I recently had an experience that drove home the giant leaps IT is making, particularly with Web-based service models. In my spare time, I've been developing a niche-content website. I'm user-testing it now, and the biggest user request has been for a search box. Developing on a shoestring, I'd written off search for version one, thinking it would take months to build.
Imagine my delight to find that Google just began offering a "business edition" of its custom search product, ad-free and with results delivered via XML into your pages, for as little as $US100 per year for up to a 5000-pages.
This is the future, ladies and gentlemen. Tap into the expertise and resources of larger, more specialised organisations and focus on the layer where you add value. Here's an even better example: A friend of mine has a company called Digisense, which provides secure data management (backup, archiving, recovery, and search) services to SMB customers through the managed service provider channel.
Rather than building a gigantic datacentre and writing man-centuries of code to deliver this service, Digisense developed on top of best-of-breed resources and open source modules so that the company could focus its own brainpower on the key value-added security and management layers.
Here's how it works: Say you're an optometrist with confidential billing records and several terabytes of digital eye scans you back up to a laptop or heaven knows where. You need data locally and want it securely and professionally backed up, but can't afford an enterprise-class system like EMC Centera.
The Digisense service, offered as a subscription through a managed service provider, consists of a small on-site appliance that encrypts and indexes the data locally before sending it out over a regular broadband connection for archiving to the Digisense back end.
But where is the Digisense back end? It's at Amazon. Digisense uses Amazon's S3 Simple Storage Service for the encrypted data. So, as a customer, I don't have to worry whether Digisense has the skill to run a datacentre - I already know Amazon does.
And Digisense can focus on the crucial piece, which is the software to secure, index, manage, and remotely archive this data to deliver the peace of mind the customer needs at a low cost. As Digisense's Avery Lyford said, the management is the hardest part to get right.
"There are 1.7 million copies of Microsoft Small Business Server out there, and one of the circles of hell is reserved for people who have to remotely manage Microsoft Exchange. There's a big opportunity for value-add here beyond just moving files around."
For managed service providers, this opens up a whole new world of competitiveness. Instead of having to constantly scramble to the client's site to resolve an issue, they can remotely manage this service, enabling them to offer a flat rate per site or server rather than bill time and materials. And if the customer has a data loss on-site (even if the Digisense appliance is also destroyed), it's a straightforward matter to plug in another appliance and quickly reconstitute the data.
As I discovered with Google search, we little guys have more IT capability at our beck and call these days, and more affordably, than we ever imagined.