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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Managed services in the SMB channel

What is the current state of managed services in the channel?

Techaisle’s SMB global channel partner research shows that in the US 71% are currently offering one or more managed services solutions and another 18% are planning to offer managed services within one year. Techaisle believes that the channel is at the beginning of a migration from generalist to specialist firms that will play out over the next few years. With that in mind, it is fair to ask, how widespread is managed services delivery today?

Figure below, taken from Techaisle’s US SMB Managed Services Channel Study illustrates the proportion of channel partners that currently offer managed services to SMBs. Unsurprisingly, 100% of MSPs report that they do so. What might be more surprising is the extent to which channel members with other core business models provide managed services to their SMB clients. Roughly two-thirds of VARs and SPs, and 80% of SIs, offer managed services to SMB customers. IT consultants are less likely to do so, but here, too, one-third of firms are already using managed services delivery to support SMB clients.

techaisle-us-smb-channel-managed-services-current-planned-resized

Above data demonstrates that there has been and continues to be substantial take-up in managed services as a business delivery model outside of MSPs. This will help to build SMB customer awareness of the benefits of the approach and comfort with managed services as a delivery model. It will also have a positive impact on the channel generally, as experience with managed services helps build channel familiarity with recurring revenue models which will be important in other important channel business areas, such as cloud.

Comfort level with – and profitability of – managed services

Clearly, SMB channel members of many types are investing in developing managed services capabilities. This trend begs the question, to what extent are these firms benefitting from these investments?

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VMware – threading the SMB needle

VMware has been in the news recently – a valuable asset for Dell, caught between the Dell-EMC deal (see analysis of the deal here). Just a couple of months ago VMware had its VMworld, a forum for VMware to articulate its strategy to customers, partners, media and analysts. VMware’s 2015 theme “Ready for Any” was centered on the challenges that IT professionals are facing today - security, mobility, application delivery and hybrid cloud – and the company’s strategy of supporting “One Cloud, Any Application, Any Device” as a means of empowering IT management to respond to these challenges. VMware’s vision is to “enable an architecture that lets IT deploy or consume capacity from a cloud without having to worry about the physical location or who the vendor is. To do this VMware wants make sure that different form factors of the cloud (private, public, managed, etc.) connect or are transferable”.

Hybrid IT, including hybrid cloud, is no longer an appealing future proposition; it is a current reality as workloads increasingly run internally on a highly-optimized virtual environment connected to a public cloud, and public cloud resources are being widely used for developing and testing applications to be deployed on private or hybrid clouds. Many workloads process data in the public domain and simultaneously store sensitive data in the traditional data center to meet regulatory and compliance guidelines. Techaisle’s SMB & midmarket cloud adoption survey shows that within SMBs, use of hybrid cloud will continue to increase as both a conscious strategy and as a reaction to use of both public and private resources within a single infrastructure; hybrid use is expected to top 40% within the small business market, and will be used by two-thirds of companies with 100-999 employees.

Over the last two years, as virtualization penetration within enterprises has been slowing, VMware has been broadening its solution portfolio to deliver solutions for management and delivery of on/off-premise IT infrastructure. As a result, VMware’s product line has grown beyond compute: it rolled out vSAN for storage, NSX for network, and vRealize for management. Last year, VMware announced its vision of software-defined data center (SDDC) and introduced EVO:RAIL, which ties VMware software to partner hardware for a hyper-converged appliance. In the most recent VMworld this vision was extended to EVO:RACK: while EVO:RAIL was positioned as "SDDC in a box" suitable for midmarket businesses, EVO:RACK (now marketed as VMware EVO SDDC) is aimed at large enterprise customers. In Techaisle’s view, vSAN and EVO:RAIL are also relevant solutions for SMB customers looking to adopt hyper-converged infrastructure.

In 2014, VMware had announced integration between on-premise vSphere and VMware's own public cloud (vCloud Air) enabling businesses to migrate workloads to a VMware-based public cloud. In 2015, VMware extended the narrative to announce Unified Hybrid Cloud - built on SDDC and vSphere - to enable IT professionals run, build, deliver and secure any application, anytime and anywhere. Despite new offerings it is common knowledge that VMware still lags Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in the public cloud market.

