Last week was all about small and medium business (SMB), and I think the coming year will see a lot more focus on this space, both from Microsoft and the company's partners. After the February launch of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft and the industry will be expending lots of energy and spending lots of money on the launch of Small Business Server 2008 (SBS 2008, code named Cougar). The SMB momentum will continue as Microsoft proceeds on to its new integrated server product, code-named Centro, which is an extension of the SBS concept into the midmarket. (Anybody remember BackOffice Server?) Microsoft has realized the significance of the SMB space as a potential for new revenue now that the company is feeling securely (OK, "securely" might be a bad choice of words) ensconced in the enterprise.
My SMB week started with Harry Brelsford's SMB Nation conference here in Redmond on Microsoft's campus (http://www.smbnation.com). Then, later in the week, there was the latest in Microsoft's series of licensing Webcasts called "Inside Licensing" and aimed at the SMB space. In connection with that Webcast, I had the opportunity to talk with Stacie Sloane, director of marketing and communications in Microsoft's Worldwide Licensing and Pricing group.
From September 28 to October 1, the fifth annual SMB Nation conference hosted over 600 attendees, including Small Business Specialists, registered Microsoft partners, TS2 attendees, resellers, SMB consultants, VARs, and VAPs. The attendees I talked to were delighted with the quality of the information in the sessions, with the opportunity to network with each other and Microsoft representatives--and especially with the chance to meet Harry Brelsford. (Microsoft would not allow press at this event, so I met with a few people outside the event itself.)
I've known Harry for about 10 years, ever since he wrote for an SBS newsletter Windows NT Magazine (ah, the good old days!) launched and soon cancelled due to lack of reader interest. (Harry kindly says that newsletter was ahead of its time.) Fortunately, Harry went on to build a very successful business in this space, and his success was evident in universal praise for the event and in the respect everyone has for Harry. Whenever Harry walked into the room, it was like Elvis had entered the building. Several times, I happened to see Harry stopping to pose for photos with attendees.
As I was taking the elevator to the garage one day, I happened to talk to a couple of attendees from my hometown, Denver. (Go Rockies!) They said they had skipped Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference last July, even though that event had been held in Denver. Instead, they traveled to Redmond for the SMB Nation conference because they felt they got better value for their money and a clear focus on their market segment. They said they would return next year and were very satisfied with the value they got from the conference.
I also had the opportunity to talk to some of the vendors who had exhibited at the conference. In particular, Jeff Connally, president and CEO of CM IT Solutions; Bob Godgart, CEO of Autotask; Curt James of StorageCraft; and Babek Salimi and Matthew Brown of Workshare.
The theme of all these conversations was that the SMB space is poised for growth. Of course, the upcoming launch of Centro is also testament to interest in the market and will drive great attention to and investment in the SMB space in 2008.
CM IT Solutions (www.cmitsolutions.com), Jeff Connally explained, is a company that supports SMB consultants and systems integrators (SIs) by helping them manage their business to make more money by eliminating the dilemma of dealing with everyday business problems. CM IT's business model is to franchise independent businesses (CM IT now has about 100 franchises across the country). The benefit of franchising is that it frees the technical business owners from business management and lets them focus on their core competency in technology. Franchising also provides the advantage of being able to purchase equipment and software at a discount because of CM IT's overall ability to buy larger quantities than an individual small businesses could afford. One of the most interesting aspects of the franchise model is that it creates a nationwide community of experts who can draw on each other's specialized knowledge to solve problems for local customers.
Jeff was highly optimistic about the opportunities in the SMB segment. Jeff foresees growth for the services industry and his business, specifically.
More Coming on SMB Licensing
This post is getting way too long, so I'll stop here for today. I'll follow up with more on Autotask, StorageCraft, and Workshare in my next blog posting.
And I'll talk about my conversation with Microsoft on the company's efforts to simplify licensing and provide self-help tools. In the meantime, you can view the licensing Webcast at www.insidelicensing.com. Microsoft describes the Webcast as "focused on the unique challenges that mid-sized and small customers face, and the specific licensing solutions that Microsoft offers for them. Some of the topics covered include how to plan for new IT purchases, how to determine which licensing option is right for your organization, what Microsoft offers for mid-sized and small customers in Software Assurance, and more generally how to avoid or overcome some of the common IT challenges when you're not a mega-corporation with a huge IT staff."