Can HP Turn Infrastructure Solutions Into an SMB Mobility Play?

The mobile explosion is causing a major disruption in businesses—and holds the promise of helping SMBs boost employee productivity and customer engagement. SMBs are rapidly picking up on that promise: SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study shows that 80% of small and medium businesses (1 to 999 employees) already use mobile devices and services to support business operations.

Our study also reveals SMBs are rapidly moving beyond basic mobile collaboration solutions (such as email, contacts and calendars) to deploy more business applications. For instance, they’re equipping employees with mobile apps such as CRM, time management, expense management and analytics, and providing mobile purchasing, payments, and scheduling apps for their customers.

HP Infrastructure Solutions for a Mobile World

With adoption of new applications poised to double over the next year, SMBs will also be faced with new infrastructure and management challenges. Recently, HP announced new virtualization and infrastructure solutions that it is positioning as a solution to help SMBs prepare for and meet some the challenges that mobility brings to the forefront, including:

  • HP StoreEasy NAS Appliances. This is a file consolidation play designed to simplify data management, including the  chore of managing the additional data that new mobile applications will generate. HP is positioning StoreEasy as an alternative to continually adding and individually managing new file servers, and a way to improve security, availability, and responsiveness. StoreEasy can be deployed with Windows tools that many SMBs are familiar with, eliminating the need to learn a new storage system.  SMB 3.0 provides native file de-duplication conducted at the block level to save space; and secure data encryption to protect application data as it is moved across networks.  Pricing starts $5,192 for 8 terabytes.
  • HP StoreVirtual Storage, a virtualized storage environment designed to help larger medium businesses (99 – 1000 users) provision solutions that are re-engineered for mobile access in a virtualized environment. Companies can use StoreVirtual storage to test, deploy, upgrade, and add apps and storage without reconfiguring systems; and to migrate data between virtual and physical locations without taking systems down. Built with HP’s LeftHand operating system and HP ProLiant servers, StoreVirtual Storage supports heterogeneous client and server virtualization solutions. Pricing starts at $11,500.
  • Citrix VDI-in-a-Box with Personal vDisk and HP ProLiant Gen8 Servers is intended to give mobile VDI users more flexibility and efficiency.  HP claims the solution reduces image and storage requirements and adds 50% more users per server than prior HP VDI offerings.
  • HP M220 Access Points, to help deploy and manage a wireless network more easily and reliably. The solution enables SMBs to configure up to 10 access points via an Easy Setup Wizard (with a choice of 5 common configuration set-ups). The SMB or partner can manage all access points via a Web interface. Pricing starts at $389 per access point.

HP simultaneously announced some enhancements to its “Even Better Than Zero” financing program for SMBs, including a new 90-day payment deferral option.

Perspective

There’s no question that as mobile solutions become more critical to SMBs, they also fuel new infrastructure requirements for management, security, storage and performance on the back-end. As shown on Figure 1, in addition to cost concerns, SMBs see data, network, device and transaction security, and management as top barriers to moving ahead with mobile solutions.

Figure 1: Top SMB Challenges to Moving Ahead with Mobile Solutions

With the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) and consumerization, more types of devices to manage, more apps and more data, these issues will only become more taxing.

HP is addressing some of the requirements that mobile brings to the forefront with solutions to help SMBs streamline VDI deployment, more easily provision and manage wireless LAN bandwidth, and enhanced on-premises storage options.

But, this announcement does not provide a full picture of HP’s mobile management vision for SMBs–and leaves many questions about HP’s mobile management strategy for SMBs unanswered. For instance, many SMBs would like to offload data storage and management to a cloud provider. What does HP have in this department, and how does it complement these solutions?  The announcement also fails to shed light on how HP can help  SMBs tackle other key mobility related infrastructure issues, including mobile device and application management, and the need to compartmentalize personal and business apps and data.

While HP has put a relevant mobile veneer on its infrastructure story, it needs to paint more comprehensive picture of its full mobile management and infrastructure strategy and portfolio, from on-premises to cloud–along with the guidance SMBs need to figure out which solution(s) will best fit their needs.

The Impact of HP’s New Direction—An SMB Market Perspective

–by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe, SMB Group

After HP’s announcement that it would ditch it’s new Touchpad and put WebOS in mothballs, rumors leaked about it’s intentions to spin-off or sell it’s Personal Systems Group (PSG) PC business and acquire information management software vendor Autonomy for $10.2B. Combined, these moves confirm HP’s CEO, Leo Apotheker’s strategy to get out of the low-margin device business and create a bigger footprint in the higher margin software and services arena.