VMware is continuing its investment in network virtualization and in the future of NSX. It announced NSX 6.2 with added features such as inter vCenter NSX support, universal firewall rules and security groups, and Trace flow. Techaisle assumes a bigger game changer to be the integration between virtual and physical networks when VMware and partners such as HP complete the support of OVSDB in NSX to manage hardware virtual tunnel end-points (VTEPs).

Key market context

While enterprise market may be saturated, virtualization adoption within SMBs is far from over. Techaisle’s SMB & midmarket Server Virtualization adoption market trends study shows that US SMB server virtualization penetration has reached 54 percent (un-weighted), up from 41 percent two years ago. Within midmarket businesses the penetration has reached 88 percent and another 7 percent are planning adoption in the next year. Across the entire SMB community, there has been a 45% increase in off-premise virtualized servers in the past two years, an enormous shift that highlights the broader shift towards remote management of infrastructure resource. VMware has positioned itself to capitalize on the immense SMB opportunity, however, it needs to have a sales motion that is specifically targeting net new customers within SMBs rather than “mining” the installed base as in enterprises.

The real VMware SMB story is in EUC – enabling untethered mobility

The real story and opportunity for VMware, though, is in end-user computing.

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SMB and midmarket server virtualization adoption drivers changing

Techaisle’s SMB & midmarket virtualization adoption research shows that some adoption drivers that were less important in 2013 have assumed increased prominence today, some have dropped off while top two have remain constant and consistent. The figure below shows that some of the top issues, including a need to reduce operating costs, to establish effective backup and recovery strategies, and to provide better security for corporate data and infrastructure, were important to SMB buyers two years ago and are still important today.

techaisle-smb-midmarket-reasons-for-using-server-virtualization-resized 

Two of the 2013 issues have disappeared altogether because they no longer had the same degree of urgency: “move towards cloud computing” is not a driver when the market has already embraced this move, and “reduce energy costs” is less important when power-constrained operations can move processing to the cloud.

“Deliver services on demand” was the ninth-ranked driver of virtualization adoption just two years ago, but today, when “on demand” has become the default mode of delivery, it is the fourth-highest rated adoption driver. Regulatory compliance is another issue that is more important today (ranked fifth) than it was in 2013 (when it was ranked 11th of 13 issues). Scalability, which was added to the 2015 survey in response to increased market interest, debuts as the sixth most compelling reason for server virtualization adoption, while anywhere/any device application access, which is also new to the 2015 survey, is cited as an important adoption issue. On the other side of the balance, the comparison of 2013 and 2015 research indicates that SMB firms are now putting less emphasis on server virtualization as a means of reducing IT support costs and improving utilization of existing hardware. It appears that the issues that are increasing in importance speak to the ability of server virtualization to support key business objectives, while those framed entirely as means of enabling specific types of IT cost control are declining in relative importance.

techaisle-smb-channel-different-virtualization-adoption-perspectives-resized

Interestingly, the IT channel – which is the primary source of IT supply and advisory services to mid-market businesses – has a more advanced take on server virtualization adoption drivers than the customer community that it supports. Above figure compares the channel’s perception of why SMBs are embracing server virtualization with the actual user motivations. We see that the channel is more focused on support for advanced business objectives – delivery of on-demand services, scalability, and anywhere/any device application access – than is the user community itself. This suggests that channel members (two-thirds of which reports that they sell/support server virtualization) are attuned to evolving needs, which speaks well of the channel’s ability to continue to promote server virtualization within the SMB market.

Despite the buzz around cloud, most SMB workloads are still hosted and managed on site, and SMBs have a clear need to reduce costs and improve efficiency of back-end infrastructure and to establish better control over mobile resources. Virtualization helps accomplish both of these goals, and converged infrastructure provides a platform that sophisticated SMB users are already finding compelling. Techaisle believes that virtualization and converged infrastructure are poised for strong growth in the SMB market because they address specific high-priority IT and business issues. It’s important to remember, though, that different virtualization technologies are aligned with different requirements. Server virtualization addresses corporate need for controlling cost and uncertainty, while VDI and DaaS provide control options for mobility solutions. Although they stand to benefit from user comfort engendered by server virtualization, VDI and DaaS should not be seen simply as “next steps in virtualization” – they play a different role in business and IT strategy, and as a result, will respond to their own logic.

