Free Web services a more reliable choice

Small and midsize businesses should rely on Web services--even free options--because uptime is still higher than on-premise alternatives, say industry voices.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Free online services are still a more reliable choice over an in-house setup for SMBs (small and midsize businesses), say users and industry players.

Even though free services are unprotected by SLAs (service level agreements) and uptime guarantees, these industry voices claim their uptime is still higher compared to that of an on-premise equivalent--and bring the additional features touted of Web services, they say.

Scott Rutherford, CTO of UserVoice, a U.S.-based SMB using Web services, told ZDNet Asia in an interview, the traditional, in-house set up is no more reliable than a free, online alternative.

"If you look at the outages suffered on internal systems, most companies would have to admit that the downtime is pretty similar," said Rutherford.

He added that the advantages online services bring, such as collaboration and access from any Web-enabled PC, further help boost Web services above on-premise systems as a choice for user companies.

"For [SMBs] where IT is not their core business, building out the same skill set as that usually found in even a small [Web services] company is prohibitively expensive," he noted.

Waleed Hanafi, CIO, Global Refund Group, agreed. In an e-mail interview, he said Web services enable SMBs to perform tasks that otherwise would not be possible if they attempted to set it up themselves.

He told ZDNet Asia: "To create such functionality within a single enterprise is prohibitively expensive, both in time and money, and that is assuming you employ someone who knows how to put it all together."

Web services also allow companies to test projects at much lower risk, said the Singapore-based executive of the financial services firm. If projects are a hit, companies can choose to launch the project proper; if the project flops, "you have no lost capital investments when you stop", explained Hanafi.

On the possibility of an SMB relying on online services, Hanafi said: "Yes, it is feasible. In fact it is preferable. Instead of investing precious capital in systems, concentrate on getting the business running, figure out what works for you, then go looking for systems to support your way of working."

Matthew Glotzbach, product management director, enterprise, at Google said free online services still have a much higher uptime rating than on-premise options.

He offered the example of an SMB running a server in house. Statistically, he said, this would deliver about 95 percent uptime, falling short of a typically higher rate given by online services--both free and paid.

And SMBs intending to implement redundancy would have to add another server to the set up, he added. "Costs get astronomical very quickly...free online services will give greater uptime and present SMBs with a zero price point. It's better than any possible alternative," said Glotzbach.

Raju Vegesna, evangelist for Web productivity suite, Zoho, also said online services reflect better uptime rates compared to that of internal service.

The online services industry is also in its "initial stages". As technology matures, "uptimes will only get better over time", Vegesna said in an e-mail.

Choosing to pay for Web services
The difference between paid and free online services is just the support option, said Rutherford of UserVoice. Companies need to decide if they need support, and if not, a free service will suffice, as long as users keep backups, he said.

Hanafi offered tips for SMBs to manage their backup plans. Besides keeping an offline copy, maintaining multiple service providers is another way to shift traffic to an alternative, should there be problems with one, he said.

Google's Glotzbach said companies have to take into account their risk profiles when deciding whether to pay for an online service. On the support option, he said: "I would pay, because I want the SLAs, I'd want to pick up the phone and call the vendor, I want the additional features that come with the for-pay offering."

He noted that users should be discriminatory when it comes to picking cloud providers, however. He brought up the example of Microsoft's Azure platform going down in March: "It's set up by a big, respectable company. But you could argue that maybe they don't know how to build a highly reliable cloud yet."

"Our core competency is being a Web provider and cloud player," Glotzbach said.

Zoho's Vegesna said a vendor has to win user trust over time by being transparent. "Openness is key."

He added that Zoho is also demonstrating confidence in its offering to users by running its "entire business" on its online office productivity software.

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