On the surface, perhaps, not a bad plan. After all, margins in the PC business will only continue to shrink, HP has a (very expensive) white elephant on its hands with WebOS, and Apotheker is of course a software wonk. Furthermore, IBM made what turned out to be a great decision when it sold its PC business to Lenovo back in 2004— and it seems like HP has been an IBM-wannabe for at least the last 20 years, so why not follow suit?

But, there are some very significant reasons that the outcomes resulting from HP’s decision are likely to be very different from IBM’s— many of which revolve around the SMB market.

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time, with the Right Strategy

Unlike IBM, HP has had a significant presence in the SMB and consumer segments. Although PSG accounts for less than 15% of profits, it comprises about one-third of HP’s revenues. In contrast, IBM has always been an enterprise-focused company, with no intentions to make a big play in the consumer market. IBM had been selling off PC-related assets, and had already tipped revenue and profit scales in favor of services and software before it sold its PC division as part of a long-term strategy to exit commodity markets. The Lenovo deal also provided IBM with a partnership opportunity to make huge inroads into selling higher-value products—software, servers and services—into the burgeoning Chinese market.

There’s also the matter of being in the right place at the right time. This is 2011, not 2004. The consumerization of IT is well underway. Employees (whether in small, medium or large businesses) are increasingly choosing to spend their own money to BYOD (bring your own device) instead of using a company-issued brick. And more companies are giving employees an allowance to purchase their device of choice.  This trend will only accelerate as younger employees—who expect cool gadgets—graduate and enter the workforce.

What’s HP’s SMB Entry Point Now?

To be truly successful in the SMB technology market—especially at the low-end—vendors need both a compelling entrée and solutions that can help these businesses grow. You can do it with a must-have business solution—ala Intuit—or with a solid line-up of IT infrastructure products and services. But, on the infrastructure side, PCs and notebooks have historically been one of the first IT products that small businesses buy. This is changing with the rise of smartphones and tablets, but these too are client devices. And SMBs will continue to buy PC and notebooks for the foreseeable future.

Which begs the question, what entry point HP will have into small business without PSG? HP lacks compelling small business solutions and has scrapped its plans for mobile devices. Printers—which HP will presumably hold onto—are even more of a commodity solution at the low-end of SMB than PCs.

HP’s Weak SMB Prognosis

Our prognosis is that without PSG, HP’s value proposition will be much weaker in SMB with this exit. PSG not only provided an entrée to upsell servers and services, but has been, for all intents and purposes, HP’s major marketing arm and “voice” to these businesses.

Meanwhile, since SMBs lack IT resources, they typically don’t want or can’t deal with multiple vendors supplying different pieces of the puzzle. This means that when HP hands off its PC business, both SMBs and the HP VARs that serve them—many of whom are small businesses themselves—will have the opportunity to rethink whether they want to stick with HP on the server side.

Who Gains

PC makers such as Lenovo, Acer, SONY and Toshiba should get a good bump, but Apple and Dell are the big SMB winners.

  • Apple basically owns the tablet space until someone comes up with a way to beat them at their own game (which obviously is tough to do!). But its not just iPads. IDC reports that Apple sold 1.66 million Macs and reached an 8.5 percent share of the market, up from 7 percent in Q1 2010. While a lot of these sales are a result of the BYOD to work movement, more SMBs are also buying them because of their reputation for reliability and security. With HP’s imminent departure,  Apple which has the cool factor and typically affords  higher profit margins than PCs–may be very appealing to some VARs.
  • Dell is now clearly poised to be the #1 SMB infrastructure brand. Since Michael Dell came back in 2008, Dell has surged in the SMB market. Not only will Dell take advantage of market uncertainty, but it is well-positioned in its ability to serve the end-to-end IT needs of SMBs, from PCs to servers to managed services. In the last two years, Dell has made a significant investment in listening to and understanding the needs of SMB customers, and it’s paying off. At the Dell Take Your Own Path event we attended in December 2010, SMB business owners told us that they selected Dell precisely because it could provide the broad range of infrastructure solutions and services that have enabled them to out-perform their peers. Dell continues to extend its SMB strategy and portfolio, with acquisitions and solutions such as it’s KACE infrastructure management appliance; Boomi, for application integration; and storage solutions, such as EquaLogic.  This gives it a solid foundation for extending its SMB footprint beyond PCs and servers.

