Carving A Green IT Pathway for SMBs

electric_circuitIn today’s always-on world, we are all using more technology. Chances are, you rely on several devices – smartphones, notebooks, tablets, and PCs. You’re also probably connecting to more servers to access more apps, and using more storage to house all the information you need to access.

Our appetite for technology is likely to continue unabated because, simply put, we like it. It helps us runs our businesses better, work more productively, stay in touch with friends, and get through holiday shopping more quickly. However, our increasing reliance on technology has environmental consequences. From devices to data centers, technological products require metals, minerals, wood products and chemicals, and energy.

Unfortunately, we are not using these resources in a sustainable way. A case in point is our handling of e-waste: just 27% of the e-waste generated in the U.S. in 2010 was recycled. Consider also the fact that, most servers run at utilization rates of 25% or less, but require just as much energy as if it they were being used at 100% capacity. This means that when a server is only performing about a quarter of the work that it ‘s capable of, it still uses the same amount of power as if it were operating at full tilt.

As I discussed in the first post of this two-part series, Dell’s Green IT Growth Path: Paving the Way for SMBs, both technology vendors and consumers have an important role to play in curbing the negative environmental impact of technology. In this post, I discuss how Dell is raising the bar yet again, and how SMBs can follow suit.

Dell Raises the Green IT Bar

delllogoDell has been recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability for many years. Last month, it significantly upped its commitment when it announced its 2020 Legacy of Good Plan. Among the 21 corporate responsibility goals outlined in the plan, Dell has set 12 goals specific to environmental sustainability. Building on existing initiatives, these 12 environmental goals focus on three areas: reducing the environmental impact of company operations, driving social and environmental responsibility in the industry and supply chain, and promoting technology’s role in addressing environmental challenges.

Specifically, Dell’s ambitious goals include plans to:

  • Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from facility and logistics operations by 50%
  • Reduce Dell’s use of fresh water in water-stressed regions by 20%
  • Ensure 90% of waste generated in Dell-operated buildings is diverted from landfills
  • Develop and maintain sustainability initiatives in 100% of Dell-operated buildings
  • Ensure 100% of product packaging is sourced from sustainable materials
  • Reduce the energy intensity of its product portfolio by 80%
  • Use 50 million pounds of recycled-content plastic and other sustainable materials in its products
  • Ensure 100% of Dell packaging is either recyclable or compostable
  • Phase out environmentally sensitive materials
  • Recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics
  • Identify and quantify the environmental benefits of Dell-developed solutions

Slide1A Green Pathway for SMBs

“OK,” you may be thinking. “Dell is a big company and a major technology producer, so its strong environmental commitment can have a major impact. But for me as an SMB —using technology, not creating it—what role do I have in all this? And why should I bother?”

The answer is:  every business has a role, and reasons to go green. Most businesses waste not only environmental resources, but money and time as well. Often, these are resources that could be invested in developing new products or services, or to hire and train employees. In fact, even if you aren’t a tree hugger, it makes good business sense to green your IT environment and culture.

No matter the size of your business or where you’re starting from, you can take steps to go green and save green. For example:

