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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.

Mid-Market Businesses Upgrading Network - Voices from the Field

One of the areas we watch most is the evolving needs of the SMB customer, who is being consistently pressured to speed up all core business processes while simultaneously reducing costs, generally  through the introduction of new technologies and specifically by adopting Cloud Computing approaches.

Looking Forward to SDN and SDDC  

Networking Spending Among Mid-Market companies (between 500 and 999 employees) recently interviewed, over 75% described their business being completely “Network Dependent” with a large share planning to move beyond Virtualization to Software-Defined-Networking (SDN) and Software-Defined-Data-Centers (SDDC).  Almost all had implemented Remote Managed Services (RMS), Cloud Computing, and Server Virtualization or VDI.

“Yes, I have heard about it (SDN) and we even tested it on one of our servers. We can get the software easily but we need to get proper hardware implementation as well and that too keeping our costs in control. So, both the things need to be evaluated. Yes, probably we would be investing in it, in the coming future. There are many things that are a concern for us right now, like cost, space and efficiency. So we need things that could help us in these areas.” - 900 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Mid-Market Reliance on Outsouced  IT Support

As we have written in the past, the larger SMB customers are more likely to rely on channel partners or vendor direct relationships to free up lean SMB IT departments and allow them to do more with less by supporting the research and selection process, and then testing and implementing the solutions, especially for those solutions involving a high level of configuration and remote management capabilities. The speed that specialists bring to the configuration, testing and implementation tend to outweigh the costs and speed up the decision cycle.

“Yes, the channel partners had a huge role. I sat down with their Cisco engineers and we looked over the changes we were going to make, then we did put together a business case, as to why we needed to upgrade or make changes to the system and what benefit it would result in. They were helpful and they made things look easier for us.” - 750 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


New Functionality is driving Adoption

Global NetworkAs we move into the Late Majority of SMB Cloud Adopters, there is less perceived risk and enough pressure to move companies toward implementing the architecture, if only to remain competitive.

"Now there are products available with better features and are cost effective. Earlier the cost of moving to the cloud was higher. Now because of the tough competition, the costs have marginally decreased. So, these things are enticing to look at different solutions. When we moved on to the cloud there were various benefits like cost effectiveness, in terms of IT management perspective. Previously it required 10 people, but now it can be done with 2 people. Previously the concept of datacenters was not that…important…, but now people are getting rid of the existing hardware and are moving towards datacenters to host most of their things that are in their offices. The datacenter costs are also competitive. If we look at any datacenter today and what they used to offer 5 years back, there has been a significant drop in prices due to the competition in the market.” - 500 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Budgets Continue to be Tight

We also see a significant effort on the part of customers to extend the life of the existing equipment and upgrade only the parts that are needed to achieve specific objectives such as 10GB capacity, which may require more robust firewalls, routers and switches, especially in those moving to VOIP. Typically we saw a reluctance to spend until it was necessary.

“Management here is very price conscious; they did not see the value of doing these things in the first place. The major factors were to increase speed and the reach of the network. So by these upgrades, we were able to demonstrate increased speed and increased network segmentation.” - 750 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Brand Importance Increases with Size of Company

While in certain areas such as SaaS, SMB end customers tend to be less likely to consider Brand as the key decision criterion, in the area of Networking among Mid-Market firms, virtually all said Brand was very important in their decision, mostly because of the expected service level associated with larger vendors but also to provide cover in a crowded market:

"There are a thousand solutions available in the market, but we had to ensure that what we chose was the best solution available and were cost effective. The new technology and the need to expand our business base were the main factors that drove the change.” - 900 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker

“Brand perception is very important because the management is not very technology minded, so to have a big name like Cisco was important to them. We depend on our channel partners for networking support or for help with windows server and Citrix products. They are our trusted partners.” - ~1,000 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Re-enforcing this tendency to Brand, the majors in the market were cited repeatedly as go-to Vendors. Cisco got the most mentions by far, followed by Citrix, Microsoft, HP, Juniper and Dell. As seen in the quote on outsourced support above, the vendors can also help in creating a business case.

“Well, I guess some of the ones (increase share) would be Cisco, HP, Dell and Microsoft. The major ones I know are trying to get there, if they are not close. It’s very hard to say who is going to lose much (share), but probably Microsoft or Apple are going to lose some. ~800 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


We believe these attitudes represent some evolution that is becoming more pronounced as the market matures and intelligent networking becomes increasingly important to SMBs in general and Mid-Market companies in particular.

