By Andrew Lund, EMEA Director, B2B Channels, Hosting and Partner Cloud, Microsoft Operator Channels

There are over 23 million small and medium businesses across Europe. In fact, 99 percent of all European businesses are SMBs, making them the backbone of the European economy. However – and unfortunately there’s no way of getting around it – the last few years have been tough, some countries and industries are faring better than others but what most SMBs have in common is that the last few years have left them lean and hungry.

There’s still an appetite for new technology but it’s being fueled from two different perspectives: one, a need to invest in preparation for recovery and growth; and two, a need to cut business costs further. One way to accomplish both those tasks is with cloud computing. According to our study earlier this year, the two key reasons to adopt cloud services are scalability and cost-efficiency. The research showed little difference in adoption rates between SMBs that expect to grow in the next three years and those solely focused on profitability, whereby just over 40 percent of both groups expect to be paying for cloud computing over the next few years. Growth companies seek a scalable environment that can meet their expanding needs, with an affordable, pay-as-you-go pricing model that eliminates the need for over-investment in IT. SMBs that want to maintain their size, but become more profitable, seek cost-effective, efficient solutions that match their needs for predictability and low overhead cost. Cloud services can serve both sets of criteria.

But just how do you reach over 23 million SMB customers? It’s a massive opportunity, but it’s also a massive challenge to reach and service that number of businesses, which is where our partners come into play. Local hosting service providers are useful, if not critical, to most small and medium businesses in terms of providing advice and support. They typically have existing direct relationships with SMBs and the key to removing many of the perceived risks of moving to the cloud and helping SMBs to realise the benefits of the cloud for their business.

Microsoft is currently running a series of marketing campaigns with partners, aimed at   making cloud services more accessible to SMBs, allowing them to trial services such as web hosting, virtualized serves, online backup applications and realise the potential benefits of scalability and cost-efficiency. The joint campaigns – with hosters Rise (a division of Fasthosts), UKFast, Host Europe, STRATO, Argeweb and Doruknet – cover the UK and Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey and are designed to help businesses plan, build and deploy private and public cloud solutions based on Microsoft Hyper-V. The campaigns are running now until the end of the year. For more details visit the Microsoft News Center.