  • Shop green. When buying new products, shop with vendors that walk the Green IT walk. Look for certifications from ENERGY STAR, the U.S. EPA’s mark designating energy efficiency; and from EPEAT, the mark of sustainability for electronics from the Green Electronics Council, which looks at multiple environmental criteria. Check out this video to learn more about EPEAT. TCO, a Swedish eco-label, is used mostly in Europe, and includes ergonomics, energy consumption, and recyclability factors. Whenever possible, buy from vendors that use eco-friendly packaging to reduce packaging waste, and put recycled plastics to work in their products.
  • Virtualize. Since hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, even SMBs often find themselves with server and storage sprawl. As mentioned above, these systems require the same amount of power at 25% utilization as at higher levels.  Moreover, managing 20 servers at 25% utilization is more complex and requires more people than i managing 10 servers at 50% utilization. While you have to invest in initial startup costs, virtualized server and storage resources typically take up less space, require less power to run, and help simplify maintenance. For instance, at just 12 inches wide and 19 inches high (30cm x 48cm), Dell PowerEdge VRTX is a simple and affordable way to run high-end, on-site applications with local storage, standardized infrastructure and centralized management. Incorporating Fresh Air capabilities, VRTX is made for the office environment. It uses standard 100V – 240V AC power, and doesn’t require any specialized cooling.  You can just plug it into the wall, and it runs as quietly as an air conditioner.
  • Reduce paper and ink waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year. Even in this digital age, paper use in the average business is growing by 22% a year; at this rate, you’ll double the amount of paper you use in just 3.3 years unless you make a conscious effort to reduce. Switch from paper-based marketing, forms and faxes to digital solutions for email marketing, invoicing and other functions whenever possible. Buy remanufactured toner cartridges and get personal ink cartridges refilled to save money and cut waste.
  • Decrease power consumption. When buying new equipment, look for ENERGY STAR ratings of 5.0 and above. Use “set it and forget” tools, such as smart power strips, to automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device.
  • Recycle old equipment. The U.S. EPA estimates that only 27% of electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2010. But it’s getting easy to recycle. Dell’s Asset Recovery Program offers an environmentally appropriate and convenient way to dispose of computer equipment. Or you can donate unwanted devices via Dell and Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership—Goodwill gets the proceeds and you get a tax write-off.
  • Replace travel with web conferencing. Web conferencing reduces fuel consumption and saves time and money. Ecopreneurist estimates that if every small business owner in the United States were to conduct 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.
  • Embrace telecommuting. While it may not work for every employee or business, research network Undress4Success estimates that the United States could save $500 billion a year, reduce Persian Gulf oil imports by 28 percent and take the equivalent of 7 million cars off the road if workers were allowed to telecommute just half the time. Collaboration tools—from Google Apps to Microsoft Office 365—make working from home and staying connected easy.
  • Think thin. Thin clients are cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy and operate. For instance, Dell Wyse cloud clients use just 7 – 15 watts of energy on average when in full operation. In contrast,  a PC uses 80 watts of energy or more. In addition, it takes fewer materials and less energy to produce a thin client than a PC. Thin clients run Web browsers, and/or remote desktop virtualization software, so you can use the desktop environment that you’re used to. Desktop virtualization also frees users from being tied to a specific workstation and creates greater security because it is centrally stored on servers, instead of on local clients.

Perspective

Technology vendors such as Dell are leading the charge to design server, storage and client devices that consume less energy, build and package computers with eco-friendly materials, and provide recycling programs to reduce ewaste.

But creating a sustainable business isn’t just for big business. Everyone needs to think about the environmental impact of technology, and how they can put green technologies and practices in place to contribute to environmental sustainability. As an SMB, you can start taking steps today— not only to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, but to gain significant business and IT benefits as well.

This is the second in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses why green IT is important, and how SMBs can develop and benefit from their own green IT initiatives.

Dell Cloud Client Manager–A Wyse Move For Mobile Management

Earlier this year, Dell acquired Wyse, arguably the pioneer in thin-client computing. Together, Dell and Wyse have wasted little time in putting Wyse expertise to work to launch Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager (CCM), which is designed to help companies address the increasingly vexing problem of managing mobile devices and applications.

Dell is delivering CCM as a cloud-based, self-service offering that gives businesses a centralized mobile management platform from which they can:

  • Manage thin client and mobile devices. Supported devices include Apple iOS, Android, and Dell Wyse thin clients, whether they’re using 3G, 4G or wi-fi networks.
  • Provide users with secure remote access to content on servers, laptops and desktops. Using Wyse Pocket Cloud technology, mobile users to remotely and securely access and manage content stored on home or office computers.
  • Set rules and policies to automate provisioning. CCM enables IT to create rules and permissions to streamline provisioning, and ensure that appropriate policies are applied to devices and users.
  • Real-time monitoring, analytics and reporting. The solution provides real-time feedback on users’ mobile activities, and the ability to send alerts in case of user non-compliance.

Since CCM is a cloud service, you don’t need to install any additional hardware or software, and can be up and running with CCM in less than an hour. As critical, CCM works regardless of your company’s mobile procurement and provisioning policy. Whether your business provides and manages all employee mobile devices, supports a BYOD program, has an employee self-service model, or some combination of these, CCM enables you to centrally manage how employees access corporate data and apps from their mobile devices, and create containers to separate corporate and personal apps.

The price is right for cash-strapped SMBs: Dell offers a free Starter Tier for smaller companies, which has all CCM capabilities except for group-based management. The Pro Tier comes with granular group management capabilities, and pricing starts at $5.50 per month for one user and up to three devices.

