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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.

Cisco Meraki masterfully enabling digital workplaces for SMBs

New work patterns and acceleration of distributed workplaces are resulting in a range of productivity benefits for SMBs today. As such, businesses see increased workforce efficiencies and talent recruitment while minimizing cost by reducing intermediaries and integration of contract professionals – and even improved environmental performance through reduced commuting and building footprints.

In the quest to deploy a perfect hybrid workplace technology infrastructure, SMBs often overlook networking – wireless, routers, firewalls, and beyond. Similarly, as small business retailers and other small commercial offices struggle with re-opening uncertainties, they are also grappling with the daunting task of enabling secure and safe environments for their employees and customers. Digitization with minimum IT disruption and low manageability is on their minds.

Cash flow constraints, limited access to finances, competitive landscapes, need for innovation, erratic revenue, uncertainties, the pace of technology change, and many more are drivers for achieving cost efficiencies within SMBs. Digital transformation is no longer the domain of only upper midmarket firms and enterprises. Techaisle's SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation survey research shows that 46% of SMBs are adopting digital transformation to reduce costs, and 38% are planning for innovation in customer engagement and services.

Helping SMBs thrive with robust IT solutions

Unbeknownst to many, the Cisco Meraki platform and the solutions that it powers is a critical foundational technology to fast-forward digital transformation for SMBs. Much of this comes from its ease of use, simplicity, and flexibility for lean IT to innovate by doing more with less.

Cisco acquired Meraki in 2012, around the same time (2013) when it divested Linksys to Belkin. Over the years, Cisco has continued to innovate on its highly successful Meraki platform. It is no secret that Cisco Meraki invented cloud-managed networking technology in 2006 and has continued to innovate and expand the networking portfolio to IoT solutions and cover any business need or use case. The Meraki platform consists of switching, security & SD-WAN, wireless access points, mobile device management, and now extending to IoT, including smart cameras and AI-equipped sensors to drive business intelligence.

When it comes to deep intelligence and analytics, Meraki Health and Meraki Insight allow SMBs to monitor all aspects of their network and applications from the Meraki dashboard or API and easily detect and fix potential issues in minutes. Techaisle's survey research shows that only 4% of small businesses have internal full-time IT staff. They spend 79% of their time on support, maintenance, and troubleshooting—creating not only an IT efficiency deficit but also negatively impacting organizational productivity. Meraki Health's objective is to make troubleshooting simple for the lean, almost non-existent, or over-burdened small business owner/manager. Ultimately, small businesses need to propel growth and enable new business initiatives freeing up time and resources.

To ease the digital transformation, Meraki provides many capabilities that protect SMBs of any size, including:

  • Preventing cyber-attacks: Meraki MX Security & SD-WAN appliances protect SMB business, users, and devices. Meraki security has the backing of Cisco Talos, one of the largest commercial threat intelligence teams globally.
  • Deploying remote workers: Meraki Z3 teleworker gateways provide connectivity and secure and seamless in-office experiences. Meraki Insight delivers deep visibility into critical business applications and proactive troubleshooting for remote workers.
  • Ensuring safe occupancy: Meraki MV smart cameras lets SMBs maintain social distancing guidelines by remotely monitoring and tracking safe occupancy levels in physical environments through intelligent analytics, such as object detection and tracking.
  • Cost savings from simplicity: All Meraki products are deployed and controlled from a single pane of glass. Meraki Health is available for all devices, saving a lot of troubleshooting time by pinpointing specific problematic devices and clients via root cause analysis.

SMBs agree that Meraki solutions can be quickly deployed with zero-touch provisioning and configuration and remotely managed through a cloud-based GUI dashboard (single pane of glass), with all-inclusive licensing. Meraki provides 24/7 technical support (email or phone) and a lifetime warranty on devices (except cameras & outdoor APs) with advanced replacement.

