As a small business sysadmin, you’re probably well aware that every small tech team has to make the most of limited resources. To ease the burden on IT staff, you can simplify, outsource, or automate. Fortunately, advances in technology make all three possible—though you may need to spend some time bargain-hunting to find the right solution for your budget.
When people think of simplifying IT, the public cloud usually springs to mind. The public cloud’s ease-of-use makes it tempting: Create an account, specify the service level you want, and let someone else worry about the logistics. For some businesses, this is the right solution, but not the magical cure for all IT ailments. If used correctly, it can help reduce the burden on your IT team and make way for innovation.
Introduce the team of one to as a service
One of the best times to consider public cloud services or Software as a Service (SaaS) applications is when your IT “team” is a team of one. When there’s only a single sysadmin, time is usually the scarcest resource, and spending a little extra can help cut down that to-do list to a manageable length. Getting ahead sounds better than just trying to keep up, right?
Using public cloud-provided services won’t work for every organization in every situation. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) virtual machines can get pricey—quickly. They aren’t well suited to running workloads that need to be active 24/7. On the other hand, if you have workloads that are burstable—and can scale up as needed and back down when not needed—IaaS becomes a great tool.
Software as a Service (SaaS) applications can be incredibly helpful to small businesses. Think about it: Someone else has already undertaken the burden of installation, configuration, management, and maintenance of the application. If you’ll use the application often enough to justify the subscription fee, SaaS applications are an excellent way to reduce the burden placed on a sysadmin.
Take advantage of small tech team resources
If you want the biggest bang for your buck, have public cloud services replace something labour-intensive. Odds are, you probably don’t want to devote the time to designing and maintaining your own spam filter. Subscription costs might seem high to a cash-strapped SMB, but the time saved makes it worth it.
Here’s where outsourcing can help: Cloud service brokers can take some of the research burden and spread the cost between multiple clients. Bringing one in for a consultation can be a game changer to a small business IT practitioner. Another advantage? Multiple applications can be integrated in a bundle. It’s all handled for you—no more worrying that inter-application integrations could be broken by a software update that’s out of your control. It’s someone else’s problem.
Obviously, SaaS and cloud solutions are also useful time-savers for bigger IT teams, too. But for the single admin, they may be sanity-saving.
Take caution in the cloud
The flip side: Systems administrators need to be cautious about using the public cloud when SaaS applications need to communicate with applications that aren’t part of a managed bundle. If your public cloud application has to talk to a custom piece of business intelligence software, updates pushed to the cloud applications can sometimes lead to version skew that results in applications no longer inter-operating.
Also be aware: Small tech teams, more than anyone else, need to remember that clouds do fail. Just like any other IT department, you need to be prepared. Larger organizations will likely have up-time constraints that force them to use cross-cloud solutions. But smaller organizations need to make sure they’re backing up their data outside of the cloud, at the very least.
Small teams and hybrid IT
If your small business IT team contains more than one sysadmin, you have some wiggle room to deal with additional complexity. Depending on business requirements, not everything can go into the cloud. Perhaps manufacturing equipment needs to talk to legacy software, or maybe you work in a regulated industry where you have to store data locally to comply with legislation. For many small businesses, hybrid IT is their reality.
If the public cloud isn’t right for all of your IT needs, there’s still lots you can do to make the life of your small tech team easier. Try working with a systems integrator to build a private or hybrid cloud. With an on-premises cloud solution, you get some of the attractive features of the public cloud—like flexible, self-service provisioning—but you maintain more control.
Consolidating your infrastructure something like Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) may just be the solution your team’s looking for. The fewer the layers of the stack your small tech team has to manage, the easier life is. If you can replace three widgets with one, do it. Don’t be afraid to update perfectly working equipment if the result is an easier-to-manage environment. Replacing older equipment can often save a lot in terms of physical space, electricity consumed, and cooling requirements.
Regardless of whether or not you use on-premises solutions, public cloud solutions, or some mixture of both, automate everything you can possible automate. Start simple:
- Automated patch management and third-party applications can get the ball rolling.
- If your team has the right skills base, embrace desired state configuration tools like Puppet or Chef.
- Find monitoring applications within your price range. If you can’t see what’s going on with your IT—public cloud or on premises—then you can’t remediate extant problems, let alone predict them.
Investing in time-saving solutions pays off by freeing administrators to focus on revenue-generating activities instead of just “keeping the lights on.” It’s sometimes counter-intuitive, but it’s the reality of systems administration.