How to maintain
IT infrastructure:
A guide for SMBs

Author: Kevin Casey

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) are as diverse as they are numerous. Whether it's a family-owned restaurant, a 50-person accounting firm or a 150-person law office, SMBs power a significant chunk of the U.S. economy.

For all their variety, SMBs share some things in common: They are heavily dependent on technology, yet they don't necessarily have the resources or expertise necessary to set up, run or maintain the IT infrastructure needed to run their businesses.

How to maintain IT infrastructure

The first step in understanding how to maintain IT infrastructure for SMBs is to learn what goes into a small business IT system setup. Obviously, each organization will be different, but there are several essential components likely to be needed for any SMB to operate efficiently, including:

  • Robust network: Connectivity and communications are the lifeblood of any healthy business, especially as hybrid work models are increasingly important to SMBs. Whether employees work on-site or remotely, they need to be able to communicate with each other, connect with customers and interact with the applications and data 24/7. Network latency and/or downtime could turn into bottom-line impacts that may harm the long-term health of the business.
  • Up-to-date software: Cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) have opened up access to a broad portfolio of applications and tools for everything from internal productivity and collaboration to customer-facing apps and services. The proliferation of software for SMBs also creates new requirements for integrating applications and tools with other elements in your IT infrastructure.
  • Strong security: And of course everything must be properly secured in the face of an increasingly complex array of security risks. For example, ransomware attacks have increased more in the last year than in the previous five combined, and SMBs are just as much at risk of attack as large enterprises or governments—perhaps even more so, due to their relative lack of access to security expertise and resources to protect them from threats.

Challenges to maintaining a small business IT system setup

Some of the reasons SMBs are potentially a more attractive target for threat actors are the same reasons SMBs may struggle with maintaining their IT infrastructure—limited resources and lack of skilled staff. A survey by Techaisle found migrating to modern IT and budget constraints are the top two IT challenges small businesses are contending with this year. As for midsize businesses, the same survey found security and compliance and infrastructure management are their top two IT challenges.

SMBs facing budget pressures may be inclined to be expedient, by continuing to use aging or end-of-life hardware or software that is most likely less productive and less secure. They may also lack the technical expertise required to implement and maintain robust IT infrastructure.

Put another way: You might be offering the best, most affordable accounting or management consulting expertise and services in your area. That doesn't mean you have comprehensive knowledge on how to maintain IT infrastructure, whether configuring a new server, patching an OS or optimizing your network performance—nor should you. That's not your core business or skill set.

The benefit of using cloud-based and managed services for maintaining IT infrastructure

Fortunately, today's SMBs operate in a golden age of IT. Just as your clients look to you for your expertise in technology or problems, SMBs can also access providers with years of experience in supporting IT services for the SMB market. Cloud-based and managed services have helped to democratize access to the best available technologies across all facets of the IT portfolio, including networking/network-as-a-service (NaaS), hardware, software, and security.

Better still, they can help enable resource-constrained SMBs to outsource much of the day-to-day workings needed to maintain IT infrastructure—and with a financial model that doesn't require significant capital expenditures or hiring (and corresponding payroll increases.)

Cloud-based and managed services can deliver significant benefits for SMBs, such as:

  • Modern IT: Cloud and managed services providers can give SMBs access to the types of tools and technologies used by some of the largest companies in the world, including enterprise-grade networks, scalable cloud infrastructure and industry-best software. SMBs can leverage modern hardware and software without significant resource outlays, implementation time, or other challenges associated with a software deployment.
  • Deep expertise: Cloud and managed services providers can also offer readily available know-how and skills to help SMBs unlock the potential of their IT infrastructure to help transform their businesses. This greatly reduces the need for in-house technical expertise, therefore eliminating one of the biggest challenges SMBs face in maintaining IT infrastructure.
  • Scalability and flexibility: Unlike on-premises or self-managed IT, cloud-based and managed services can shift costs from a capital expenditures (CAPEX) model to an operating expenditures (OPEX) model. This means you may only pay for what you use and can scale up or down as your business evolves.
  • Strong security: Adopting cloud—whether NaaS, infrastructure-as-a-service, SaaS or for other needs—may translate into an automatic security upgrade for many small businesses. Many cloud and managed services providers invest heavily in the security of their platforms and are constantly monitoring and hardening them to keep pace with emerging threats.
  • Business agility: The above benefits can help enable SMBs focus on their core business and be more adaptable in a dynamic market. That's because no one is spending excess time and energy on maintaining IT infrastructure—they've offloaded that operational overhead to outside providers, who can and do run it more efficiently.

How to evaluate managed services providers

SMBs that want to modernize their IT infrastructure with a managed provider should evaluate their options to ensure they find the best fit for their business.

Consider this five-step evaluation framework for making informed choices about how to maintain IT infrastructure through the use of vendors and providers:

  1. Streamline IT solution onboarding and management: Look for providers that understand the importance of simplicity to SMBs and streamline their IT solutions accordingly. If onboarding and/or ongoing management are too complex, this undermines the value of migrating to cloud-based and managed services.
  2. Map IT infrastructure to business value: Your IT infrastructure does not exist in a vacuum—it exists to power your business. Evaluate cloud and managed services providers with this in mind, mapping their capabilities to your core business and its strategic priorities. Look for companies that specialize in your vertical, so might already have developed tools tailored to requirements for similar companies.
  3. Plan for change: Your business and technology needs will inevitably change over time. You need IT infrastructure that can do the same as conditions shift. This means looking for flexible platforms and services that can grow (or scale down) as requirements dictate, without requiring you to buy resources you don't yet need or unnecessarily limit future flexibility.
  4. Emphasize security: Ask questions about the provider's security capabilities and policies to ensure they meet your organization's needs, including regulatory compliance.
  5. Seek trusted advisors: The best managed services providers should act more like a business partner than a vendor. Remember that you're looking to not only leverage their technology but also their expertise when needed. This can help keep your team focused on its strategic business goals.

Learn more about how Verizon's end-to-end digital transformation solutions can help you create a roadmap that will get you where you need to be.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.