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From a purely economical perspective, driving a car makes very little sense. It’s one of the most expensive ways of moving a person from point A to point B.

It’s more expensive compared to virtually all other transportation means such as buses, trains, or even planes – so why are so many people still driving cars? The answer is quite simple: control. Setting aside the status symbol element of a car, a person has full control on when to depart and which route to travel such as the scenic option or the highway. The journey can start from the garage to the final destination without having to rely on external parties.

Let’s contrast that with taking public transport. Trains and buses have strict schedules, depart and arrive at specific stations, might have loud fellow passengers, and (especially if you are in France or Italy) are prone to go on strike. But, of course, public transport is much cheaper, when you catch the train you share the costs – and save money.

Cloud for small and medium businesses is the same thing. If you optimise for full control, then you will run everything on your own premises, decide what specific software to run and when to run it; but you will also be responsible for operating it and maintaining it, all at higher overall cost. On the other hand, if you accept to standardise your IT, share the infrastructure your IT is running on and give up some of your control, you could start saving money by moving it to the cloud.

The good news is that in the cloud it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That’s why we’ve seen a lot of ‘hybrid’ cloud solutions recently. As the name suggests, hybrid cloud solutions are partly in the cloud, partly kept on premises. These solutions are often the best choice as they offer the best of both worlds. It allows you to keep the control you need in some aspects of your business, but also tap into the cloud’s economy of scale.

A popular example is a local server, such as Windows Server 2012, which locally manages identity, file and print which you can combine with Windows Azure backup to back up your server or specific files on the cloud. Without being a full disaster recovery solution, this combination provides an effective way to store your critical files thousands of kilometres away in case of floods, fires or simple server crashes.

Another very popular option is to keep a server on premises but have the email server, such as Exchange Online in the cloud.

So, if you want to get started with a hybrid cloud strategy, here are 3 simple steps:

1. Decide what you need or want to keep on premises.
Each business is different, so no silver bullets here. I have seen businesses with large files such as dental practices with medical imagery or architect firms with detailed plans often wanting to keep their large files locally for ease of access but are happy to have their emails in the cloud. But I have also seen other business such as law firms wanting to keep all their emails on premises for better archiving and discovery. Knowing what you really want or need to keep close to you is the first important step.

2. Partner with an IT vendor that offers all the options.
Not all IT vendors offer all cloud options, some are cloud-only vendors, and others are on premises software only vendors. Making sure that the same vendor can offer all the options, will allow you to embrace the cloud in your terms, without being forced to make choices you don’t want to do – or aren’t ready to make yet.

3. Work with a trusted IT advisor.
As a small and medium business, IT is most likely not a core competency so make sure you partner with a local IT advisor that understands your business and can guide you through the right choices. At the end of the day, your role is to run your business. Your IT advisor will be able to translate your business needs into the right IT options.

There are many benefits to the cloud, but not everything needs to be a cloud solution. So having your head in the cloud, while keeping your feet in the ground and adopting a hybrid strategy is a great bet to get the best of both worlds.

Written by Gianpaolo Carraro, SMB Director at Microsoft Australia.

About the author

Gianpaolo Carraro Small Business and Distribution Lead, is responsible for Microsoft sales, marketing, business development and channel enablement in the small and medium business segment. Prior to this role Gianpaolo was leading the Platform Evangelism team where he was responsible for all innovation related activities for Microsoft Australia. Prior to Microsoft, Gianpaolo was Founder and CEO of a venture backed Cloud startup.

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