Challenges in small business security

Techaisle's SMB security survey research data shows that security is a top IT priority and challenge for 76% of SMBs, and 65% are planning to increase IT security investments. Within the SMB segment, small businesses often lack the skills required to work with software-based security solutions and tend to be 25%-33% less likely than midmarket firms to work with managed service providers.
Most small businesses are not proactive in addressing security issues, but that may not be the whole problem, or perhaps even the greatest obstacle to small business adoption of security technology. Relative to midmarket firms, small businesses have limited to no internal IT security staff, are not generally working with a managed service provider capable of handling security needs, and are about 50% less likely to embrace external vendors' software-based security solutions.

While small businesses could theoretically pursue some strategies used by larger competitors, they lack the experience and skills needed to identify, deploy, and manage the products and relationships used to develop shields protecting valuable corporate data, applications, and human assets.

Meraki addresses these issues by providing a secure in-office experience to remote workers—giving access to applications while maintaining visibility and control from anywhere with a cloud-managed dashboard. It also encrypts data with Auto VPN, allowing employees to quickly, securely, and remotely connect to corporate locations.

Meraki smart cameras also address physical security, remote monitoring, and intelligence by including on-device storage and flexibility to access the data through the cloud. The cameras allow for a significant amount of playback features with machine learning and AI to compress the data and provide business intelligence instantly gleaned from long recordings. It is an ideal product for SMBs implementing social distancing guidelines, remotely monitoring physical spaces, reducing in-person exposure on-site, and ensuring comprehensive security.

How SMBs can adapt and digitize

As I said earlier, there is increasing importance for innovation and digitization (not referring strictly to the substitution of digital records for physical documents, but more broadly to the use of digital technologies to meet business goals) in SMB strategy. A combination of increased reliance on technology as a critical element of business success, burgeoning complexity, and cost constraint has created a perfect storm for small businesses to adapt to their changing environments using specifically designed technology.

Over the last few months, we studied use cases and Meraki's usefulness within the SMB segment. Meraki addresses real and compelling issues, and I believe it will continue to expand within the SMB community. Verticals such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and financial services have been quick adopters of Meraki, specifically, for launching new business models, deploying remote workers, transitioning to hybrid workplaces, cybersecurity, location analysis, contact tracing, social distancing, personal safety, curbside pickup, and more.

SMB owners and executives are concerned with issues that extend beyond technology. Yet, today's business environments are increasingly dependent on IT support, products, and services that improve productivity and efficiency or expand market reach and potential.

IT initiatives that can be linked meaningfully to broader business objectives can attract SMB executive support – meaning that products and services that address key business priorities have the most significant growth potential. Meraki is well on its way.

The future of IT

Today's economy demands that technology support SMB activities. The future will be defined by them capitalizing on technology-enabled business options. If SMBs are thinking about the path forward, from today's foundation to tomorrow's opportunity, they should include Meraki in their evaluations. Writing this analysis reminds me that I am working from home, and I should probably replace my mesh-routers with Meraki devices.

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Delivering digital transformation benefits to SMB and mid-market customers

79% of US SMBs are either in the planning stage for digital transformation or have a formal strategy but only 19% are actively following through. Small businesses are behind midmarket firms. 29% of small businesses have no ongoing digital transformation strategy as compared to 9% of midmarket firms. As a result, there is a growing digital divide in the SMB segment and most SMBs need guidance in building a vision that involves separating digital transformation components into two nested and complementary ladders, one focused on technology, and second, focused on business outcomes.

The figure below presents a single-image depiction of these twin ladders of digital transformation. The bottom set of steps is labeled “the technology ladder,” and stretches from the deployment of modern, flexible infrastructure to advanced IT-enabled capabilities. The building blocks that are needed to establish an infrastructure that is capable of supporting digital transformation include mobility, virtualization, hyper-converged infrastructure, and other technologies essential to provisioning advanced IT services. These building block technologies are an essential foundation for digital transformation but deliver modest discrete value. The point automation solutions positioned at the base of the business outcomes ladder provide rapid but limited benefit through substitution and augmentation.

