Small businesses have not been using virtualisation as the complexity has proved to be too much for organisations with limited IT skills.

Now, a British company is looking change that mindset by offering small businesses hosted desktops.

Thinkgrid CEO, Rob Lovell said that the intention was to ensure that small businesses wouldn't miss out on the latest technological developments. "We wanted to put a hosted offering together that would use all the features of a modern enterprise - technologies such as virtualisation, SANs or grid computing."

He added that it had been important to position the company carefully and not confuse them with too much technical terminology. "For example," he said. "They wouldn't really understand terms like on-demand computing."

Lovell said that the company started up some months ago and has been quietly signing up customers ever since. "We got over 500 users accessing the service on a trial basis, the aim is to convert them to paying customers. We've just started charging them and 70 percent have signed up in a month."

Part of the appeal, added Lovell was that by offering a hosted desktop service, companies would be able to experience quite a radical departure. "Most of our users have a traditional PC set-up that they either look after themselves, or have Norman up the road manage," Lovell said.

Thinkgrid hopes that by offering range of services, smaller businesses will start to adopt technologies that could increase business efficiency, technologies that might not have looked at otherwise. "One thing that we've done that is incredibly popular is to offer hosted Blackberries service," said Lovell.

One of the biggest difficulties faced by any hosting company is ensuring that customer support is first-rate. Thinkgrid hopes that it has cracked that particular problem. "We've created a network of support 'pods' of five people who are assigned to particular accounts. It means that they know the customers by name. The last thing we wanted to do was get the reputation as a company that would put you through 6 rounds of IVR before the query gets answered."

Thinkgrid uses technology from a variety of vendors: HP for its SANs and blades, Microsoft Windows for its grid, Vmware and Parallels for the virtualisation.

The company has confined itself to Europe so far. "There's no reason why we couldn't have companies from the US or Asia Pacific but support might be an issue,

Pricing is per technology, per seat. For example, a hosted Office desktop would cost £49 per month, per user. If you want Sage on top of that, it's an extra £1, if you want VoIP, that's an extra £20 a month and so on."

It sounds expensive but Lovell points out that the cost of the software, the backup, security and the support. "We reckon that hosted desktop costs about 30 percent less than buying and running your own," he said. "There's also the flexibility to consider, you could take up a service on a trial basis for six months to see if it's something you need and drop it, if it's not."

Lovell said that few companies were offering this sort of service to smaller businesses. "The only we've come across is a company called Nasstar which offers something similar but based on Citrix thin clients rather than the virtualised machines that we offer."