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Indian VARs/SIs Creating First Server Demand within SMBs

ML110 Proliant from HP is a favorite of VARs/SIs in India to sell to SMBs, especially small businesses. It is “robust, configurable and affordable”. In India where there has been considerable drop in sales of commercial servers within enterprises and government segments, VARs/SIs have turned their attention to the ever-elusive SMB market segment.

VARs/SIs from Delhi to Chennai, Mumbai to Kolkata, Lucknow to Jamshedpur, Pune to Hyderabad – you get the picture – hold the key to opening up demand for first server opportunity within the SMBs. They are doing so by delivering two key messages:

    1. Servers help in Business Process Consolidation: With an on-premise server SMBs can install software solutions such as locally available ERP (not SAP), accounting and financial management, CRM and many different vertical applications to improve business processes and thereby grow revenue

 

    1. Servers help in Email Consolidation: With an on-premise server SMBs can use email applications that promote scheduling, calendaring and sharing within the same domain name. There are still way too many SMBs in India that have employees using individual emails with no common folders



The messaging seems to be working. Channels are optimistic that the small business server spend in India will reach US$75 million in 2013, a jump of 13 percent from previous year. But they also say that the path to influence small businesses will not be easy.

The question is, why have the VARs/SIs taken the lead in creating server demand.

Let us take the example of VARs/SIs in Kolkata. West Bengal is a “dead state”; State government is not spending on IT, Central government is not giving any budgets to the State to spend on IT; therefore VARs/SIs instead of sitting idle are busy pounding the streets of Kolkata, seeking out SMBs and discussing the above two key simple messages which seem to be resonating well. On the other hand, in Delhi NCR region, a hot bed of technology adoption, VARs/SIs are targeting pockets of areas such as Gurgaon and Noida.

Selling to SMBs is a very time consuming and pain-staking process. As one SI put it mildly, “there are no green pastures anywhere; we have to plant the seeds”. These channel partners have to overcome three important barriers to adoption:

    1. Lack of awareness of technologies: Too much information and technical jargon is being thrown at the SMBs forcing them to “tune-off” creating lack of awareness. VARs/SIs therefore are engaging SMBs, one at a time, to make them aware what servers can do for their business

 

    1. Lack of time: SMBs generally do not have time on their hands to search for a channel partner to help them understand technology. Even if they have the time, business priorities in many cases trumps technology and decisions get pushed to the proverbial eleventh hour

 

    1. Affordability: Price is still a major factor for purchase of servers and accompanying solutions.



At the other extremes are cities in southern India (beyond Bengaluru and Chennai) such as Kochi, Madurai, etc. where channels are fighting a different battle, the infamous “power-cuts” for nearly 8-10 hours each day. The SMBs in this region are first focused on their usual business continuity before turning their attention to IT adoption. But the relentless channels are not giving up on their pursuit and messaging.

Server vendors like IBM that do not have affordable server products for the small business segment are paying attention to the messaging from VARs/SIs and have begun working with them selectively to organize road-shows in Tier 2 cities from northern to western India, from Lucknow to Nagpur and Bhopal.

Still there are many SIs across the country in India who are unhappy by the continuous evaporation of margins on hardware. Some even have gone to the extreme and said that “the way some vendors are working on lowering the margins on servers and storage, SIs will be forced to alternate business models in the next few years”.

India is a more complex IT market than we usually imagine. Based on local infrastructure capabilities and capacities, India has three different segments:

    1. Totally mature,

 

    1. Immature, and

 

    1. Not Mature at all



Nevertheless, the SMB server market is still a massive, slow-moving glacier which has not yet reached the precipice of a waterfall. Till that happens, VARs/SIs are creating the demand and trying to grab the opportunity.

