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VMware: Serious SMB Focus, Re-ignited SMB Strategy

A new and restructured VMware took the stage at VMworld 2012 amid major changes driven by commoditization of “must-have” virtualization technology within enterprises and a cultural change where mobility is driving many technology decisions. Although the most important announcements included the vCloud Suite, the software-defined datacenter and the death of vRAM pricing, there were several other pronouncements that were especially relevant to SMBs, most significantly vSphere 5.1.

VMware has always offered solutions that were appropriate for the SMB market, but have not been considered a priority as the enterprise business segment, without real competition, kept VMware busy, growing and profitable. However, over the past two years SMBs have begun to grow in importance for VMware driven by several factors:

  • The Enterprise segment has become increasingly virtualized (saturated) and starting to look more limited in growth prospects; the remaining high growth areas relegated  to emerging market countries and increasing penetration of workload yet to be virtualized within the mature economies

  • SMBs have overcome their initial hesitation with cloud-based services and become increasingly comfortable with using emerging Cloud technologies and Cloud Computing in general

  • Mobility and use of multiple devices anytime and from anywhere is becoming increasingly important within the SMB segment

  • Consultants and channel partners serving the SMB segment have evangelized the advantages of virtualization that enable SMBs to reduce IT management costs, provide better security and disaster recovery and improve application accessibility

  • After a slow start, Microsoft made a strong move into the virtualization space at low price points, expanding the awareness of virtualization within their SMB base

  • Microsoft’s huge base of channel partners found it easy to market Microsoft’s virtualization solutions to their customers


As a result of the above factors, SMB market segment began to appear like a growing and untapped opportunity deserving serious consideration and potentially aggressive investment.

SMB Virtualization Opportunity

Our research shows that this consideration has plenty of merit: a recent Techaisle survey of 3,300 SMBs in US, UK, Germany clearly shows that virtualization is now among the top 3 relevant technologies for small and mid-market businesses (SMBs) and rapid growth is expected to continue. Typically, SMBs begin their virtualization journey with either desktop or server virtualization and based on that success, move to other virtualization technologies. This relatively newfound interest among SMBs bodes extremely well for VMware and its channel partners.


 There is no doubt that SMB Server Virtualization is a huge opportunity. Techaisle survey of 3,300 SMBs in US, UK, Germany clearly shows that opportunity is real. If VMware does not move aggressively, others will move in rapidly.



Important VMware SMB Announcements

vSphere 5.1 (there are two versions) with vSphere Essentials Kits for SMBs for up to 250 employees on a single site or vSphere 5.1 with vSphere Acceleration Kits for SMBs with 250+ employees across two or more sites were by far the most significant product announcements for small and mid-market businesses as they are targeted directly at the mid-market space in terms of functionality, price, ease of installation and deployment.

Pricing starts at US$495 for vSphere Essentials and goes up to US$4,495 for vSphere Essential Plus that includes  vMotion (for live migration of virtual machines, no shared storage), endpoint security, high availability and fault tolerance, data protection and replication features , vSphere Storage Appliance. With this new version, VMware has simplified the installation of storage appliance and a one-to-one relationship between vCenter and vSphere Storage Appliance is no longer a requirement.

vSphere Acceleration Kits includes everything that is available in vSphere Essentials plus IT operations management, application inventory and patching, powerful and efficient resource management, and policy-based automation. The pricing starts at US$6,995 per 6-CPU license.  And a new solution, vSphere Standard with Operations Management, includes all the enhanced features of vSphere Standard plus vCenter Operations Manager and vCenter Protect for operations management, application inventory and patching in one bundle for $10,000 per 6 CPU license.

For those SMBs that are tip-toeing into the virtualization arena, there is VMware Go Pro (first announced in January 2011) which is a web-based service to deploy, manage and maintain virtualized environments, and lowering barriers to entry. It offers the ability to convert physical servers to virtual servers through a browser. In fact cloud-based virtual machine capability is a new feature. Incidentally, 30 free endpoint licenses of VMware Go Pro is included in every new purchase for vSphere Essentials or Essentials Plus Kit purchases until December 15, 2012.

VMware View is VMware’s VDI solution and its upcoming Horizon Suite beta is the answer for centralized application and data management addressing the needs of SMBs that are using VDI as a fast-path to mobility.

Techaisle Takeaway

Right Direction by VMware in Addressing the Needs of SMBs

With these virtualization solutions VMware is potentially addressing important needs of SMBs considering virtualization including simplified management, backup and recovery, and security.  The solutions allow SMBs to take advantage of existing investments by relying on the same management interfaces used to secure physical environments. These are the types of characteristics that SMBs have embraced wholeheartedly in other areas of Cloud-based Services, which led to rapid adoption and overthrow of the expensive and overly-complex Client-Server approach to IT.