Mobile Management is a Top SMB Challenge

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the growth trajectory for mobile solutions is soaring. So it’s not surprising that SMBs are going mobile: SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Mobile Solution shows that 83% of small businesses (1-99 employees) and 76% of medium businesses (100-999 employees) already use mobile solutions in their businesses.

Much of this growth has been driven by consumer demand for new and better devices and apps. As we use mobile more in our personal lives, our expectations for applying mobile solutions in our business lives also rises. But this rapid escalation of mobile use combined with a dizzying proliferation of devices and apps has led to a management dilemma.

As they go mobile, SMBs are taking different approaches in terms of how they provide mobile devices to their employees (Figure 1).

Figure 1: How SMBs Provide Mobile Devices to Employees

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Business Mobile Solutions, SMB Group

The velocity of mobile adoption and the convergence of mobile device use for personal and business needs has led to a rash of security and management issues for IT, who must manage a mushrooming and increasingly hybrid mobile environment which extends beyond devices to apps and services (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Top SMB Security-Related Challenges In Using Mobile Solutions

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Business Mobile Solutions, SMB Group

The result is that many SMBs have yet to address the mobile management challenge (Figure 3).

Figure 3: SMB Use of/Plans for Mobile Management Solutions

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Business Mobile Solutions, SMB Group

Dell’s Answer to Managing the Bright and Shiny Mobile Challenge

The mobile management challenge will only intensify, especially given the industry’s proclivity to churn out bright and shiny new devices and apps–and users’ desire to get their hands on them. Dell CCM gives companies a secure, affordable and accessible way to manage through this inevitable churn, regardless of mobile policies, virtualization technologies or device choices.  CCM offers both device and app management, and supports Citrix, Microsoft, VMware and other virtualization environments.

CCM also offers management tools to automate and streamline management and offload routine chores. IT can create role-based rules and permissions for users or user groups, which allow or prohibit the use of specific apps. Once a user’s permissions are set up, the user can register devices on their won via the self-service portal. New devices automatically inherit the appropriate policies, configurations, and apps of the user. Employees also can use the portal to reset system passwords, and, if a device goes missing, lock or wipe corporate data. The platform delivers analytics and reporting, including audit trails to help IT monitor user compliance.

CCM provides added through virtual desktop capabilities in Wyse PocketCloud Remote Desktop (a new web-based version is in beta now), which lets users securely access and manage content stored on home or office computers from their mobile devices.

Perspective

CCM doesn’t have everything in it yet, and it competes with many other MDM and mobile management platforms, including other DIY services and fully managed services. But Dell’s approach is solid, and it has removed pricing as a barrier to entry for budget-conscious SMBs with its free version.

Over time, Dell intends to evolve CCM into a one-stop shop for device-agnostic, all-inclusive management of whatever combination of mobile and traditional devices companies choose to use. If it stays true to putting flexibility, ease of use and affordability at the top of the priority list, CCM will provide a very good answer for the mobile management challenges that SMBs face.

Furthermore, CCM represents another step forward for Dell’s vision to transform from a product-centric to a solutions centric company. Although achieving the vision is still a work in progress, Dell’s Wsye acquisition (as with Boomi) demonstrates Dell’s ability to assemble the right building blocks and expand its footprint in cloud computing and remote services.

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.

What is a Virtual Desktop, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published November 30, 2010 in Small Business Computing)

What is a Virtual Desktop?

A virtual desktop means that a user’s desktop environment (the icons, wallpaper, windows, folders, toolbars, widgets, etc.) is stored remotely on a server, rather than on a local PC or other client computing device. Desktop virtualization software separates the desktop operating systems, applications and data from the hardware client, storing this “virtual desktop” on a remote server.

The remote server that runs and supports virtual desktops uses software called a hypervisor to create a “virtual machine” that simulates the user’s desktop environment and capabilities. In a virtual desktop environment, users access their personal desktop remotely, over the Internet, from any client device.

Why Should You Care?

Desktop virtualization delivers on-demand desktops to users for anytime, anywhere, any device access. This provides employees with full access to their complete business desktop from multiple devices, such as their home PC, a smart phone or an iPad. Easy access to a virtualized desktop can help people to be more productive, because all they need to work is an Internet connection from any device, anywhere.