While it hasn’t fared as well in the mobile device area to date, Dell is building a range mobile devices–laptops, tablets and smartphones–layered with a consistent user-interface called Stage. Over time, and allowing for mid-course corrections, this strategy has more potential to pay off for Dell with HP out of the picture. And, just as Apple will appeal to some disgruntled HP VARs, Dell will appeal to others, particularly those that want to pitch a complete solution from a single vendor rather than piecing together a patchwork of components from several vendors—not only because it’s easier, but because they’ll get better margins by concentrating their business with one supplier.

HP’s departure also opens the door wider for some less likely suspects. For instance, a vendor that already has an ongoing relationship with a large swath of SMB customers, a focus on mobility and the cloud, and willing  to place a strategic bet on the huge SMB technology opportunity. Perhaps a telco, such as Verizon? Finally, the ambitions of Amazon and Google, and their potential to disrupt the SMB market with whatever they have up their sleeves can’t be discounted.

Summing Up

HP’s move to increase its focus on high-margin software and services solutions will definitely impact its ability to maintain a strong position in the SMB market. Unfortunately for HP, it is also likely to find itself outflanked by IBM and hunted down by Oracle in the large enterprise space. Ironically, after growing to be the largest technology vendor in the world by acquiring vendors from Compaq to 3Par to Palm, and now Autonomy, HP appears to be headed back where it started from when it made the Compaq acquisition in 2001: in an uncomfortable middle ground with formidable competitors ready to pounce on all sides.

What Is Green IT, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published in Small Business Computing, December 29, 2009)

Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at Green IT.

What is Green IT?

Green IT refers to the study and practice of using computers and IT resources in a more efficient and environmentally responsible way. Computers and computing eat up a lot of natural resources, from the raw materials needed to manufacture them, the power used to run them, and the problems of disposing them at end of life.

Why Should You Care?

All businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on technology, and small business is no exception. We work on our PCs, notebooks and smart phones all day, connected to servers running 24/7.  Because the technology refresh cycle is fast, these devices quickly become obsolete, and at some point—more often sooner than later—we dispose of old devices and replace them with new ones. We use massive quantities of paper and ink to print documents, many of which we promptly send to the circular file.

In the process, most businesses waste resources, in the form of energy, paper, money and time—resources you could invest to develop new products or services, or to hire and train employees. Even if you aren’t a tree hugger, it makes good business sense to green your IT environment and culture.

Fortunately, there are many simple steps you can take to do this, no matter what the size of your business, or how far along you are in the process. Many IT vendors have major initiatives underway to green their products, services and practices. These include building computers with more environmentally friendly materials, designing them to be consume less energy, providing recycling programs to dispose of old systems, developing virtualization and cloud computing alternatives, and providing tips to businesses that want to go green.

What to Consider

Creating a sustainable business isn’t just for big businesses. With help from several vendors (links to their green initiatives are at the end of this article), I’ve compiled some practical tips to help you get started or continue on the path to go green and save green.

Novice:

  • Eliminate paper, printer and packaging waste. Statistics from Infotrends indicate that the average office worker used 130 pounds of paper in 2008. Try tools such as Green Print make people “think before they print” and automatically eliminate things such as printing that extra page with only a footer or disclaimer on it. Buy remanufactured toner cartridges and get personal ink cartridges refilled to save money and waste. If you’re looking for an new printer, shop for one that automatically prints double-sided, such Dell’s 2335dn Multi-function Laser Printer or HP’s LaserJet P2055d.  When shopping for new products, look for eco-friendly packaging. For instance, Dell recently announced that it will use highly renewable bamboo as packaging for it’s Inspiron Mini 10 and 10v netbooks.
  • Reduce power consumption. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance found that businesses can reduce their average power consumption through effective power management. “Set it and forget” tools, such smart power strips, which automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device. When buying new equipment, look for EnergyStar 4.0 ratings and above. Try Edison, a free application helps you monitor energy use and save energy. Intuit QuickBooks users can use Intuit Green Snapshot to estimate their firm’s carbon footprint and get recommendations to conserve energy and dollars.
  • Recycle old equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that  only 18% of electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2007—while 82%, or 1.84 million tons, was disposed of, primarily in landfills. But its easy to recycle: At Gazelle you can sell and/or recycle all kinds of electronic devices, from mobile phones to printers. Through Dell and Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership, you can donate unwanted devices. All proceeds go to support Goodwill—and you get a tax write-off. Or go online to IBM’s Asset Recovery Program, and get a buyback quote for the value of 1 to 250 items.