Gitika Bajaj

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Let us talk Dell’s Commitment to Channels

Dusting off my notebooks (the notepad variety) I came upon some carefully documented notes of my conversations with Dell’s Channel team, in particular with Greg Davis, Vice President and General Manager of Global Commercial Channels.  Just reviewing the notes of the previous two years it hit me squarely in my face that Dell’s channels team has been on a restless pursuit of:

    • Simplicity,

 

    • Training & enablement,

 

    • Winning datacenter together with the channel, and

 

    • Partner profitability



Fall of 2011

Although Dell’s Partner Direct program was formally launched in 2007 with aggressive channel recruitment and courting happening in 2008, we will pick up on our conversations with Dell’s Greg Davis and Paul Shaffer, Executive Director Global Channel Marketing & channel partnerDemand Generation from the fall of 2011. Partner enablement, training, certification and integration of acquisitions had percolated to the top of the team's agenda. For an IT company which is notorious in selling direct, drastic measures were needed to become “one” with the channel. Dell delivered 75,000 training modules to its partners, 30 percent of Dell’s commercial business had started to come from channels and 58,000 registration deals were closed. With the acquisition of Force10 Networks Dell announced enhanced network certification programs and 130 premier partners got their certifications. Emphasizing that the training modules were working, Greg Davis had mentioned that top 10 partners who invested most in training had seen 110 percent growth in revenue. Fall 2011 was also the time when partners started seeing the first glimpse of gentle motivations from Dell to push deeper into healthcare segment and drive revenue from datacenter solutions. Inroads were being made into smaller partners for SMBs as much as national and larger partners.

Cloud Channel

During the same time period while Dell was building out its confidence and trust with the channels, dell-cloud-programenterprises and SMBs were moving to cloud, thus dis-intermediating the channel. Especially the VAR channels (which typically form the largest percent of channel partners of an IT Vendor) had been finding their traditional business models threatened by products and services that could be sold direct by a vendor over the Internet. To continue to adapt to the changing times and never taking its eye off the channel partners’ livelihood Dell launched cloud channel programs in the spring of 2012:

    • Cloud Builder,

 

    • Cloud Provider, &

 

    • Cloud Service Enabler



A technical services team was also put into place to help partners sell data center solutions namely, server and storage. Dell now had roughly 250 premium partners and had delivered 135,000 training modules in the year.

Work was far from complete. More acquisitions were taking place; these acquisitions had to be integrated and above all emerging market countries had to be targeted. Both Greg Davis and Amit Midha, President, Asia Pacific and Japan, Chairman, Global Emerging Markets underscored the fact that they were working to ensure a consistent channel engagement across every market covering:

    • Deal registration

 

    • Compensation neutrality

 

    • Conflict escalation process, and

 

    • Executive priority



Asia/Pacific

The channel commitment work in Asia/Pacific countries in our opinion is far from complete. There are still some major strides to be made, specifically in the Asia/Pacific region. By its own acknowledgement, Asia/Pacific is the fastest growing regions for Dell which requires a constant confidence and trust building process with the channels. In many of Techaisle’s analyst interactions with channel partners in 2012 in Asia/Pacific, it was found that channels had warmed up to Dell but some questioned Dell’s sincerity whenever bigger contracts were involved.

In both summer and fall of 2012 we asked Greg Davis and Amit Midha where they thought they were with consistency and confidence. Not only were they bullish but also recognized that they have some hills to climb. They were also candid that services remain a big component of any channel’s revenue mix and while typical services such as warranty, break-fix, and insurance were straightforward re-sale of Dell Services, partnering in consulting was a bit more challenging.

Summer 2012

By the summer of 2012, efforts were paying off, 62,000 deal registrations per quarter were coming through partners with 72 percent approval rate, 35,000 training modules were being delivered per quarter, the number of premier and preferred partners had jumped to 2500, Asia/Pacific channel programs were being strengthened, SonicWALL was integrated and specific courses were introduced on how to talk to a CIO, value of integrated datacenter. Above all social media training programs were launched for the benefit of the channels.

In late summer, in a conversation with Greg Davis and Bob Skelley, Executive Director, Global Certified Partner Program & Channel, they reiterated their commitment to make Dell “easy to work with” and restated their deep & maniacal focus on training and competencies. This focus resulted in 34 percent of global commercial business funneling through Dell channels, up from 30 percent in the fall of 2011. Number of deal registrations had jumped to 71,000 and an enhanced deal registration tool on mobile platforms was rolled-out. 47,000 training courses had been delivered in the quarter and Dell now had 113,000 channel partners. Initial focus on healthcare segment had resulted in a surge in end-user customers. A 40 percent growth in certifications was also achieved when compared with previous quarter. With the integration of Wyse, a desktop virtualization certification program was introduced. Dell channels had truly arrived and there was never a question of ever turning back.

