Monday, 21 December 2009

IT cos offer hardware-as-service

Had enough of software-as-a-service? How about some hardware or entire infrastructure-as-a-service, too? If you are an SME or if you do not want to make heavy capital investments in IT infrastructure, then hardware-as-a-service offers a cost-saving alternative. With IT and IT-related companies targeting SMEs, or small and medium enterprises, this is the newest offering.

While IT-hardware makers like Dell and HP launched specific products for the SME segment early this year, companies like Airtel, Cisco, Microsoft, Wipro, Global Outlook, etc, have now started offering their products on the infrastructure-as-a-service model for SMEs. Airtel along with Cisco has launched ‘VPN in A Box’, a ready- to- deploy bundle of a managed private leased line port, bandwidth, last mile connectivity and customer premise equipment. Meanwhile, Microsoft, along with Airtel, Wipro and Global Outlook is running a pilot of a pay-per-use model for knitwear companies, usually SMEs, in Tirupur in Tamil Nadu. The over $2 billion knitwear industry in Tirupur has invited and received bids from top tech firms including IBM, Wipro, to develop an ERP software on a pay-per-use model.

Sam Elangalloor, CEO, Airtel Telemedia Services, said, “All large companies have a lot of IT infrastructure and their vendors, who are all SMEs, also need to have a compatible IT infrastructure. However, shortage of funds to make capital investment and the unscalability of the infrastructure restricts IT and connectivity adoption by SMEs. IT infrastructure needs heavy configuration and integration to be done at the customer’s end, which is difficult unless the SME has an internal knowledgeable resource. We are strong in connectivity for large enterprises, but we could not have sold the same products and services to SMEs. So came up with the hardware(plus connectivity)-as-a-service model along with Cisco.”

Adding to his point, Ravi Venkatesan, chairman, Microsoft India, maintains that IT should be around when companies want to use it and should be priced according to usage. “Indian SMEs have potential for immense growthbut the challenges before them are equally a fact of life. Relevant technology, at an affordable price, can reduce the threat these challenges pose,” he maintained. In Airtel’s ‘VPN in A Box’ , the customer need not even understand technology, Mr Elangalloor said.

“The customer has to tell us his needs, we will figure out how and what equipment he will need, configure everything at our end and give him the complete bundle for plug-and-play use, configured for use with whatever equipment he already has. In return, the customer pays only for the operating expenditure, and not for the capital expenditure,” Mr Elangalloor said. Along with its VPN in a box, Airtel is also providing tools like a website builder, which allows anyone to build and manage a website using pick-and-choose options, along with all Microsoft software on a hosted model. For SMEs in Tirupur, Microsoft is offering MS Office and Windows operating system on an online desktop from Airtel with anti-virus software and 10 GB storage space.

Wipro has offered unified communications, while Global Outlook has hosted Microsoft’s tools, Exchange and SharePoint on its servers, to offer email solutions, all of which comes at a significantly reduced cost. For instance Microsoft Exchange for 100 users, comes for about Rs 20 lakh and a monthly expenses of about Rs 60,000. However, on the pay-per-use model, the cost is only Rs 25000 a month.