Included in the offering is a backup and recovery solution for complete data protection for virtual machines and virtual machine level replication. In addition the storage appliance (now included in vSphere Essentials Plus and all vSphere Acceleration Kits) allows SMBs to easily and cost-effectively deploy shared storage even in remote and branch offices. VMware vShield Endpoint helps in strengthening security for virtual machines while delegating antivirus and anti-malware agent processing to a dedicated secure virtual appliance.

There were other solutions that were announced by VMware, primarily targeted at the enterprise segment, but we believe, with some modifications are equally relevant for the SMBs. These are software-defined datacenters and Cloud Operations Services.

Enterprise Targeted Solutions Equally Relevant for SMBs

Software defined datacenters: While relatively unknown to SMBs at this stage, this future mainstay will become highly relevant within the next 3 – 5 years. It is therefore essential for VMware to keep in mind the specific design points and requirements of SMBs in addition to the larger accounts as it develops its product and strategy for software-defined-datacenters. SMBs continue to be concerned about the increasing complexity of IT and 77% have expressed the concern in a recent survey. While provisioning VMs (virtual machines) may only take a few minutes, when storage and networking components are added, the proposition begins to become more complex, requiring more time and resources.  Based on how SMBs are adopting cloud-based services and looking at some of the new, innovative services platform technologies that are gaining quick acceptance in the market, there seems to be some space in the market for a plug-and-play “base datacenter package” that would be appropriate for SMBs in this area.  In a nutshell, this base package should allow rapid provisioning of the key components of the environment (compute, storage, and network) as a virtual datacenter. As SMBs expand operations and grow regionally, the ability to quickly re-configure new and existing locations by shrinking, extending or moving virtual machines along with networking to meet elastic demand requirements would be a very valuable proposition.

Tools for the SMB Trusted Advisor

VMware Cloud Operations Services:  currently positioned as a trusted advisor for CIOs of enterprises on a cloud journey.  It also seems the market is in real need of a simplified and cost-effective version of the services that will be equally relevant for the SMB segment. Techaisle surveys have found that in the rush to implement Cloud Services, users especially among Small Businesses, are beginning to rely much more on independent IT Consultants as their new source of advice. Also, based on the ability of vendors to market, sell and deliver these services completely through a digital channel, SMBs are turning directly to vendors for their advice. As discussed in a previous post, the critical issue, now more than ever, is to be the trusted advisor early in the SMB’s lifecycle and establish the relationship. VMware will also have to empower its channel partners with new training modules, competencies and financial incentive to offer advisory services, and come in and get these new offers up and running fast and right on the first try - the sure fire way to start a long term relationship with the SMB customer.

vRAM Pricing Still Ruling for Service Providers

Finally, it is not out of place to say that although vRAM pricing is dead, it is still the licensing metric for the VSPP (channel program). vRAM pricing for service providers is a different model - whereas vRAM for perpetual was a limitation on the entitlement, in VSPP it is the metric. Although the model allows service providers to offer their customers the benefits of opex-based “pay-as-you-go” service it may leave some smaller-sized service providers wanting more.  These service providers should work closely with VMware to determine possibles solution for their SMB customer needs. For example, in cases where,

  1. SMB customers on a perpetual license wanting to move from an on-premise to a hosted solution specially if they would be operating below the RAM caps

  2. SMB customers electing to use a mixed virtualization environment in a hosted model


As SMBs continue to adopt cloud services and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) becomes mainstream for SMBs, VMware needs to develop a strategy that encourages the hosting providers to address the SMB segment by having same consistent pricing, that is, per processor for both on-premise and hosted models. Until that happens, VMware is potentially opening the doors wider to competing products.

Concluding Remarks

It is quite apparent that VMware is committed to serving the needs of the SMB segment clearly demonstrated by its well thought out product enhancements, packaging and roadmap.  Centralized management and control, ability to “plug in” branch offices, keeping costs manageable and allowing existing IT staff to focus on measurable value are huge value propositions to SMBs. It is also a new service that SMB focused service providers can offer by leveraging these centralized management tools and better support their customers.  It is an excellent opportunity for the channel, which is being rapidly disintermediated by the rise of vendor direct online marketing, new consulting competitors and redeployed internal IT resources, which we have covered in depth in another post. A recent Techaisle study of over 1600 Channel Partners shows many of these partners are struggling for lack of serious value-added opportunities and could benefit from VMware’s new SMB offers.

Anurag Agrawal
Techaisle


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