Survey: SMBs Are Ready For Cloud, And Ready To Go Local

Small and midsize businesses will be among the most eager adopters of cloud computing services over the next three years, and many of them will rely on local service providers to get those cloud services.

That's according to a survey of more than 3,000 SMBs in 13 countries commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Edge Strategies in December.

"Cloud computing is a game-changer because it gives SMBs access to enterprise-class IT infrastructure," said Gabriele Di Piazza, senior marketing director for Microsoft's operator channels group, in an interview. That group manages Microsoft's relationships with hosting companies, telecom operators and other IT service providers.

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The survey found that 30 percent of SMBs are already using paid cloud services while another 48 percent plan to subscribe within the next two to three years. Only 22 percent have no plans to use cloud services.

SMBs with more employees are more likely to be current cloud service users. Only 25 percent of businesses with between two and 10 employees are cloud adopters; that jumps to 53 percent of businesses with between 26 and 50 employees. Sixty percent of businesses with 101 to 250 workers are currently cloud adopters.

But the smallest SMBs offer the most growth potential. Fifty-one percent of businesses with between two and 10 employees are expected to adopt cloud services over the next three years, tripling the current 25 percent of cloud users to 76 percent.

The survey also highlights the potential opportunities cloud services offer for solution providers who can help customers with consulting and implementation services. Fifty-six percent of the queried SMBs prefer a single source for their IT -- including cloud services -- with a mix of applications and infrastructure services.

"[SMBs] want as many services as possible from a single source, preferably a local provider," Di Piazza said. "There's a level of trust provided by local solution providers."

Fifty percent of the surveyed SMBs said it was "important" to rely on local service providers with local personnel to provide cloud services and 31 percent rated such local support as "critical."

SMBs need local partners because 60 percent don't have the necessary resources to implement cloud technologies and applications themselves, the survey found. Fifty-seven percent just don't have the time. And 52 percent lack the resources to train people in cloud computing.

The survey also found that some cloud education is needed. Only 51 percent of queried SMBs understood that cloud computing referred to "rented" business-computing services provided through the Internet. Thirty-two percent thought cloud referred to personal Web services such as e-mail or music streaming.

As to expected benefits, 54 percent are counting on cloud computing to save them money while 47 percent anticipate becoming more productive. Other expected benefits include flexibility (40 percent), being more innovative (33 percent) and being more responsive (27 percent).

But concerns remain. About 44 percent think cloud services are unproven and too risky. And 51 percent say data privacy is an issue, although only 20 percent of SMBs believe that data is less secure in the cloud than in on-premise systems. "Security is decreasing as a concern," Di Piazza said.

Cloud-based e-mail (currently used by 40 percent of survey respondents), voice communications (23 percent), instant messaging (23 percent), and online backup and database services (22 percent) are the most commonly adopted cloud services today. Last year SMBs subscribed to an average of 3.8 paid cloud services. Other popular cloud services include billing and accounting, CRM and e-commerce.