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SMB cloud maturity does not equate to digital transformation maturity - IT maturity does

Mature cloud adoption does not equate to high maturity in digital transformation of an SMB business. Data shows that only 44% of SMBs on the digital transformation maturity curve are also mature cloud adopters. It is true that these businesses believe in cloud and its effect on digitization but they also believe that true digital transformation requires advanced adoption of multiple technology solutions. Techaisle survey and segmentation data also shows that SMBs which have a siloed strategy of digital transformation are intermediate adopters of cloud, mostly driven by non-IT business units which need cloud to further their business objectives.

techaisle smb digital tramsformation maturity cloud maturity

Techaisle SMBs digital transformation research revealed that although businesses are investing in cloud solutions, there is a deep-rooted belief and position to continually invest in core modern infrastructure solutions to support emerging technologies that deliver new and previously unimaginable business outcomes.

The digital transformation mature SMBs believe that the roadmap to successful digital transformation begins with the creation of a sound physical infrastructure - the ‘building blocks’ or ‘foundations’ of business infrastructure. Digital transformation doesn’t start with a ‘set it and forget it’ approach to the core – it is organic, with evolution happening at all levels of the business infrastructure. They also believe that core infrastructure devices need to be kept in sync with the requirements of digital transformation initiatives; servers and storage and networking and security need to advance with the needs of the organization.

techaisle smb digital transformation depends on it maturity

Research also reveals that there is no simple way of building a comprehensive view of future IT requirements to drive digital transformation. Many of the most powerful and compelling technologies in today’s business world seem almost magical in their abstraction from the physical world that we work in every day. The future requires – at both a business and technology level – a connection between back-end infrastructure, applications and client devices – cloud to core to edge - managed through an effective strategy, to obtain superior returns from interactions with customers and prospects, employees, shareholders and partners, and the market as a whole.

Research Reports

US SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends survey research report
Europe SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends survey research report
Asia/Pacific SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends research
Latin America SMB and Midmarket Digital Adoption trends research

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HPE SMB go-to-market – a paradoxical problem but partners to the rescue

In response to my question, “what defines HPE’s SMB go-to-market strategy?”, Tim Peters, Vice President and General Manager, SMB, put it eloquently, “local empowered presence as a business solution provider through the largest partner network”. Perhaps, therein lies the paradoxical problem. HPE GreenLake and Ezmeral are top discussion topics amongst partners, enterprise customers, media and analysts. But none of these are yet available and targeted towards the SMB customer. Regardless of having a wide portfolio of SMB solutions, HPE’s SMB go-to-market messaging strategy is getting drowned under the onslaught of “return to software” shift. As a result, channel partners have become the most important conduit for information source and SMB solution selling. But data also shows that 70% of an SMB buyer’s journey is complete before first contact with a supplier (channel partner or direct vendor).

Partners resolving the paradoxical problem

The paradoxical problem that HPE faces relates to marketing to two bookends of market segments – enterprise with a software solution approach targeting developers and IT buyers and the SMB customer with a yet to neatly defined as-a-service offering where the primary buyer is the business management. As HPE continues to design GreenLake enabled offerings for the SMBs, utmost reliance on partners is important. Partners contribute to creating, shaping and defining demand – in some cases by making customers aware of a new category or product, in others by helping to define solution requirements or specifications. To achieve partner success within the SMB market, HPE is focused on reducing friction across its enablement initiatives. Launched three years ago, HPE has brought to the forefront its enablement program Pro Series – Sales Pro, Tech Pro, Marketing Pro. Partners can tailor their experiences based on SMB market segment, a robust program for channel partners for a unified learning experience and digital marketing. (More on this in a future Techaisle Take analysis). So the question is, is HPE relevant for SMB customers?

Is HPE relevant for SMB customers?

Yes, despite an intense focus on the enterprise segment, HPE is one of a handful of vendor suppliers with a dedicated SMB executive team, and a partner organization, under Paul Hunter, that is stepping up its commitment to SMB channel partners.