Use of server virtualization is reasonably widespread in the small business market, and nearly universal within midmarket enterprises. Suppliers targeting high-potential server virtualization accounts in the 1-99 employee segment are urged to use Techaisle’s IT sophistication segmentation to identify “Advanced IT” organizations, which are far more likely to be using server virtualization than their “Pre-IT” or “Basic IT” peers. Suppliers are also urged to cultivate relationships with firms that host servers for SMBs, as the growth of virtualization in hosted environments is far higher than growth in on-premise use of virtualized servers. 

 

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SMB Server virtualization penetration is increasing but challenges remain

Techaisle’s SMB Server Virtualization adoption market trends study shows that US SMB server virtualization penetration has reached 54 percent (un-weighted), up from 41 percent two years ago. Within midmarket businesses the penetration has reached 88 percent and another 7 percent are planning in the next one year.

Figure below uses data from multiple surveys to illustrate trends in virtualization penetration within SMB accounts that have adopted server virtualization. In 2013 the proportions of servers virtualized was very similar across all employee size categories, ranging from 61%-62% in microbusinesses (which sometimes only have one server, making virtualization an all-or-nothing proposition) to just over 50% in midmarket enterprises with 500-999 employees, which can be expected to have many servers. The statistics for 2014 show virtualization penetration rising in all employee-size segments: rapidly in microbusinesses and the 500-999 midmarket enterprises, and gradually in other SMB segments. The perspective on future intentions, drawn from the Techaisle SMB 2015 survey, indicates that these trends will continue and accelerate. Microbusinesses and larger SMBs (including both the 250-499 and the 500-999 segments) are expecting rapid further penetration of virtualized servers, and the other midmarket segments are expecting a further 6%-10% of servers to be virtualized.

percent-servers-virtualized-within-smbs-2015-techaisle

What does this trend mean to the market?

Clearly, there is increasing opportunity for hypervisor sales, and Techaisle would expect that VMware will find purchase within companies looking to connect virtualized servers to other infrastructure assets (especially, for example, hybrid cloud or software-defined networking or storage), while alternative suppliers, such as Microsoft, gain share in the core market as multi-hypervisor strategies become more common. Techaisle expects that this trend also indicates increased opportunity for converged infrastructure products as these systems can be used to capitalize on advanced virtualization capabilities.

Location of Virtualized servers

A comparison of 2013 and 2015 research results shows that within each employee size segment, SMB end-user organizations are becoming more likely to virtualize servers that are located outside of their business premises. Across the entire SMB community, there has been a 45% increase in off-premise virtualized servers in the past two years: an enormous shift that highlights the broader shift towards remote management of infrastructure resource.

location-of-virtualized-servers-smbs-2015-techaisle

If virtualizing servers is so popular – why isn’t it universal?

The Techaisle interview of 848 US SMB ITDMs uncovered a number of reasons why SMBs struggle with virtualization adoption. The top five challenges cited in the research illustrate the complexity that can accompany infrastructure changes.

The most prominent challenge, cited by 34% of SMB respondents, was the high cost of virtualization licenses, which may explain why the expansion of virtualization within current user accounts often includes investigation of (and in many cases, migration to) a multi-hypervisor strategy that adds “free” options such as Hyper-V and Xen.

top-5-server-virtualization-smb-challenges-2015-techaisle

The third most common challenge is that management of virtual servers proved to be more difficult than anticipated, which may reflect initial learning curve struggles and/or incremental complexities associated with environments relying on multiple hypervisors.

The second leading challenge, “projected cost/space/power savings not achieved,” highlights both the cost and complexity issues: it can be difficult to obtain projected densities/utilization rates during the adoption/migration period, and expenses can escalate in several ways: due to costs associated with virtualization solution licenses, and also because of the “high cost of ISV licenses for applications running in a virtualized environment” and generally higher-than-anticipated project costs. It is worth noting as well that in small businesses (1-99 employees), “lack of experience” is also seen as a major server virtualization challenge, cited by 22% of survey respondents.

On the positive side, the relatively high level of server virtualization experience found within the SMB channel partners (Techaisle SMB Channel Trends study) may help mitigate this issue – but it should act as a caution when evaluating market outlooks for VDI and DaaS, where experience levels within both the SMB buyer and SMB channel communities are much lower.

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