From an IT perspective, virtual desktops help reduce the time it takes to provision new desktops, and they also help to decrease desktop management and support costs. Experts estimate that maintaining and managing PC hardware and software accounts for 50 to 70 percent of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a typical PC. Companies often turn to virtual desktops to cut these IT labor costs.

Since everything is centrally managed, stored and secured, virtual desktops eliminate the need to install, update and patch applications, back up files, and scan for viruses on individual client devices. Desktop virtualization also helps to streamline management of software assets.

Virtual desktops also provide greater security to the organization, since employees aren’t “carrying around” confidential company data on a personal device that could easily be lost, stolen or tampered with. For instance, in industries such as healthcare, where adherence to privacy regulations is of paramount importance, virtual desktops give medical personnel access to patient records without concerns about confidential information being downloaded. Since user data is backed up centrally and regularly, desktop virtualization also provides data integrity benefits.

Companies can also help extend the life of older client devices with desktop virtualization or use it to support thin clients. 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 tasks on its own, a thin client functions only as a virtual desktop, using the computing power residing on networked servers.

Because thin clients lack hard drives, CD-ROM drives, fans and other moving parts, they’re smaller, cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build, they are cheaper to buy and maintain, and require less energy than traditional PCs or notebooks.

What to Consider

Many vendors both large (VMWare, Citrix, Microsoft, IBM, HP, etc.) and small (such as Panos, TuCloud and Virtual Bridges, just to name a few) provide virtual desktop solutions. These include the software used to manage the virtual desktops on the server side, which is called a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

This software creates the desktop images, stores them on servers and sends them over the network for access via a client device. The VDI hosts each employee’s desktop within a virtual machine (VM) running on a centralized server. This means that IT needs to have the skills to adequately deploy and manage the VDI and network. A lack of expertise can result in security risks, and should the network go down, more widespread productivity losses.

If you don’t have the internal resources to manage this on you own, many vendors also provide and/or partner with managed service providers to provide virtual desktops as a hosted managed service. Hosted virtual desktop services are usually offered in a per-user, per-month subscription model. This model offers the added benefit of transferring IT infrastructure costs from a capital expense to an operating expense.

Another consideration is that performance for multimedia applications can be slow, since people access them over the network instead of on their own device. In addition, some people will resist the loss –real or perceived — of autonomy and privacy. People may also balk at giving up desktop applications and control over their workspace.

Finally, the missing link of offline support has been a key reason that many companies have resisted desktop virtualization. For many, this has been a show-stopper, because without offline support, users can’t access their virtual desktops offline. But several vendors, including Citrix and VMWare, have recently added offline support for their virtual desktop offerings — taking a significant leap to remove a critical adoption barrier.

SMB Group Top Ten 2011 SMB Technology Predictions

Here are the SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2011! A more detailed description of each follows below.

1. Mobile Commerce Lifts Off

2. SMBs Demand that Vendors Bring Order to Social Media Chaos

3. App Stores Become a Key Information Source and Channel for SMBs

4. The Shift to Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Becomes Irreversible

5. A New Cloud Channel Model Forms

6. The Transition to the Insight Economy Gets a Bit Easier

7. Tablets Add Fuel to the Mobile Applications Explosion

8. Better, Faster Integration Becomes a Key Business Solution Differentiator

9. Hybrid Computing Requirements Accelerate Virtualization Adoption

10. Continued Convergence of Unified Communication and Collaboration Suites

2011 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions in Detail

1.     Mobile Commerce Lifts Off: Today, mobile commerce is in its infancy, but with the Internet in our pocket or purse, it’s only a matter of time before it takes off.  As big retailers and companies invest to make mobile commerce easier, more convenient and more secure, the pressure mounts for SMBs to develop mobile commerce capabilities to stay competitive. The SMB Group’s 2010 Mobile Solutions Study reveals strong SMB plans for mobile web sites, payments, product and service tracking, document sharing and sales/support/service in the upcoming year.   However, key drivers for mobile commerce and adoption plans vary by industry, phase of business and other factors. Vendors will need to tailor messaging and solutions to resonate with these different requirements. As SMBs become more dependent on mobile commerce, they will also look for ways to integrate mobile commerce with ERP/accounting and CRM systems to save time and increase efficiency.

