Darren NorfolkDarren Norfolk, UK Managing Director at Rackspace, discusses what the cloud can offer to start-up businesses and the potential risks of an ill-advised strategy… 

Many of today’s start-ups are born into the cloud and are lucky enough not to have to deal with the complexities and costs associated with legacy systems. Not only do they benefit from scalable infrastructure, but they can develop a solution that grows as they do.

This opportunity is particularly appealing for start-ups as they only pay for what they use, rather than managing the costs related to maintaining traditional in-house infrastructure, which often sits half-used. In this way, cloud computing allows start-ups to tailor their server size.

With the exponential rise of big data and mobile applications, this flexibility is becoming increasingly important. The cloud is designed to support modern customer services, offering start-ups the opportunity to compete with the larger players. Cloud has truly levelled the playing field, allowing start-ups to scale up their infrastructure as and when they need it to meet the same capacity as other, perhaps more established, businesses who already have the necessary infrastructure in-house.

By using a cloud solution, start-ups can cope with high demand and meet customer needs, regardless of how popular they become. The technology also allows emerging companies to stay ahead in terms of innovation, by making it easy to roll out new tools and the latest features. This agility means they can constantly adapt with the market and provide the best possible services for their customers.

Vertically-orientated strategies

It is important to consider a cloud strategy in terms of the business and its ambitions, whatever the sector. Only then will a business be able to architect a solution that can adequately suit their changing workloads. One particular sector where we have seen the cloud play a hugely beneficial role is retail. It is an industry shaped by peaks and troughs, with flash sales and seasonal changes resulting in fluctuating demand.

For example, The Entertainer, a leading toy retailer in the UK has embraced a hybrid cloud solution to help support its e-commerce platform, so that it can deliver for customers during peaks, such as the lead-up to Christmas, without having to pay for that kind of capacity all year round.

Businesses should not settle for a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to the cloud. Instead, the platforms and technology they opt for should always reflect their particular needs. This can be done by working closely with a provider that is able to maintain a dialogue so that the cloud solution, however complex, is being managed to suit the business as it evolves.

The complexities of setting up a technological infrastructure can take the focus away from what is key for a start-up – growth

Folk2Folk is disrupting the lending and borrowing sector by organising the secured lending of money between local people and businesses. Currently, it is using Rackspace Fanatical Support for Microsoft Azure to help support its Folk2Folk Loan Manage System because, as a start-up, it is important to have a solution that does not distract from growth.

Choosing to implement a Microsoft Azure cloud with a managed service has also enabled the company to maintain the support it needs without the burden of cost. This frees up as much capital as possible, meaning that it can instead spend this on getting out there and getting noticed. 

Although they are highly important to get right, the complexities of setting up a technological infrastructure can take the focus away from what is key for a start-up – growth. At such an early stage in their lifespan, it is really important that start-ups ensure the technology does not distract from their business goals and growth priorities. They also have to take into account that they will be adapting and changing quickly, which means the cloud solution they have opted for needs to be dynamic as well.

Pitfalls and other considerations

Most start-ups use the cloud because it is cost-effective and also provides the variety of choice they need. In order to reap these rewards, start-ups should consider which providers can equip them with the capacities to meets their requirements, at the price they can afford.

It is becoming a multi-cloud world, with businesses embracing the opportunity to architect tailored approaches that best suit their needs. Start-ups should not limit themselves to a vendor that locks them into one technology platform. Instead, it is advisable to choose a cloud-agnostic provider that can help manage and deliver the right solutions, whether private, public, hybrid or dedicated.

Additionally, in order to meet business challenges, start-ups need to consider the expertise they have and need access to. If they have the right skillsets available in-house to manage the infrastructure along with the many complex tools and application layers that run on top of it, start-ups can comfortably go with a cloud provider that offers just the bare bones.

If not, it is sensible to choose to work with a cloud provider who can help support their work, as well as help to attract technological talent in what is proving to be a highly-competitive skills market.