Enabling Digital transformation

79% of SMBs are on the road to digital transformation. The roadmap to successful digital transformation begins with the creation of a sound physical infrastructure - the ‘building blocks’ or ‘foundations’ of business infrastructure. The most advanced and digitally transformed SMB firms are looking to improve their ability to effectively manage IT delivery into the future – cost efficiencies, operational excellence, innovation, business growth, organizational productivity and IT’s speed and agility. HPE solutions lay the foundation for effective, agile, secure modernization and transformation.

I like that HPE does not have a catch-all process for selling digital transformation solutions to the SMB customers. There is a deliberate process to empower partners to understand an SMB customer's workloads and digital transformation stages before recommending, architecting, deploying and managing digital transformation solutions to deliver business outcomes.

Adopting Hybrid IT

Techaisle research shows that SMBs use a mix of public, private and public clouds – and that businesses often use two or three of these approaches simultaneously but they are definitely settling on the “best approach” which is hybrid. Workloads on hybrid has gone up by 30% in the last one year and basic hybrid deployment is expected to increase by 56% in the next one year. Hosted infrastructure will likely see a growth of 131% in the next one year.

HPE has several offerings for hybrid environments, including HPE OneSphere, HPE ProLiant for Azure Stack and Cloud-Ready Storage. Specifically, for SMBs, HPE has a set of five hybrid cloud solutions. Built upon the core features of HPE ProLiant Gen10 servers and Microsoft Azure services, these hybrid cloud offers provide a path to SMBs to enhance productivity, improve IT service delivery and manage cost efficiencies. The offering includes – Hybrid Remote Workers, Hybrid File and Backup, Hybrid Virtualization, Hybrid Development and Test, Hybrid Database.

In addition, HPE has solutions tailored for small businesses. Leading with its HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Plus featuring remote management and security capabilities. The solutions include Office in a Box, Scalable File and Backup as well as Edge to Cloud for simplified access to cloud services.

hpe smb solutions

Deploying Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Techaisle data shows that HCI adoption is within the top ten IT priorities for SMB customers. Although a distant third in HCI deployment, HPE’s SimpliVity solution has been growing at the edge for SMBs. It requires only 2 nodes to start, does not require separate storage and backup, and restoration can be done from a point in time. HPE’s dHCI is ideal for SMBs who want their compute or storage or network to scale independently. The entire environment is managed through vCenter and monitored through InfoSight making it easy for SMBs. It separates compute and storage so that they can grow independently giving the SMB customer flexibility of HCI.

Implementing Networking

Aruba Instant On announced last year, is suited for 100 users and below, extends to 7 switches and has both wired and wireless unified management through Aruba Central. However, it is only offered as a subscription service. John Moran, Sales Director, North America, HPE Aruba, points out that HPE has not come across Cisco’s Meraki Go in a competitive environment. I believe it is because Aruba Instant On is truly meant for the midmarket customers whereas Meraki Go is for the small businesses. Many SMBs still prefer outright purchase rather than subscriptions.

Is there a missing middle – midmarket segment?

Ignite Midmarket initiative, announced at HPE Discover in 2019, seems to have retreated into the background. As per Antonio Neri, President and CEO, HPE, midmarket initiative is still active and very important to HPE’s success. Within the HPE GreenLake Cloud services, HPE has designed 17 pre-configured offerings, available in small, medium, large pre-configured services which can be installed within 14 days. Some of the services are suitable for the midmarket segment.

HPE GreenLake Hybrid Cloud is of huge interest to the midmarket segment because it offers the promise of consumption-based cloud solution for on-premise scalability, security, performance and cost management without over-investment in infrastructure allowing cloud management of both public and private resources from one console. HPE is extending its GreenLake offerings for the midmarket for quick deployments of workloads with right sized and ready to go storage, compute and virtualization. For midmarket firms which do not own and manage their own data centers, HPE has partnered with Equinix and CyrusOne to offer co-location solutions. To help its channel partners that serve the midmarket segment, HPE has developed a new quoting tool that reduces quote time from 18 hours to 15 minutes.

