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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.

SMB Converged infrastructure: Poised for growth at the expense of traditional servers?

The ongoing migration to server virtualization – within small businesses that have not yet adopted virtualization and within midmarket enterprises that are consolidating workloads on new, virtualization-ready infrastructure – will drive substantial near-term demand for converged infrastructure. Techaisle survey data shows that adoption of converged infrastructure is expected to double within the one year planning horizon. This is unlikely to represent ‘net new’ server demand; instead, Techaisle expects converged infrastructure growth to occur at the expense of traditional server products.

While the migration from separate server, storage and networking products to converged infrastructure is still in its early stages, the Techaisle SMB & midmarket converged infrastructure adoption trends survey shows that it is beginning to gain traction, especially within more sophisticated accounts. In the US, converged infrastructure is currently used within 32% of midmarket businesses, with another 31% planning to acquire within a year. Techaisle’s segmentation by IT sophistication demonstrates converged infrastructure adoption rises steadily with increased buyer sophistication in both the small and midmarket segments. US SMBs spent US$3.8B on converged infrastructure solutions’ implementation in 2014.

Additional survey data illustrates that suppliers of converged infrastructure should be proactive in making potential customers aware of the benefits of their technologies. While roughly half of both small and midmarket businesses describe themselves as being in the information gathering stage, one-third are currently identifying potential solutions, and 15%-20% are evaluating suppliers. It seems unlikely that buyers will ‘mix and match’ converged infrastructure technology, so it is important for suppliers to win initial orders – and the data shows that many of these purchase decisions are already underway.

While there are technical advantages that make converged infrastructure products more effective virtualization hosts than traditional servers, Techaisle’s research shows that SMB buyers adopt converged infrastructure for one or more of five primary reasons:

  1. to benefit from converged infrastructure’s integrated design and efficiency,
  2. to tap into its ability to enable centralization/management of resources,
  3. to capitalize on performance/time-to-benefit advantages,
  4. to improve IT agility and its ability to meet business needs, and
  5. in response to core requirements for cost savings and improved security.

In another section of the Techaisle SMB 2015 research, respondents were asked to identify projects that prompt consideration and purchase of converged infrastructure products. Comparison of small and midmarket business drivers finds both some commonality and some variations. Both small businesses and midmarket enterprises are most likely to acquire converged infrastructure to support data center consolidation, and virtualization applications as well as impetus for data migration. Key applications – Big Data and unified communications, SharePoint, and in small businesses, custom applications – are also project types that can drive adoption of converged infrastructure.

To enhance the scope of comparisons Techaisle also posed similar question to channel respondents in Techaisle’s SMB channel partner trends survey. The data provides yet another perspective reflecting the situations in which the channel is drawn into converged infrastructure decisions. Big Data – which requires a relatively wide range of competencies – is the project type that will most commonly require the channel to deploy converged infrastructure systems, and SharePoint projects which also demand a broad skill set, are the third most common project cited as a converged infrastructure adoption driver.

Question is “what sales channels are best positioned to intercept this demand?” Data shows that converged infrastructure routes to market will likely follow the pathways used to acquire software management layer that controls these physical resources. Both small and midmarket businesses are most likely to turn to hypervisor and networking vendors. Systems integrators have a substantial presence in the supply of these solutions whereas as VARs and managed service providers (MSPs) have more limited presence/appeal as virtualization solution sources.

In many ways, the key market issue surrounding converged infrastructure isn’t vendor-vs.-vendor competition, but rather, the ability of converged infrastructure as a system class to gain share quickly vs. traditional server products, while not being obviated by the cloud before attaining mass market penetration. However, suppliers are competing for share in this growth category, and understanding SMB what buyers are looking for – and what they struggle with when they adopt converged infrastructure – is important to positioning a brand as a credible solution.

 

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SMBs Projected to Spend over $250 Billion on Data center technology between 2012 and 2016

SMB Datacenter SegmentsSmall and Mid-Market firms will invest over a quarter trillion dollars in Datacenter Technology in the period between 2012 and 2016, according to the most recent report from Techaisle. Datacenter segments include Servers, Networking including Security Appliances and Storage solutions. We can also begin to add Virtualization within the context of data center as virtualized data centers are becoming front-and-center. As seen in this bubble chart, the nine key segments include each of the three product categories in the three largest regional markets, North America, Asia Pacific and Western Europe.  As we have shown in recent reporting, the rise of China continues to offer some of the most interesting market opportunities for vendors marketing to SMBs; the Asia/Pacific Storage Market being is the latest example, with combined spending over the forecast of $16B alone at a CAGR of over 22%. This is followed by the Asia/Pacific Networking Market, which is expected to reach $24B at a 14% rate. Although not growing as fast at 7%, the Asia/Pac Server Segment is expected to reach ~$17B. Other important points include:

    • Growth rates for the combined Datacenter volume by region are forecast at 14% CAGR for Asia Pacific, 7% for North America and 5% for Western Europe. Worldwide is estimated at 8%. Combined market share of these three Regions accounts for 80%+ of Spending over the period.

 

    • The North American Market with lower growth rates manages to stay ahead in volume overall for the combined spending, but as is happening with Japan and Western Europe already, the US Market will most likely be eclipsed in volume by China in the following, post-2016 forecast.

 

    • Western Europe Networking and Server Segments will be overtaken during the current forecast, again squeezed by increases to Asia/Pacific by China.

 

    • Latin America is growing relatively quickly at over 9%, driven by rapid Networking and Storage adoption but Spending is limited to <6% of the WW Total.