Intermediate:

  • Use Web conferencing instead of traveling to meetings. Web conferencing is a great way to go green—and save huge amounts of time and money. Ecopreneurist states that if every small business owner in the United States conducted one teleconference in lieu of a domestic business trip, we would save $25.4 billion dollars in travel expenses and 10.5 million tons of C02 in just one year. Web conferencing vendors such as Adobe Acrobat Connect, Citrix GoToMeeting, IBM Lotus Sametime and Cisco Webex offer free 30-day trials. Newer entrants such as Dimdim and Zoho offer free Web conferencing.
  • Transition from paper based to digital processes. Paper-based marketing, forms and faxes add a lot of trash to landfills.  Email marketing solutions are greener and  more affordable, flexible and interactive than direct mail. Free and low-cost online invoicing solutions such as Sage BillingBoss and Freshbooks, and online faxing solutions such as myfax and RingCentral Fax also help cut down on paper waste.
  • Use cloud computing and software-as-a-service solutions (SaaS) instead of running a new application in-house. With cloud computing, multiple organizations share the same computing resources, which increases utilization by making more efficient use of hardware resources. For instance, researcher Greenspace found that with more than 6,000 customer companies sharing datacenter resources, NetSuite’s cloud ERP and CRM solution saved more than $61 million in energy bills per year, or nearly 595 million kilowatt-hours (kWh), the equivalent of nearly 423,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Almost every kind of application in the cloud, from personal productivity applications to accounting to industry-specific solutions—for every size company. If you use dedicated hosting services, shop for green hosting providers that use solar or wind power, and take advantage of energy saving technologies such as virtualization.

Advanced:

  • Enable staff to telecommute. While it may not work for every employee or business, the American Electronics Association estimates that 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline would be conserved yearly if every U.S. worker who has the ability to telecommute did so 1.6 days per week. Technologies such as virtual private networks, and collaboration tools such as HyperOffice and IBM LotusLive help employees work together from different locations.
  • Server and storage virtualization. Because hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, many midsize and even small companies are facing server and storage sprawl. But by 2012, experts estimate that for every dollar you spend on a server, it will cost $1 to power and cool it. Meanwhile, surveys show that up to 85% of systems capacity goes unused. While you will have to invest in initial start up costs, virtualization can help you improve resource utilization, reduce energy costs and simplify maintenance. Dell, HP and IBM each offer a range of comprehensive server and storage virtualization solutions and services.
  • Develop a thin client strategy. Netbooks and other thin clients use about ½ the power of a traditional desktop PC. They are  smaller, cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy and operate. Thin clients run Web browsers, and/or remote desktop virtualization software, such as Microsoft Remote Desktop Services,Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View so you can use the desktop environment that you’re used to. With these solutions, you can also extend the life of older PCs and/or buy less expensive refurbished PCs to save money and reduce waste.

Links to green IT initiatives from vendors that contributed ideas to this article:

Dell: http://content.dell.com/us/en/corp/dell-earth.aspx

HP: http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/feature_stories/2007/07-360_greenup.html

IBM: http://www.ibm.com/ibm/green/index.shtml

Intuit: http://greensnapshot.homestead.com/

NetSuite: http://www.netsuite.com/portal/infrastructure/netsuite-green.shtml

What is a Thin Client, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published in Small Business Computing, August 27, 2009)

Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at thin clients.

What Is a Thin Client?

A thin client is a computing device that’s connected to a network. Unlike a typical PC or “fat client,” that has the memory, storage and computing power to run applications and perform computing tasks on its own, a thin client functions as a virtual desktop, using the computing power residing on networked servers.

They typically have just enough processing power, information and parts to access and use the computing resources of a server. The thin client can’t run applications or store data or documents on its own; it functions as an interface to convey your keystrokes and connect to the applications, documents, data and storage on networked servers, where the actual work is done.

Most thin clients run Web browsers and/or remote desktop software, such as Microsoft Terminal Services or Citrix XenApp, so you see the familiar browser or desktop environment that you’re used to.

With thin clients, you run the desktop environment on the server, and remotely display the desktop screens on the thin clients. You need to manage this on the server side with what’s called a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) — software that creates the desktop images, stores them on servers and sends them over the network to the thin clients. Both desktop and mobile thin clients are available from a wide range of manufacturers. Some such as Wyse, specialize in thin clients, while others, such as Dell and HP provide thin clients as part of a larger client device portfolio.