2.     SMBs Demand that Vendors Bring Order to Social Media Chaos. SMBs are jumping on the social media bandwagon to help attract new customers and improve customer relationships. But managing marketing, branding and reputation across and between social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) and other digital marketing venues (email marketing, search engine marketing, etc.) as well as more traditional CRM solutions can be a nightmare—and surfaces as a top technology challenge in our 2010 Routes to Market Study. In 2011, SMBs will demand converged solutions that streamline inbound and outbound interactions across different channels, and help  measure their effectiveness. Vendors are stepping up efforts to help meet this challenge. For instance, BatchBlue “Social CRM” integrates contacts sales and social media feeds for small businesses; HubSpot’s inbound marketing helps companies create, optimize and promote content to “get found,” convert and close more business, and link to relevant conversations across the Web in a unified dashboard; Sage CRM Solutions integrates social media with opportunities and contacts to help sales, marketing and support people prioritize and focus sales activities and marketing campaigns more effectively; and Salesforce.com makes Chatter available for free to all Salesforce users to integrate profiles, groups, online document sharing, task management, contacts, web forms, status updates, newsfeeds with CRM.

3. App Stores Become a Key Information Source and Channel for SMBs. In our 2010 Routes to Market Study, respondents rated “figuring out how different solutions can help the business” as their second most vexing technology challenge. SMBs most often turn to search engines, vendor emails and websites to help sort through this confusion, and keep up with information about technology solutions.  SMB app stores—aka marketplaces—go beyond search engine listings to provide user-generated ratings and guidance to help SMBs determine best-fit solutions. They offer single-sign on access to apps and integration capabilities. Google Apps Marketplace, Intuit’s Workplace, GetApp.com, Constant Contact Marketplace and Zoho Marketplace are just a few examples of SMB-focused app stores that have launched recently. In 2011, they will become a more important source and channel for SMBs—our survey results show that more than half of all SMBs use or plan to use app stores. Vendors that run their own app stores will need to stay ahead of competitors not only by offering the best selection of applications, but by providing superior information, community, guidance, integration and ecommerce experiences.

4.     The Shift to Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Becomes Irreversible. SaaS and cloud computing vendors have been pitching the mantra of easier, faster and more affordable solutions for SMBs since the late 1990s when pioneers such as NetLedger (now NetSuite) and Employease (now part of ADP) launched. But the great recession has accomplished what marketing alone could not. From 2009 to 2010, SMB awareness, interest, consideration and adoption of SaaS and cloud solutions has spiked. Our 2010 Routes-to-Market Study reveals that more than 25% of small and 12% of medium businesses now use collaboration, customer management, online marketing and business analytics as cloud-based services. Economic necessity has driven more SMBs to the cloud, and once in, they are seeing mostly positive results–not only in terms of cost savings and time to solution, but in being able to re-deploy scarce (if any!) IT resources from application support and management to more strategic activities. As important, they are getting significant business value from real-time visibility and collaborative capabilities that are intrinsic to cloud computing–and provide a compelling case to expand their use.

5.     A New Cloud Channel Model Forms. Cloud vendors deliver many of the things that IT channel has traditionally provided–software and hardware sourcing, installation, management, etc. As a result, cloud computing doesn’t neatly align with the traditional IT channel provider role, and many VARs and SIs have been wary of cloud computing. But as customer demand catches up with early hype, and the lure of annuity revenues and higher value services grows, more channel partners are inclined to get on board—even if they’re not yet sure how to straddle two very different business models. At the same time, more cloud solution vendors are acknowledging that partners will be critical to fuel future SMB market growth. After all, while the cloud removes technical barriers to adoption, SMBs often need the one-on-one guidance to derive maximum business value from solutions. In 2011, a new channel model will begin to take shape, incorporating greater collaboration and joint goal setting between cloud vendors and partners; a selective partnering framework that gives fewer partners more opportunity to make money; more transparent and simplified partner programs; and increased incentives for customer satisfaction, cross-selling and renewals. Vendors to watch here include Intacct and Acumatica.

