A number of technologies that have traditionally been the domain of enterprise-size companies – including virtualisation, VoIP and networked storage – are now becoming relevant for SMEs.
“While SMEs are traditionally slow to adopt new technology, the case for such investments is often stronger as a result of quicker decision-making capabilities and more rapid technology benefit realisation,” says Yergen Govender, enterprise servers & storage business unit manager at HP.
According to an April 2006 survey by Forrester Research entitled IT Spending in the SMB Sector, the adoption of emerging technologies is relatively low among SMEs. For example, only 15% planned to deploy networked storage devices.
Yet, according to the same report, SME IT budgets are actually on the rise, which presents an opportunity to make new technology investments. HP believes that there are various emerging technologies that can help SMEs stay competitive, increase efficiency, enhance productivity, lower costs and improve communication.
Technology trends that will make an impact in 2007 – and that SMEs should consider – include virtualisation, network-attached storage, video-conferencing and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
“The focus on virtualisation is more than just hype and when you remove the technicalities, it is a simple concept,” says Govender.
Virtualisation enables an SME to consolidate and simplify its IT infrastructure, an important consideration for environments where IT staff and resources are often in short supply.
Virtualisation can take several forms; with databases, applications and networks all being targets. The most common, however, is server virtualisation, which allows multiple independent operating systems to run simultaneously on the same hardware.
The resulting benefits include energy and cooling cost savings, ease of management, reduced space requirements as well as improved security.
Virtualisation also extends to storage management, where network-attached storage (NAS) has become an attractive alternative to a traditional storage area network (SAN).
NAS connects storage directly to an Internet Protocol (IP) network, and new solutions make it relatively easy to install.
As with other forms of virtualisation, this type of system eliminates a fair amount of physical complexity as no file server is involved.
It enables authorised users to directly access stored data from anywhere on the network for fast and easy retrieval.
Prices are continually falling, which makes NAS an inexpensive and easy-to-manage option that is becoming an increasingly attractive option for smaller environments.
Videoconferncing will also see better take-up in 2007.
“This is no longer a technology that is restricted to large corporate environments – it has become a useful tool in the SME’s communication mix, and technology improvements have made it more affordable,” says Govender.
Benefits include significantly reduced travel expenses, increased contact with customers and enhanced communication across distributed work environments.
Web-based videoconferencing is an excellent option for SMEs. It runs over local or wide area networks, so if an organisation has a solid network in place it only requires a camera and the appropriate software.
Strictly speaking, VoIP – another key driver for this year – is not a new technology.
“With previous quality and reliability issues, it is only recently that it has become a viable option for businesses that require an alternative to traditional telephone systems,” adds Govender.
VoIP enables users to make telephone calls via the same network that is used for Internet access, which eliminates the need for dedicated voice lines.
This reduces both costs and complexity of IT infrastructure. Increased mobility is also a benefit – a user can take a VoIP phone on his or her travels, work from home and place or receive calls from anywhere in the world; just as easily as if sitting in the office – with no roaming charges.
According to Govender, the above technologies are by no means exhaustive.
“They are, however, at the stage of maturity where they can be implemented effectively to provide real benefits for SMEs,” he says.
Other technologies that could cause major opportunities and changes in coming years include video iPod, dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) communications, ultra wide bandwidth, the $100 laptop project, virtual keyboards and many more.