SMBs are offloading the IT burdenEditor's Note: Technology Partners is a regular column written by members of the\u00a0 Information Technology Solution Providers Association.An improving economy could be a mixed blessing \u2014 good for your business, but tough on your IT department. Most SMBs have survived by downsizing staff and getting by with existing equipment. So today, they have tiny IT departments, old software and an outdated, inefficient network infrastructure.In the past, small companies had only two options for solving these problems: hire additional staff or go without updated technologies.\u00a0Outsourcing\u00a0was affordable only to large companies. The good news is the cost of outsourcing has been falling steadily, and a new brand of IT providers targeted to SMBs has cropped up. Now smaller firms can hand off as many IT functions as they like.There are two distinct approaches to consider:Outsource the entire IT department via utility-based computingOutsource specific IT functions that cause them the biggest headachesWhile\u00a0utility-based computing\u00a0is an old idea, it\u2019s back in a new form that\u2019s particularly attractive to small, growing companies. Firms taking advantage of the utility computing model offload the burden of owning, managing and maintaining a technology infrastructure to an IT services provider. They have access to the same applications, data and Internet services. But instead of buying the hardware and software needed to make these services a reality, they pay a monthly subscription fee based on the specific features needed. Because the subscriber provides only a PC and a connection to the Internet, it\u2019s simple to add new employees or physical locations to the network. Several IT service providers now offer this option to their SMB clients.Utility computing attracts companies that:Add offices or employees regularly, but don\u2019t want to deal with the technology hassles of getting new users up and running.Risk quickly outgrowing their current infrastructure and need a complete, cost-effective update of their technology assets.Have\u00a0mobile\u00a0workers who need access to all the computing resources from any location with a network connection.Outsource several IT functions already and want to offload the entire IT burden.But utility computing is not for everyone, including:Companies that recently invested significantly in technology and own the hardware and software licensing.Technology companies that enjoy tinkering with their own IT infrastructure.Firms with a single office and no interest in mobility or remote access.For SMBs that want to own their IT resources and keep staff members in-house, outsourcing individual IT projects might make sense. To determine which projects to consider, companies should isolate the IT projects that eat up the most internal resources in staff time and cash, then consider which would best benefit from technical expertise not available in their internal IT department.Some good candidates for outsourcing include spam management; security; system-wide hardware and software updates; software asset management; and Web site\/intranet development and management. By outsourcing technology services, SMBs can ensure they stay focused on strategic planning, production support and project management. And by establishing a relationship with the right provider partner, they can do the one thing that matters most during challenging economic times: improve their bottom lines.For information on SMB technology partners, head to The Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance (ITSPA).Allen was the director of enterprise solutions at technology solution provider Sarcom and sat on the ITSPA advisory board. Mr. Allen passed away recently. Network World sends its condolescences to his family, friends and colleagues.