6.     The Transition to the Insight Economy Gets a Bit Easier. Experts tell us that 1.2 zettabytes of digital information will have been created in 2010. A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (that’s 21 zeroes!) Whew! Online video, social networking sites such as Facebook, digital photos and cell phone data all contribute to the data pile-up. No wonder that SMBs in our 2010 Routes to Market study said their #1 technology challenge is “getting better business insights from the data we already have,” and that 40% of medium businesses plan to spend more in this area in 2011. Luckily, SMBs have more options than just a few years for digestible BI solutions. Vendors such as  Adaptive Planning, IBM/Cognos (and now Clarity), SAP Business Objects, Rosslyn Analytics and Xactly offer function-specific and/or modular solutions that zero in on a specific task such as performance management, spend analysis or pipeline management. And several on demand/SaaS BI solutions (check out Birst, Cloud9 Analytics, PivotLink, Zoho Reports)  are designed to be easy and inexpensive enough for many small businesses to use and get those important “aha moments” from.

7.     Tablets Add Fuel to the Mobile Applications Explosion. Smartphone apps have already caused a seismic shift in the IT industry—and in how SMBs use and interact with technology and the world. Increasingly, SMBs have mobile workforces that need real-time information and access to applications no matter where they are. The iPad’s swift rise and a slew of new tablets from vendors such as Dell, HP, RIM, Samsung has led to a quick ramp up in tablet adoption. Our Mobile Solutions Study reveals that 10 % of small businesses and 22% of medium businesses have at least some employees using tablets to help them get more done on the go. However, while SMB adoption of calendar, contacts, email and web access is almost ubiquitous, the mobile business solutions market is still largely untapped. But, SMB plans to invest in mobile marketing and advertising, customer service management, social media solutions are on the rise. Innovative, versatile tablet designs and capabilities will further accelerate the availability, quality and adoption of mobile solutions among SMBs. However, fast-paced traction of newer devices, such as Android-based tablets underscore that SMB device preference is highly volatile—so look out for the next new thing that can shift the landscape

8.     Better, Faster Integration Becomes a Key Business Solution Differentiator. Integrating business solutions with each other and with other applications shouldn’t cost more than the business solutions themselves. This is especially the case for SMBs, who usually don’t have the money or appetite for complex or time-consuming integrations. This reality has driven IBM to acquire Cast Iron earlier this year, Dell’s recent purchase of Boomi,  and Pervasive’s strong growth. Because simple, clean integration options save SMBs time and money, they will increasingly become a vital factor in SMBs ‘short list selections. The good news is that options in this area are growing, and include: comprehensive integrated business suites, such as NetSuite; solutions that come with embedded integrators for typical integration scenarios; app stores that streamline integration among participating solutions; and on demand integration marketplaces, such as Pervasive’s DataCloud marketplace.

9.     Hybrid Computing Requirements Accelerate Virtualization Adoption. Even as SMBs embrace cloud computing, they will continue to use packaged applications that are working just fine. In addition, some businesses will purchase new on premise solutions because they best meet their needs, or due to privacy, security or regulatory considerations. For the foreseeable future, most SMBs will need to combine on-premise and cloud solutions in a hybrid computing approach. As virtual server desktop and storage options grow, more midsize businesses will consider cloud enabled high availability and disaster recovery solutions, which until now, have been desirable, but largely unaffordable for SMBs. They will also look to managed services providers for remote management of their on-premise IT infrastructure, and for help in implementing and managing virtualization and cloud-based business continuity/disaster recovery solutions. Look for VMware to lead the way, with others, such as Citrix and Microsoft playing catch up. A growing mobile workforce combined with next-generation virtual desktop solutions, such as IBM Virtual Desktop for Smart Business, will also spark greater interest in the virtual desktop area. However, vendors will need to continue to invest to educate SMBs about the cost savings, management, and provisioning benefits to further SMB understanding and adoption.

10.  Continued Convergence of Unified Communication and Collaboration Suites. In 2010, the collaboration battle swung into full gear, with many vendors introducing integrated solutions that pull together suites to help make it easier for to find and share information, extend and enhance shared knowledge, and connect with people more easily than with email and disjointed point solutions. Because collaboration is the only business activity that every employee engages in every day, large vendors such as IBM, Cisco, Google and Microsoft, as well as a slew of smaller ones from HyperOffice to Zoho will continue to ratchet up efforts and add more capabilities to expand their market footprints. Vendors are also filling in gaps in their unified collaboration and communications portfolios, such as Cisco did with its Tandberg acquisition; Google has done with Google Voice, to add VoIP and softphone capabilities; and as HyperOffice and IBM LotusLive have done with Skype. And of course, all are integrating social networking capabilities as well. As the kinks get worked out and the integrations become smoother, these converged services can help SMBs to declutter their in boxes, improve productivity and save money.

