According to IDC, the line between how enterprises and SMBs approach technology spending will blur this year, reflecting a growing understanding and appreciation of IT on business performance.
When it comes to selling SMBs a server technology, the same checklist an enterprise uses will often apply. Like their larger counterparts, small businesses are after solutions to manage data growth while ensuring critical information is adequately protected.
On top of this, cost effectiveness, simplicity, reliability and efficiency are top priorities. But just as enterprises have unique requirements that depend on their industry, corporate culture and blend of technologies, the type of server solution suitable for an SMB will come down to its specific environment.
Step by step
Traditionally, small businesses used a PC as their server. But given the rapid rise of low-cost server technologies and platforms, more and more are investing in dedicated server equipment. The sticking point is when it comes to managing the device. IT is not a skill many small businesses have or can afford.
"Some of the benefits small businesses can get from having a server in their environment are becoming real to them because they’re now at a price point they can afford or they're looking at moving towards a cloud environment," Microsoft product manager for Windows server and virtualisation, Rosemary Stark, said. "SMBs are spending a bit more money to get the functionality they’re looking for."
The first step to determine what type of server an SMB needs is to analyse what their requirements are from application point of view, Corporate Express ISS business unit manager, Gary Farrow, said.
“The first thing to look at when getting a server is whether or not the application you have in mind is a generic or highly customised application,” he said. “A majority of servers are running on generic applications such as SQL, Microsoft Exchange and so on.”
Farrow advises companies to opt for generic and popular server models where possible. Picking from the popular bunch of servers in the market running generic applications will mean there will be higher levels of support for those types of devices.
“Look for something that is predictable and plain as possible – you want to be the majority and that way when vendors release a new generation of that server, it’s going to behave in a predictable manner,” Farrow said. “In an SMB, where they’re probably not flush with a lot of IT resources, you want something that is very easy to support because if that product should fail, the best disaster recovery strategy is having a product that is easily replaceable.”
Another simple step is to look at the server system as a whole, including storage management and the lifespan of the particular product sets, Farrow said.
“You need to look at storage sub-systems and the way server systems communicate with each other, and understand how they’re going to be wired together,” he said. “The challenge is looking at ways to effectively communicate with the user and be mindful of efficiency. Quality of advice is also a key aspect.”
One point of view that’s gaining traction with SMBs is viewing servers as an appliance. This means it already comes pre-configured with software, has been pre-tested and pre-certified to run with a certain operating system, Dell advanced systems group manager, Jon McBride, explained.
“It’s something that can be installed within hours rather than days or weeks,” he said. “Partners and vendors need to do the hard work to understand, consult and make sure that what we can provide is really going to help them. What we can’t do is make any presumptions around what an SMB needs from a hardware perspective.
“We have many customers that are IT centric and have big requirements around servers and storage, and we’re consulting with them on what would look like very complex solutions using blade, high-end rackmount, and sockets to servers. We really can’t pigeon hole these companies into any one type of technology.”
SMBs predominantly focus on their particular business and most don’t have dedicated IT staff to mull over the speeds and feeds. As a result, a server to them is usually a means to an end and SMBs mainly focus on the desired outcome. Questions include how it’s going to effect the business, is it going to achieve all the objectives in mind, does it allow some room to grow and should we need to alter our plans? This is where a reseller can play an important role.
“They want a server that just works for their business, not a server where it orients their whole business to do things because it only performs functions in a specific way,” Brennan IT head of marketing and product management, Nick McMenemy, said. “People are using technology to deliver a business outcome and want someone that can deal with and help deliver that business outcome.”
IBM System x business development manager, Peter Hedges, said SMBs also need piece of mind that if their server system dies, their business won’t go with it.
“An SMB’s business goals are very easy to understand. IT should support the business and not be the reason why the business is there,” he said. “A lot of SMBs don’t have a full-time IT person; they don’t have the luxury of someone fussing over the servers.”