SMB Datacenter by RegionAs mentioned, North American SMBs will spend the most, with Storage expected to grow fastest at ~11%, and while Western Europe Spending remains stable, Storage is also expected to grow the fastest at ~7%.  Asia/Pacific at ~14% overall is influenced by rapid growth in all three Segments, especially Storage, which was the fastest rate among all Regions and Segments that had real volume, i.e. 2%+ WW Share.

As per Techaisle's upcoming channel report, over 35 percent of VAR channels have started to address data center solutions. And as always, China is an anomaly where over 40 percent of VAR channels are now offering data center solutions.

 

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Cloud Object Storage – a datacenter component for mid-market businesses

Dropbox, Carbonite and many others have accelerated the use of Cloud storage in the consumer market for backup of music, photo, file sharing and more recently with various social networking needs and media sites. Similarly, Box.net has established its strong presence within the business segment. Techaisle’s SMB and mid-market business MarketView forecast shows that cloud storage will be a US$1.1 Billion market by 2016 growing at a 37 percent CAGR.

It would not be out of place to say that businesses are always very concerned about regulations and business policies requiring them to retain data for longer periods. Add to this the intricacies involving data protection via backups and replication, data scalability requirements and data availability needs across multiple geographies - the complexities and cost with storing massive amounts of data that is generated across the enterprise becomes huge.

Though it has limitations, an object based Cloud storage solution addresses many of the business challenges above – a scalable, easily replicable, pay-as-you go solution that is geographically accessible through public internet solution, thereby meeting businesses’ most demanding requirements with respect to their data storage policies.

Given the cost competitiveness, scalability and security attributes, backed by enterprise grade SLAs, Object Storage in the Cloud is an extremely viable option for the small and medium businesses (SMBs) looking to migrate their datacenters into the Cloud. RAID arrays are mostly used by mid-sized businesses but that is no protection against a disaster or any malware attacks.

What is Object Storage and why it is significant for mid-market businesses?

An object Storage solution breaks storage data into distinct segments, or ‘Objects’, each containing a unique identifier (or metadata) that allows data retrieval.

Valet parking is often cited as an analogy for Object Storage. When parking at a garage, the attendant gives a claim ticket that identifies the car that allows the driver to pick up the car later. The driver is not concerned where the car is parked as long as it is identifiable when it is time for pick up. Object Storage, likewise, stores data (objects) and retrieves when required based on its unique identifier.

Object Storage differs from traditional Storage Area Network (SAN) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) in that the former is ‘Object Based’ and has the following characteristics:

    • Each object has its own ID, metadata, data protection policy and is unlike any file system where files often inherit attributes from their parent containers/files/directories.

 

    • There is no limit on volume restriction of size of file systems – unlimited scalability, not limited on infrastructure capacity maximums.

 

    • Data is accessible anywhere over HTTPs - availability of the service can be anywhere on the internet. Hence this is latency sensitive.

 

    • Data is typically retrieved via a RESTful or SOAP based API Web service. Storage vendors have their own proprietary API platforms – e.g. Amazon S3, Nirvanix APIs, OpenStack or EMC Atmos platforms. Any programming language that supports web service-based API calls to remote systems can be used to build applications around the storage solutions.

 

    • Price, which is normally based on usage, is much lower than traditional Block and File storage solutions. Businesses typically pay a per-gigabyte rate for upload and download and a per-gigabyte fee for monthly storage. In addition, some providers charge for each data access request based on reads, writes, etc.



Use Cases

    • Data Archiving and backup: Retain data that needs to be easily accessible and always available but is not constantly used in real-time.

 

    • Data Compliance Requirements: Must keep data safely and reliably for audits, reporting, regulatory compliance, discovery, backup and restore, or disaster recovery.

 

    • Data accessibility: Have a library of content and/or media files that employees in many locations must access to download items. Also need employees in many locations to be able to upload or download files.

 

    • Web 2.0 and Social Media: Manage exploding data growth or have fluctuating data storage requirements - Object storage systems have massive scale and provide moderate performance at low cost.



Medical Imaging and medical records applications also have massive use for Object Storage due to sheer volume of data storage requirements. Healthcare Vertical, particularly, have shown high adoption rates for Object based storage.

Competitive Landscape

The market is yet very fragmented though Amazon AWS Simple Storage Service (S3) is considered the leader in this space. Though it has challenges, AWS is a highly innovative service and has created AWS Storage Gateway that enables hybrid storage architectures that span both on and off premise storage options.  Nirvanix, a pure play Cloud Storage provider that offers public, hybrid or on-premise Nirvanix-powered storage services which are priced for various support levels. There are other big names such as Google, Windows Azure Blob, Rackspace CloudFiles, AT&T’s Synaptic Cloud Storage and recently Savvis has also entered the Cloud Object Storage space.

Vendors seek to differentiate themselves on price, quality of services (QoS), SLAs and hybrid architectures. At the same time they tend to gravitate towards some established storage and compute platforms to enable standardization, achieve economies of scale and allow for ecosystem build-up. This allows their business customers to combine their storage solutions with any third party solution that uses a similar platform. For example, AT&T Synaptic and Savvis are aligned with EMC Atmos Storage Platform, whereas providers like HP, Rackspace CloudFiles and SoftLayer are aligned wtih OpenStack platform. This enables any third party solution that is based on the above platforms to be combined with storage solutions offering any custom configurations. AmazonS3 is an exception that is based on its own AWS Storage Gateway.

Techaisle Take

Justifiably, there is a great deal of hype today around Object Storage, especially relating to its Cloud, Social Media and Big Data applications. However, it is important to understand the specific use cases and workloads Object Storage can be useful for, given its limitations such as Latency sensitivity, lack of standardization among object storage interfaces and in some specific uses where the stored data is modified frequently and hence not suitable for an Object Storage solution.

Upcoming report: Techaisle's Cloud Object Storage Competitive Landscape report.
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