Dell 2.0: Top Takeaways from Dell’s Virtual Era Event

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Dell’s Solutions for a Virtual Era analyst and press event in San Francisco. At the event, Dell unveiled its new strategy to help companies more readily and easily provision computing capabilities to in the ubiquitous anytime, anywhere information era. At the event, Dell introduced several new hardware offerings based on the new Intel Xeon 5600 architecture to enable cloud-based solution deployment. But for me, the more interesting focus was Dell’s ambitious vision and roadmap to capitalize on the shift to cloud computing, and market demand for better, more cost-effective and easier to deploy, use and manage IT solutions. Here are a few of my top takeaways about what Dell’s vision, how it plans to execute on it and my commentary.

  • Change the economics of IT. Companies spend more than 50% of their IT budgets just to keep the systems they have up and running—stunting investments in new IT solutions that can help them to innovate and grow. Dell intends to apply its “direct” DNA and supply chain know-how to automate IT and change the economic equation to help companies get out of this quagmire. By delivering “open, capable and affordable” solutions with industry standard-based building blocks, Dell believes that it can reduce technology lock-in, complexity and cost for customers. Some specific capabilities in the works include autonomic self-maintenance and management; automated dynamic allocation of resources, and policy-driven management. In a recent keynote at Oracle OpenWorld, IT budgets in North America amount to $1.2 trillion, but through widespread adoption of x86 servers managed in a more automated fashion, $200 billion could be saved, asserted Michael Dell, president and CEO of Dell. He used Dell’s own plan to take $200 million out of its own IT spending by the end of 2010 as evidence that Dell–which provides two of every five x86 servers shipped–can help customers achieve this goal. Our recent research on Dell Managed Services customers also provides a strong proof point that Dell can deliver on this goal: built on its Silverback and Everdream acquisitions, web-based technologies, and Dell data center expertise, Dell Managed Services offers SMBs web-based, standardized infrastructure management services on a pay-as-you-go basis. I’m kind of surprised that its taken so long for Dell to get around to this, as its business model and technology legacy (Dell has no proprietary systems of its own) affords it a significant opportunity to differentiate.
  • Move from delivering solution components to delivering the total solutions experience. In Dell’s view, companies today spend far too much time, energy and money deploying, running and managing IT solutions. Dell wants will to simplify and make IT more affordable with turnkey, pre-tested, pre-assembled solutions that combine hardware, software and services. Although this may seem like a radical departure for Dell—best known as a hardware vendor—the company has been building towards this for quite some time, acquiring software companies (including KACE, Silverback and Everdream), along with Perot Systems. In addition, Dell is partnering with companies including Joyent, VMWare, Microsoft, Aster Data, Canonical and Greenplum) to provide additional solutions expertise and components.
  • Give customers “and” instead of “or” choices. Dell intends to help customers simultaneously pursue evolutionary and revolutionary paths towards cloud computing. To facilitate the evolutionary path, Dell’s Cloud Partner Program (partners include Citrix, Microsoft and VMware) enables companies to migrate legacy applications to more efficient virtual environments, pre-tested and optimized for Dell systems. On the revolutionary path, Dell’s platform-as-a-service (PaaS) will offer an efficient, scalable and flexible platform to deploy and manage new Web application workloads. Dell’s inspiration for this comes from its own Data Center Solutions Group, which provides cloud and high-performance computing solutions for companies that require massive hyper scale environments such as Facebook, Ask.com and Microsoft Azure. Dell’s open source platform is built on PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, and runs Apache, MySQL, Rails and Java. The vendor plans to offer a full spectrum of delivery options, where customers can self-integrated components or turn on everything as a service. The initial target market for the platform is ISVs, telcos and others who would build on top on it, and sell through their services to end-user customers. However, Dell left the door open to offering it directly to the end-user market at some point in the future.
  • Start with a mid-market design point. Dell’s design point for the Virtual Era is the mid-market—which is a very big deal! Starting with mid-market requirements and scaling up or down from there can give Dell a big competitive edge—for a couple of important reasons. First, mid-market companies have complex IT needs, but scarce IT resources–they can’t afford a lot of expensive labor or IT tools. This aligns well with Dell’s theme of automating IT. Second, Dell’s major competitors, HP and IBM, offer mid-market solutions, but tend, more often than not, to gravitate towards a large enterprise design point for infrastructure solutions. Finally, history has proven that it’s very hard to scale down successfully. One concern I do have is that I heard different definitions for how Dell is defining mid-market in this context. Will Dell center the design point around its traditional definition of medium business (100 to 499 employees), or upwards into what I would call the upper mid-market—topping out at about 5,000? Dell needs to be clear on this because there’s a big difference in designing for 5,000 versus 500 employee firms.
  • Lead in listening. Dell has been a pioneer in building open community forums for customer input and dialogue. The vendor learned the hard way that in a Web 2.0 world, its important it is to let it all hang out–the good, the bad and the ugly. Dell was blindsided in 2005, when professor and blogger Jeff Jarvis used the phrase “Dell Hell” in his blog to describe his experience with Dell support. His blog unleashed a torrent of blogger complaints about Dell service, and escalated into an avalanche of unwanted media attention in publications such as The New York Times and Business Week. Once the shock wore off, Dell took action to listen proactively to and get involved in conversations relevant to its business and interests, globally and 24/7. Since then, Dell has dug deeper into social media to harvest and apply the collective wisdom of ever-larger crowds. Taking advantage of what it calls its “direct nature”, Dell intends to expand these initiatives. As an example, to reach and support their almost 400,000 fans on Facebook, Dell now provides “Dell Support on Facebook” widget on the Dell fan page. The widget is designed to provide Dell fans a way to engage with Dell support via Facebook to get assistance with technical and non-technical issues, check on an order status or any other issue they may be experiencing. Since the launch, Dell’s “customers’ heroes” team is touching about 3,500 customers a week through this widget, catching potential issues and flagging them so Dell can alert impacted customers and get issues fixed early. With social media rapidly displacing traditional one-way marketing in terms of influence, this should provide Dell with an enormous return.
  • Turn up the marketing volume. At the same time, Dell readily admitted that it needs to beat its own drum louder and more clearly to rise above the din in the industry. I think Dell is off to a good start with this event (the first analyst event they’ve held in a few years). I was also impressed with their executives’ ability to rein in business and IT jargon in most pitches. And, when execs did use motherhood and apple pie terms such as “open, capable and affordable” (which almost every IT vendor uses) they did a good job of following up with explanations about how they will actually deliver to those lofty goals. To really fire things up though, Dell will need to get more creative with broad and creative marketing campaigns that spark attention and interest around this new Dell and what it has to offer.

