Almost 40 percent of firms expect to be paying for one or more cloud services within three years, according to a Microsoft report.

The IT vendor announced the results of its third annual worldwide study into how SMEs will use cloud services over the next three years. A total of 3,258 companies with between two and 250 employees were surveyed in 16 countries.

The survey found that 39 percent of SMEs expect to be paying for one or more cloud services within three years, an increase of 34 percent from today's figures.

SMEs are most likely to have a hybrid IT environment, using the cloud for workloads such as business-class email, collaboration, accounting and payroll, according to the report. The number of cloud services SMEs pay for will nearly double in most countries over the next three years, it noted.

Other findings of the report include those SMEs paying for cloud services will be using 3.3 services - up from less than two services at present - while 82 percent of SMEs say that buying cloud services from a provider with local presence is important. Furthermore, the larger the business, the more likely it is to pay for cloud services. For example, 56 percent of companies with 51 to 250 or more employees may pay for an average of 3.7 services in three years' time.

Marco Limena, a vice-president of business channels at Microsoft, said: "Cloud adoption will be gradual, and SMEs will continue to operate using a hybrid model with an increasing blend between off-premises and traditional on-premises infrastructure, for the foreseeable future."

"As cloud computing becomes more ubiquitous and SMEs' existing IT becomes outdated, adoption will grow rapidly. Hosting service providers should consider the appropriate sales, delivery and support models to target larger SME customers that are more likely to pay for cloud services."

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