Last summer, I convinced my brother to invest in a Microsoft Small Business Server, shortly afterwards those brainy people in Redmond decided they were going to kill it and discontinue the product. Funnily enough these blog articles are still my highest rated views on the site with traffic coming in from Google, presumably with people as equally worried as me. Last week at my Cisco focus group I also fought very hard on the point the so-called bright chaps on the West coast of America simply do not have a clue with regards to UK broadband and how many SME’s get poor access. From Cisco’s point of view, hosted VoIP is the cure all for SME telephony, just as hosted cloud services is Microsoft’s answer to dealing with SME IT.
Certainly from my point of view if you’ve got all your email, Office applications, intranet and everything running down one very slow ADSL broadband line that is many miles away from the nearest exchange in a quaint village in the middle of Cumbria, Lancashire or Cheshire you’re not going to have much bandwidth for anything else…
My worry is that these businesses will become the forgotten few, SME’s in towns and cities will eventually have fibre to the cabinet and other faster technologies to gain internet access. In the country, despite all the rural broadband projects on the go – I have seen locally run and government backed schemes try and fail several times before. Which leaves me sceptical as to whether they’ll ever deliver all they promise and money pumped in by the government will be money down the drain, lining the pockets of the same old advisors and such like who advised and failed (for the most part) to deliver in the early 00’s.
Customers and readers in big cities, may be thinking, big deal about all this – but despite me being a big sell out for the city lights, first and foremost I’m a Cumbrian.
It is partly this thinking that has made me quite anti-cloud when it comes to small and medium companies in the UK, especially those in rural areas. Despite the Internet giving cottage industries the chance to market their products to a global economy, I still don’t feel that our infrastructure in the UK is good enough to provide IT infrastructure as a service to all businesses. Certainly in my opinion, giving BT funding from central government to improve rural access would be the wisest way to spend the money – there are solutions to rural broadband such as radio in the form of WiMAX and similar technologies that may not be accredited for BT use – but some good recruiting at OFCOM could easily overcome this with the government offering effective challenges to what it is told by BT.
Competition nuts may think I’m out of my mind, but the great thing about BT and also one of the most annoying things is the segregation they now run between their retail and wholesale arms – access to government funded infrastructure can be opened up through BT’s normal channels to all ISP’s. Project Access in Cumbria, from my point of view failed to gain significant traction due to the fact that it was radio based in difficult areas, but did not have the power of the ISP’s to resell and market the infrastructure.
So this post, so far doesn’t sound as if I’ve learnt to love the cloud? Well perhaps not, but I am making my piece with it – we’re actively selling Microsoft Office 365 and actively using it ourselves, including Microsoft CRM, we’re also an active promoter and user of the accounting tool Xero. However, I do actively challenge companies such as Microsoft and Cisco who continually tell me that the cloud is the answer for SME’s – I tend to feel like a climate change sceptic when I voice this opinion too. Bandwidth is not really an issue for an IT company such as Unleashed but it certainly is for even some of our bigger customers that are in rural Cumbria and other Northern and Scottish communities. Unfortunately until every telephone exchange in the country has been modernised we are still going to have this same issue.
I do sometimes wonder that much like Dr Strangelove and the doomsday device – the cloud is an apocalypse, waiting to wipe out all the services for those who do not have access to it. If there is no more Small Business Server, no on-premise small telephone systems and other modernisations to technology that aren’t connectivity dependant, what is going to happen to the rural SME’s? Unfortunately the only answer we have isn’t terribly positive but we do keep watching the community broadband schemes with the hope they don’t have the same fate as their predecessors.
As for me, well perhaps I do need to find out how to stop worrying and love the cloud, but I’m certainly not there yet.