Why Should You Care?

Because they lack hard drives, CD-ROM drives, fans and other moving parts, thin clients are smaller, cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy.

Thin clients decrease client maintenance costs and hassles. With fewer moving parts, and very little software running on the device, fewer things can go wrong with a thin client, so they’re easier to maintain and fix. If a thin client does fail, you can easily swap in a replacement without losing productivity because employees don’t store any data on their client device.

Since everything is managed, stored and secured centrally, from the data center, thin clients eliminate the issues of installing, updating and patching applications, backing up files, or scanning for viruses on individual computers. Because employees see and have access only to what they need to do their job, thin clients are easier for non-technical people to use.

Centralized management also provides security benefits. You’re not storing any data or information on the thin client, so you don’t need to worry about exposing confidential data if a thin client gets lost or stolen. In industries such as healthcare, where adherence to privacy regulations is of paramount importance, thin clients can give medical personnel access to patient records without concerns about confidential information being downloaded. Thin clients also use less energy than standard desktops and notebooks.

Because they run cooler, they can help reduce air conditioning requirements as well.

What to Consider

Companies have traditionally turned to thin clients to give employees access to certain applications and functions, such as in a call center or retail setting via remote desktop software. Thin clients are also a good fit for remote offices, where it can be difficult and time consuming to get PCs fixed. However, as cloud computing becomes more prevalent, the use of thin clients has the potential to expand significantly, as they can also provide a gateway to an almost limitless number of Web-based applications.

However, thin clients aren’t right for all situations. Thin clients must be connected to the network at all times. Performance for graphically intensive applications can be slow, since people access them over the network instead of on their own device. People may also balk at giving up desktop applications and control over their workspace. And, companies need to also factor backend infrastructure and remote desktop licensing costs into the equation to determine whether thin clients are the right fit for their needs.

Can Standards Clear the Clouds?

With market adoption of cloud computing forecast to skyrocket, no one in the tech industry wants to be left on the ground. But, as cloud computing platforms, models and definitions multiply, they’re becoming as numerous and diverse as Mother Nature’s clouds—and just as easy for customers to get lost in.

Last week, Ben Worthen blogged in the WSJ about how the tech industry’s “old guard”—including Cisco, Citrix, EMC, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, VMware and others—are forming a new group, the Open Cloud Standards Incubator, to develop standards for cloud computing. Their objective is to define technical standards to ensure that businesses can easily move information between clouds. But, as Worthen noted, there’s just one hitch–the new guard of Internet behemoths, such as Google, Amazon.com, Salesforce.com have yet to get on board.

 Vendor Politics vs. Customer and Partner Interests

Commercially, each vendor is the anchor tenant of its own cloud, with a vested interest in strengthening and extending its cloud footprint to upsell, cross-sell, and tighten their bonds with customers. Internet companies have had their own secret sauce for a while, and have used it to their advantage. For instance, Amazon has its own AMI standard, which allows customers and partners to build their own Amazon-standard clouds; Salesforce.com has Force.com, which speeds application development for the salesforce.com platform.

While vendors’ internal standards make it easier and quicker to develop new solutions, on their platforms, however, there is a catch. Commercial developers have to place careful bets on which clouds platforms will be provide them with the best market potential. Today, Salesforce.com may look like the best bet—but in two years, maybe Microsoft will offer a better opportunity. But, unable to afford development and integration costs for multiple cloud platforms, many smaller players will get stuck on a cloud.

Meanwhile, as more of a customer’s solutions get tied into those of an anchor vendor, it becomes increasingly difficult for the customer to extricate itself from a cloud, or to integrate applications that reside in different clouds.

 A Ray of Hope

While history and cynicism make me skeptical about whether its possible for this group—or any other–to gain the critical mass necessary to ensure broad-based cloud interoperability, I do see a ray of hope.

Developers and customers are sick of vendor lock-in, and the risks associated with it. Part of the promise of cloud computing has been freedom—the ability to deploy and run IT solutions quicker, better and more easily and affordably. Developers want the freedom to transport their applications to multiple clouds as new market opportunities present themselves. Customers want the freedom to integrate applications residing in different clouds, public and private. To make this possible, they need the economies of scale, cost and time-to-market benefits that standards can provide.

It’s still early going for cloud computing. Vendors may have to put aside some of their own bickering, and clear the way for cloud computing adoption to live up to its promising forecasts.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,594 other followers