One year later, Fall 2012

One year later, by fall of 2012, Dell had 130,000 channel partners, 35 percent of commercial business revenue was funneling through channels, 142,000 training courses had been delivered in the year, number of deal registrations had shot up to 65,000 and there were now 3600 preferred and premier channel partners. In the words of Greg Davis, “Dell has the most confident and competent channel partners in the world”. One year later, I saw an urgency to deliver with a profound focus on datacenters, systems management and cloud services. Virtualization was also beginning to take center stage. Kathy Schneider, Executive Director, Global Channel Marketing & Programs, drove home the point that she and her team were focused on driving best practices across four strategic pillars:

    1. Easy to do business with One Price and Sales Tools

 

    1. Win in the Enterprise using a comprehensive sales tool aptly named as Enterprise Master

 

    1. Training & enablement through expansion of training beyond Dell’s standard solutions to include social media

 

    1. Partner profitability through a simple, effective and rewarding incentives program



It has been a long way from direct PC selling to indirect solution selling. Real progress has been made. Dell’s channel executives are an end-to-end solutions empowering team for the channels. Not all channels will thrive but those that are equally committed to learn, adapt and practice will certainly succeed.

Anurag Agrawal
With contribution from Gitika Bajaj in Asia/Pacific

 

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Apple Moves Some Manufacturing back to the US – Techaisle Take

In a very interesting move, Apple announced that they would invest in returning some production to the US. At first blush, this seems like a bold tactic  which will certainly improve Apple’s brand reputation in the wake of long-standing criticism for moving skilled manufacturing jobs to China, where worker pay and conditions are bad enough to drive some to suicide. And as the number one technology company in the world it is also heartening to see some jobs come back home, but there are a few caveats:

The Apple MacBook is the top of the line notebook with a premium price point, out of reach for most small businesses unless there is strong justification, such as for professional designers and developers who need to pay double that of a similarly equipped Wintel device to do their work effectively. That share of the market has always been small relative to Wintel machines, both desktop and notebook. Apple manufactured Macs in the US until the mid-nineties, after most competitors had moved production offshore. The caveats include 1) whether this experiment will grow to the more strategic iPhone and iPad product lines, and obviously, 2) whether Apple can turn a profit that makes the decision stick after the first $100M is spent.

Apple cites the inability to find the level of skills and manufacturing equipment in the US to be able to turn out production rapidly and with high quality. No doubt Foxxconn, Apple’s Chinese production partner, who already operates some plants in the US, will be looking to expand operations here. They had issues ramping up production to meet demand for the new iPhone and there were hiccups, followed by reports of Foxxconn negotiating multi-billion dollar deals in Brazil, to manufacture there. Regardless of how that materializes, today’s announcement will dampen some criticism that would accompany the final press releases from Sao Paolo.

Enter the Dragon


Rise of LenovoAnother reason this makes sense to us is that China’s technology vendors are on the rise – no surprise there. But consider that within 7 years of buying the ThinkPad brand and manufacturing rights, Lenovo has become the #1 PC vendor in the world in unit shipments, (#1 by Gartner, #2 by IDC) squeezing 10% out of the global share in a stagnant market in the last few years alone while jumping to 30% share in China, 3X the nearest competitor.  It was also announced today by Reuters that Apple fell to #6 in the Chinese smartphone market, which is growing in leaps and bounds to 60M units per quarter, with intense domestic competition and Samsung leading the pack. Lenovo is number 2 in the smartphone market as well as having the overwhelming first place position in PCs mentioned earlier, #5 smartphone seller Huawei, is gobbling up global market share in the telecom equipment market at an alarming rate.

Married to China - Economist CartoonWe have written several times about the rising competition from China in the hardware manufacturing end of the IT market, and of its’ growing importance as the second largest PC, and largest Smartphone market in the world, with a billion users and 60 million units sold per quarter. As shared with our readers in a September article about Internet adoption and managed economies, China and Korea have many similarities that make for a reasonable scenario of things to come. Take it from someone who lived 15 years in Asia and has been watching Korea for 30 – the voracious appetite for material wealth, pragmatic style of government and East Asian capitalism will leave no stone unturned. Take Samsung for example: between 1990 and now they have become the number one maker of TVs in the world, starting from scratch and displacing the Japanese faster than they displaced American manufacturers, #1 in memory chips and some other semiconductors, #1 in Smartphone handsets (almost double Apple in unit shipments), a global leadership position in screen technology, squeezing Sharp, Toshiba and others for the keys to the future standard, and a global frontrunner in CE and white goods. These guys are US Steel in their heyday. And they are a major supplier to Apple for the most important products. And the legal battles are not over yet, according to this CNET News video. They have Foxxconn on the left and Samsung on the right. With friends like these who needs enemies?