HPE’s everything-as-a-Service enablers

HPE GreenLake

It is no secret that HPE has strategically dived into its swim-lane with a commitment to offer “everything-as-a-service” by 2022 - entire portfolio through a range of subscription, pay-per-use and consumption driven offerings. HPE GreenLake, which offers a flexible alternative to traditional on-premise IT hardware consumption, is the foundation for HPE’s as-a-service strategy. HPE’s GreenLake platform hosts servers, storage and networking in-house while retaining connectivity to multiple clouds overlaying with its own software and services. Cray acquisition in May 2019 is enabling HPE to offer HPC as-a-service for some of the most demanding workloads. HPE says that GreenLake has 90%+ customer retention rate (99% in July 2019).

HPE’s vision is to become the Edge-to-Cloud Platform as-a-Service company with a focus on customer use cases and solutions and HPE Ezmeral is core to its strategy. HPE already competes against Dell in storage, servers, and networking, with Cisco in networking, and with Lenovo in servers and NetApp in storage. With the launch of Ezmeral, HPE has expanded its competitive footprint to include VMware Tanzu and Red Hat OpenShift, but HPE is quick to point out that Ezmeral is the only solution with built-in persistent storage. VMware and Red Hat are also partnering and HPE is working with both to define where Ezmeral can really add value. As customer traction is increasing, the competition is also stepping up, specifically, Dell Technologies On Demand, Azure Stack, AWS Outposts, Lenovo TruScale Infrastructure Services.

Once HPE launches GreenLake for SMB segment and provides access to GreenLake Central to MSPs and channel partners we could very well see a welcome arrival of HPE's everything-as-a-service strategy into the SMB segment.

Hybrid Cloud focus

Public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud approaches each offer unique business benefits to the adopting organization. While public cloud can deliver rapid scale for temporary workloads or support smaller businesses that find appeal in OPEX procurement models, private cloud can deliver scale at better cost in some circumstances, while hybrid cloud offers better, faster access to formerly siloed sources of information. In each case, cloud capabilities, including automation, programmability, self-service access to on-demand resources and consumption metering, can help transform IT from a cost center to business enabler.

HPE has an alliance with Google to adopt Kubernetes in hybrid cloud environments and extend reach of its software-defined infrastructure for building private clouds to legacy ProLiant servers, HPE Nimble Storage dHCI and HPE Cloud Volumes Block. HPE is giving its customers an option of deploying on-prem servers with virtual machines with either a VMware vSAN storage software or the HPE SimpliVity hyperconverged infrastructure platform. Additionally, customers have the option of deploying Kubernetes on bare-metal server. HPE is also embedding its HPE OneView IT infrastructure management and HPE Composable Fabric networking solution to create a composable rack environment. HPE’s partnership with Nutanix provides an integrated hybrid cloud as a Service (aaS) option by leveraging Nutanix’s Enterprise Cloud OS software, AHV hypervisor and delivering the solution through HPE GreenLake for a fully HPE-managed hybrid cloud.

The scene stealer - Ezmeral

No doubt Ezmeral was a scene stealer at HPE Discover Virtual Event. It is a complete software portfolio spanning container management, AI/ML and data analytics, cost control, IT automation and AI-driven operations and security. It is expected to speed innovation, transform applications and data from edge to the cloud. All of these are within the planned technology adoption path and essential to enabling digital transformation for 83% of midmarket firms to reduce IT deficit and deliver previously unimaginable business outcomes. HPE’s initial focus is the enterprise segment. I strongly urge to not leave the midmarket segment behind. It is the true battleground segment.

Related HPE Techaisle Takes

HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen 10 Plus focuses on SMB Digital Transformation
HPE boldly pivoting headlong into post-transactional market
HPE addressing SMB and channel partner Hybrid IT demands
HPE vs Dell SMB IT solution stack
HPE – doubling down to be SMB’s IT partner of choice
Dell, HPE, IBM, Cisco competing for global SMB US$1 trillion IT Spend
Hyperconverged Infrastructure on a high-growth trajectory within SMBs and midmarket firms

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