By Claire West

Managing servers in-house can be a nerve racking experience for any small business. Kelly Smith managing director of Smartbunker, says there’s a better way of doing things.

Your staff are happy with their PCs, your network works fine and the printers do what they’re told to do. Life is great and everyone is getting along famously. Then the server breaks and everything very quickly goes to hell in a handcart. If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone.

A growing number of directors at small businesses, faced with a lifeless server and an amused workforce, have concluded that managing complicated IT systems is not something that they’re all that keen on and have chosen to rid themselves of the headache through the sensible expedient of outsourcing. An Institute of Directors survey of SMEs found that the popularity of a ‘hybrid’ approach to IT, for example where IT basics are managed in-house and more complex systems are outsourced, has grown from an adoption rate of 1% in 2004, to 27% in 2006. With the latest survey results soon to be published, and IT becoming no less complex, hybrid IT strategies look certain to have grown even more.

A company director with limited IT skills shouldn’t feel bad about wanting to wash his or her hands of managing a server. With increased requirements from workers to access the server remotely from a wide variety of computer type gadgets, anywhere and at anytime, things aren’t set to be easy. When you couple these complications with a growing number of Internet security threats the whole thing becomes manifestly the domain of an expert.

A managed hosting provider is an industry specialist that installs and runs servers in its own blue-chip computer room, called a data centre. It manages every aspect of those systems on behalf of users who rent them. Companies are able to access the servers through a secure Internet connection as if it was set up in their own office. Once the servers are outsourced, our newly relaxed small business director is able to let staff use the latest technological gizmos for remote access without having to worry too much about how it all works and whether the server is about to go down in a fog of burnt out chips, operating system and malware. SMEs can concentrate on the business benefits of technology, for example enabling a sales team to securely access the prospect database while on the road, rather than worry about keeping IT systems running.

The joie de vivre obtained by outsourcing complex IT functions, such as server management, doesn’t end at the ability to use gizmos to access company files from a sofa in Starbucks. Consider the increasing importance of storing financial records for lengthy periods of time. What would happen if your office was flooded or burnt down? Would you self-managed IT system cope? If you outsource server management, these issues become the managed hosting provider’s problem. They take care of data back-ups and have solid plans in place for emergency scenarios that SMEs may not have even imagined.

The times they are a changing for small and even large IT departments. More and more businesses are realising that though IT enables business success, managing it isn’t what they’re there to do. By using a managed hosting provider you can save money, reduce administration and switch on the services you need to power your business into the future.

Questions to ask if you are thinking of using a Managed Hosting Provider

What uptime guarantees are provided?

Do they use high quality, resilient hardware?

How often is data backed-up?

Is their helpdesk manned 24/7?

What security measures are in place around the data centre?

What is their strategy for minimising environmental impact?

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