Since essentially reinventing the PC and x-86 server markets with its direct and efficient supply chain model, Dell has taken its share of lumps over the last few years for not moving past its traditional hardware-centric comfort zone. In the cloud era, Dell has the opportunity to create a new game, with new rules—ones that will favor its strengths and approach. Improving operational efficiencies has always been at the core of Dell’s DNA—a strength it can capitalize on again if it executes well in the solution, marketing and partner endeavors that back up its vision.

SMB Collaboration Battle Heats Up: VMware Announces Deal to Acquire Zimbra

As we predicted just a couple of weeks ago in our 2010 Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions, the collaboration battle is heating up! VMware just announced that has entered into a definitive agreement with Yahoo! to acquire Zimbra, which provides email and collaboration software.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but under the terms of the agreement, VMware will buy all Zimbra technology and intellectual property.  Yahoo! will continue to have the right to use Zimbra technology in its communications services. Perhaps most interesting, Zimbra has about 55 million paid mailboxes—many of which are in small and medium businesses—which VMware will support as well.

The Zimbra acquisition gives VMware an email and collaboration solution of its own that it can package with its desktop virtualization solutions, cross-sell to existing VMware customers, or sell as a standalone solution. Zimbra enables VMware to diversify, giving the vendor another entrée into the coveted small and medium business market. Especially at the lower end of this market, where core virtualization solutions can be a very tough sell, Zimbra provides an alternative path to customers—and revenues.

As noted in our 2010 Top Ten SMB Predictions, email and collaboration are universal–everyone uses them, no matter their role or function in a business. This makes this area extremely attractive to an expanding array of vendors, many of whom are venturing into this territory for the first time. As web-based collaboration solutions replace traditional systems, VMware can ride into the race on a strong horse.

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