional Services is best positioned to support large programs of work.
- The engagement is either delivered directly by AWS Professional Services, or in conjunction with an AWS Partner Network member.
If you have a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished for a short-term IT project, we recommend tapping our network of AWS Certified freelancers for on-demand project work. In minutes, you can find freelancers, review their credentials, manage the project, and pay them all in one platform. AWS IQ is valuable if you need help getting starting in the cloud or completing an existing project.
- AWS IQ is suitable for fixed-term projects, and you will need to consider how the work will be supported in the future once the project is complete.
- Experts will respond to your request for assistance with a formal scope of work, a fixed price, and time frame. You must agree to the terms before work begins.
AWS Managed Services (AMS)
We recommend this approach when you do not have the in-house capability to manage the infrastructure/service but would like to do so in the future. AMS allows you to still meet IT transformation goals while ramping up the capabilities of your growing team. AMS offers operational capabilities including monitoring, incident detection and management, security, patch, backup, and cost optimization.
- AMS is not the same as AWS Support, but works in close collaboration where required.
- AMS has two modes of operation. AMS Accelerate allows you to operate as you were, and provides an additional layer of detective controls. AMS Advanced provides a full operational solution trading flexibility for increased operational rigor. These can be selected on an account by account basis.
Choosing the right IT model for your SMB
The business risk of not having the support you need will depend on the nature of the workloads that you run. Business-critical applications which have a high potential for impacting your reputation if they fail must be supported. The same is true for applications which have the potential to impact security, financial stability, and commercial relationships.
SMB customers who consider the support of their workloads ahead of time are less likely to be adversely impacted when a failure occurs. Conversely, workloads which do not have a time-critical or far-reaching business impact if they fail, could function well enough with a lower level of support.
Ultimately, the decision of what constitutes a business-critical application needs to be determined by the business owner. The modest cost of adding a higher level of support to these workloads enables the best chance of rapid business recovery in the shortest possible time. If the cost of failure outweighs the cost of support the financial argument is clear.
Several businesses see support as a reactive process. But mitigating business risk requires a proactive approach. Following best-practice architectures such as those described by the AWS Well-Architected Framework is an essential step towards achieving operational excellence and reducing the risk of failure. Choosing the appropriate support plan can allow you to obtain support from experts and build your environments the best way from the outset. Upfront planning allows you to leverage the AWS Shared Responsibility model to your best advantage.
Time spent resolving issues is time not spent on innovation and improvement. The use of an appropriate support plan to reduce the time spent in resolution pays dividends.
Start identifying stakeholders who can own your company’s IT function. This will help you identify and categorize your workloads. If you have a smaller team and believe you might be the sole stakeholder, determine who is best equipped to support you. Download this easy-to-use, editable template to map out your specific needs. Be sure to capture the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) for each. The RTO is a measure of how quickly after an outage a workload must be available again. RPO refers to how much data loss a workload can tolerate. Ensure the engagement model matches the objectives and whether the AWS Support Plans are appropriate. If not, there is a potential risk and you will need to make a decision on whether to mitigate it and when, or accept it. Include the identified risks in your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and periodically review.