Do You Drive a Hybrid?

The right mix of software as a service (SaaS) and onsite applications could be a practical IT solution for your business

Hybrid is a term that you find in many contexts. Hybrid vehicles are hot items in the auto world. And there are hybrid bicycles and food from hybrid crops. But whatever the context, hybrids are models that fit a special situation.

What about IT—where does “hybrid” fit into our world? Microsoft’s Software plus Services is one hybrid, and its cousins cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) could also be components in hybrid IT solutions that combine offsite services and onsite hardware and software in a way that makes the most practical sense for a company.

Hybrid IT solutions are looking better all the time. Hybrid solutions can reduce cost for IT departments that need to extend services while profits and budgets are down. Doing more with what you have is the order of the day. And often there is little chance of adding more personnel and getting them trained to support these new offerings.

Why Hybrid IT?
Let’s look at what the average IT shop may have for their 25 to 50 users. They need their anytime, anywhere email. Many IT shops have Exchange Server and Outlook Web Access (OWA), so that traveling employees can work in a company a flight away and still get their email.

But how often have you been in a hotel where OWA doesn’t work through the provided Internet access? Or a VPN connection is somehow restricted through the hotel’s system. And what will the client think if the salesperson asks if he can use the company’s network to check his email?

Then you have the single point of failure, in your small server room. The UPS that’s keeping the switch on or the firewall that’s out of warranty. Or perhaps a telco employee is working in a wire closet in your area and takes everyone’s T1 down for a few blocks. In the meantime, business needs to go on.

At that point, it starts to look like a good idea to have some sort of hosted email and alternate Internet access, so that you could create a “hybrid” of an email solution for your critical business communications. It’s kind of like switching to Impulse when the WARP engine is offline. Thus Software plus Services starts to make sense when the solution is reasonably priced, easily available from anywhere at any time, and can be integrated into your existing systems. Let’s call this the “work-with-what-you-have” concept. That doesn’t include just hardware and software but also the combined experience of your IT staff and knowledge workers.

More Hybrids “on the Road”
I recently saw a company that was using a hosted email system with 100 email accounts for less than $100 a month. Now the mailbox limits were 100MB each, and the service could be configured with Microsoft Outlook and had an Outlook Web Access (OWA) web interface as well. Sure, it’s not Exchange, and the CEO’s administrative assistant cannot rack up a 12GB PST file, but it gets the job done when the VPN or remote access to your company network is inaccessible. And as I mentioned before, it’s a simple matter to move data around and marry the two systems together.

So now there are services like hosted email, security services, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) making their way into the mainstream offerings for small-to-midsized companies. These are the IT requirements that businesses need to stay in the game. If deployed on premise, these technologies have a high “time tag” along with a price tag.

Now could be the right time for IT organizations to launch “driving a hybrid”–type data-delivery structures for their revenue-generating users and systems by combining such SaaS offerings. Microsoft has unfurled its adoption of the SaaS concept, and I’m seeing many tech people scoff at the idea, perhaps remembering previous attempts to have all IT resources served up via the Internet. Perhaps some of that is career protection.

Skepticism about SaaS notwithstanding, most of us are already driving a “hybrid tech” system in the form of our ISP’s DNS servers. It’s SaaS—and how many of us would be willing to become an ISP just to get our 100-seat network Internet connectivity.

How to Make It Work
So the concept is far from new. Therefore, it really makes sense to look into some of the newer SaaS offerings and see if you can extend this hybrid IT shop concept. For instance, collaboration is in large demand in businesses today. Reducing office space and phone requirements and creating “composite” software deployments for business use are the order of the day. Project managers, sales execs, and business intelligence (BI) consumers all need to converge to conduct business in such a way that the “cash stays found” and there is something in the profit column at the end of the month.

In my next post, we’ll take a look at a possible hybrid deployment of applications for business use, combining Microsoft CRM Online with an inhouse SharePoint deployment. We’ll look at an example IT company that has consultants, salespeople, and decision makers assigned to sites around the country. SharePoint is part of their intranet, but the sales people also need CRM tools. Salespeople work on quick access to up-to-date information, and often in technical sales they need to include other resources in their organization, such as technical people and project managers.

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