CNET on Samsung Apple Lawsuit.

Strategically Apple’s move is understandable, at least from the outside looking in. Steve Jobs’ genius for aesthetic design, usability and commitment to quality helped create the PC revolution, arguably the single most important technological advance aside from the Internet since the Industrial Revolution. It also got him ousted from Apple as decisions about long term architecture were made. Although Apple always had (and still has) a very loyal following in the computing arena, they did not gain more than 10-12% market share from 1980 to 2000. This meant that Apple had to drive enough margin to support R&D for operating systems, a proprietary microprocessor, end user applications and non-standard chassis and other components.  By contrast, the rest of the PC market leveraged standards and Scale Economies as investments were diffused in the market. The Microsoft standard OS and a maturing suite of interoperable applications were the lynchpin of the ecosystem and resulted in hundreds of companies joining the competitive fray. White box and private label manufacturers sprang up everywhere, eventually producing branded competitors like Dell and Compaq who were selling practically as fast as they could produce. By 1996 Apple was being counted out by many analysts as an also-ran. Eventually in 1997, Jobs was brought back in to save the company, which was considered a very risky personal move at the time.

iPod 2G brings legal music to the massesIn his second stint as CEO, Jobs turned Apple around and helped solve a problem that almost put the recording industry into insolvency; how to make money in the music business when new technologies allowed free files to be distributed at will and pirated on a global scale. Apple introduced iTunes in conjunction with EMI, and solved the Digital Rights Management issue. Under Jobs they had to kowtow to Redmond and adopt compatible MS Office Application Suites, which were not interoperable to that point – no swapping files between Apple and Microsoft users, and move to an Intel architecture. Despite several earlier failures, such as the Newton, Apple achieved a breakout hit with the iPod, and iTunes began printing money. Next came the iPhone, which almost immediately become the third largest handset brand in the market, followed by iPad in 2010, and several versions of iPhones. The products have produced a ravenous worldwide customer base and made Apple the most valuable (tech) company in history with a half-trillion dollar war chest.

The point is that Apple’s meteoric rise is more a function of the transition to CE and Smartphones than its’ leadership in computing and now they are in a bind; they are stretching their existing supply chain, they rely on advanced manufacturing resources and skilled labor that have been developed offshore, their largest potential market (China) is controlled by arch-rival Samsung, with whom they are in a nasty legal battle and depend on for key components. Prepare to Repel Boarders.

Next Chapter in the Bits vs. Atoms Saga


The Crown JewelsApple’s success with iTunes came as a result of a property of the Internet that is now at the root of their problem: value moves at the speed of light when it can be digitized, and even when that value is in the form of an optimized supply chain, there are physical limits imposed by materials and the movement of products that ultimately make manufacturing a challenging business. On one hand you have companies like Apple, who source, manufacture, sell and distribute 125 million smartphones, along with millions of other devices. On the other hand there are companies like Google, whose value can be delivered over a network, relying on increasingly large server farms and unfettered access to electricity, but with much less need for operational infrastructure. Cisco and Oracle are another example although not as stark. Huawei is exerting substantial pressure on US firms as a global competitor and causing Congressional sabre rattling, as we noted here.  Telecom equipment has been a hardware-oriented business but is less at risk because of innovation toward software and network integration – moving toward bits and away from atoms, demonstrated by Cisco's recent alliance with Citrix. Earlier we discussed Lenovo, which has overtaken first Dell and now HP and is the global leader in PC unit shipments.

As noted, we think moving some manufacturing back to the US will bring some benefits, not least of which is the PR value of bringing some jobs back home. It is slightly diluted by the fact that production of the most important product lines will not be possible for some time to come and does not decrease reliance on Foxxconn or really help with the Samsung conundrum. However if the experiment succeeds and a profitable advanced manufacturing sector can be developed and others follow suit it will be a very good thing for all of us in the technology industry.

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