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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.

The SMB IT channel has reached an inflection point

This is a two-part blog article. The first part below deals with “SMB IT channel reaching an inflection point”. Second part is on “New wave of SMB channel conflicts in building a cloud practice”.

SMB IT channel has reached an inflection point. In some sense, this statement appears to be just another observation of a recurring phenomenon: the SMB channel is constantly in a state of flux, responding to changes in the underlying industry by adding (or deleting) products and capabilities to its portfolios. The SMB channel’s situation in 2016, though, is different. Changes in the ways that IT is used within SMB organizations, the relationships needed to build solutions addressing these needs, and the skills required to support these usage patterns and solutions are fragmenting the channel into discrete (if overlapping) communities.

Rewind

To put this into perspective, let us rewind a decade, or two, or three. In each case, we see a channel that is reliant upon relationships with customers and suppliers, and which forms the connection between the two groups. Looking first at the customer relationships, the SMB channel organization works with SMB firms in a defined market – generally, a regional market, but in some cases, a market defined by region and industry, and in fewer cases still, a market defined by adoption of a particular type of technology (e.g., a specific type of software – content management, design, etc.) or a specific vendor’s products. The SMB channel firm deals with a tightly-defined contact or set of contacts within the customer organization: in most cases, the IT manager where this role exists, or a senior executive/partner/owner in firms too small to have in-house IT staff. And it provides management services for installed technology, support for users, and analysis and recommendations for new technology.

This position as a “trusted advisor” (or at least, regular supplier) to a defined customer base makes the channel a valuable partner for IT vendors. The vendors can work with the channel partner to introduce new technologies to a target market. The channel benefits by having access to products that shape future analysis/recommendations to customers, extending the channel/end-user connection. The channel also benefits from obtaining margin from the vendor and from vendor investments in channel marketing activities, as well as from a degree of co-investment in skills development. The channel aggregates new vendor offerings to extend existing customer infrastructure, completing the connection between buyers and new products.

For decades, this model worked largely because most new products could be added to most existing infrastructures. IT followed an incremental and relatively homogenous path; companies deployed servers and storage and a set of core financial applications in the back office, PCs and productivity software for individual workers, and upgraded to keep current with interoperability and maintenance requirements. Towards the end of the 1990s, web servers became a core component of this corporate compute portfolio, and firms would occasionally add capabilities (such as IP telephony) in advance of competitors, but like the upgrades and extensions, the progression of new technology was more deliberate than disruptive.

Today

In recent years, IT adoption has become more diffused.

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IT security framework for SMBs

SMBs are not only increasingly dependent on IT – they are dependent on increasingly-interconnected systems, which are in turn open to an ever-expanding population of devices and access points. The volumes and value of data contained in these systems continues to grow, which both increases the potential damage associated with a breach, and attracts heightened attention from hackers. Techaisle’s SMB survey data finds a disconnect between security policy and security practice that creates the potential for poorly-coordinated approaches to security – an uncertainty that is magnified by shadow IT.

In Techaisle’s latest survey of SMBs, only 13% said that they were fully prepared and confident to handle security challenges, especially mobility security. The remaining 87% were partially prepared, unprepared or unsure. These are very sobering statistics.

Techaisle’s SMB Shadow IT survey data shows that over 70 percent of applications and nearly 60 percent of IT infrastructure related spend and decision authority lies outside of IT. These expenditures are made without the IT department’s approval, guidance, or in some cases, even without IT’s knowledge. 

Security is becoming a more critical component of business rather than IT strategy.

SMB IT security managers should petition for senior executive support which will help to build an approach that safeguards the organizations, users and data, in a framework that is flexible enough to respond to emerging opportunities and threats.

SMB Mobility increases threat perimeter

The problem with mobility (like cloud) is that it changes the concept of “perimeter.” Intruders don’t need to batter through closely-guarded walls to gain access to the interior of the network; they can ride through a permeable configuration on the backs of mobile devices that have been granted access to the precious applications and data that live in the interior of the organization. It is as if the castle walls and drawbridge were replaced by windows and breezeways offering access to visitors arriving from all directions.

With mobility, the SMB user community becomes a ubiquitous and shifting source of portals through the perimeter. As a result, IT doesn’t need to only defend against recognized foes: it needs to protect the corporation from breaches that can result from the actions of its own workers, and needs to protect the same data that it delivers as an essential component of support for the mobile workforce – the workforce that is viewed by senior management as making compelling contributions to the top and bottom-line success of the business.

SMBs should consider a four-layer security framework model for deployment:

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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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HPE – doubling down to be SMB’s IT partner of choice

HP has split into two – HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). Almost all SMB relevant products and solutions (except PCs and printers) now reside within the HPE organization. The global small and midmarket businesses, SMB (1-999 employee size) market has been the growth engine for the IT industry at large. The reason is quite simply that SMBs account for over 80 percent of businesses in any country – developed or developing. As per Techaisle, SMBs are forecast to spend US$597 billion on IT in 2015. Their IT requirements range from servers, networking and storage to cloud, mobility, analytics, managed services and collaboration solutions. Today, most SMBs are looking towards IT suppliers that offer appealing value propositions in either of three IT delivery models – traditional infrastructure built on-site from hardware and software components; hosted solutions and/or applications most often purchased on a “pay as you go” model; and, cloud infrastructure delivered on-demand.

HPE – the new incarnation of HP and its focus on SMBs with Flex solutions

Since the launch of its “Just Right IT” portfolio (September 2010) for SMBs, HPE has been striving to better serve its SMB customers by consciously lowering cost of solutions, improving agility in deployment and enabling faster time to value in managing IT assets. Just Right IT includes products, services and solutions specifically engineered for SMBs. The portfolio offers management, data protection, communications and connectivity solutions that are designed and priced "just right" to deliver affordability and value to SMBs. These solutions revolve around HPE’s core offerings of servers, storage and networking which comprises of:

  • Servers: ProLiant MicroServer, ProLiant 10 Series Servers, ProLiant 100 Series Servers, ProLiant 300 Series Servers
  • Networking: 1950 Switch Series, R100 Wireless VPN Router Series, Cloud Managed Networking, and 2920 Switch Series
  • Storage: Solutions for the virtualization, SQL Server, Exchange, File sharing and Backup

In November 2015, soon after the split, HPE announced a new portfolio of ProLiant Generation 9 (Gen9) Servers (ProLiant DL20 Gen9 and ProLiantML30 Gen9) that are specifically engineered for SMBs to help reduce cost and complexity to run the new style of IT, web, collaboration, and business workloads. HPE is hoping that the new server portfolio advances its vision for compute and the future of data center technology.

HPE also announced its Flex solutions which bundles various services around its server, storage and networking products including support services, financial services, ISV software, distribution services, and management. It is specifically targeted at three different segments of SMB market at the low end of which are the SMBs who are “starting out” and at the high-end are the SMBs who are “expanding their business”. This does align well with what Techaisle analysts find in Techaisle’s SMB & Midmarket IT Sophistication Segmentation as shown below.

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