Lean, Mean Machines: Tech for the SMB, Part 1

Regardless of its nature, even the tiniest and newest SMB (small- to medium-sized business) requires the acquisition and deployment of the right information technology as it begins to set up shop. Vendors of that sort of equipment recognize the growing need for SMB-oriented hardware.

For example, computer maker Lenovo’s transaction sales (which includes SMB purchases)accounted for 35 percent of all PC sales excluding Greater China inthe 2007/08 fiscal year, said company officials. In addition, recentdata from research firm IDC indicates that currently the SMB segmentmakes up 34 percent of the entire notebook market. By 2011, the SMB segment in emerging markets will grow to about 50 million of the entire global notebook market.

In another example of the growing SMB marketplace, computer and server upgrades are cited asthe top hardware initiatives for SMBs in the U.S. in 2008, according toresearch firm Gartner.

Just like larger companies, SMBs today face many complexissues such as data security threats, compliance regulations anddemands for wireless mobility. Thus, SMBs want to make sure they havea sound PC technology infrastructure in place to manage theirbusiness as securely and efficiently as possible.

“Over the last three years in developing products for the SMB market,our approach is to take an enterprise-level product and make itaffordable for SMBs. Often, their needs go beyond what they canafford,” Keith Alexis, general manager and vice president of channeland enterprise sales for the Americas at network product maker SMC,told TechNewsWorld.

Defining Terms

Often the view SMB players have of their equipment needs differs fromthat of vendors. So what are the differences in IT productsdesigned for the small-business environment?

IT products focused on the SMB must takeinto account a handful of factors, noted Ron Culler, CTO ofSecure Designs. Secure Designs is an IT consultancy that specializesin setting up small business networks.

These include ease of use, a small footprint, budget friendliness andmulti-purpose functionality — for example, having firewall, virtual private network, intrusionprevention and secure wireless protection capabilities all in a single product. These are areasusually handled by an IT department in a larger enterprise setting.

“The majority of small businesses are not IT-focused — attorneys, realestate agencies, financial services, or medical and dental offices,for example — and are increasingly tending to outsource the entire ITfunction to specialist managed services providers in order to reducethe total cost of ownership of their systems,” Culler toldTechNewsWorld.

Must-Have Hardware

The specific hardware needs for SMBs can be as varied as the type ofbusiness they provide.

“But from the hardware prospective, you would need workstations forthe employees, at least one server (depending on the company’srequirements), network switching and cabling, routers, firewall,and an Internet connection,” Jeff Black, CIO of Integrated TechnologyCorporate Solutions (ITCS), told TechNewsWorld. ITCS is an IT solutions partner for small andmid-sized businesses.

For entrepreneurs who want to set up shop with just a few dozen orfewer employees, there is an essential list of hardware technologyneeded.

“The basics are switch, server, data backup and recovery, officesystems software desktop and laptops, and above all, security,” saidCuller.

Cloudy Alternatives

Some vendors are leveraging the latest cloud technologies used bylarge corporations for SMB users. Capital efficiency is an importantconsideration for small companies.

Using scarce capital to fund an elaborate IT infrastructure andexpensive client-server applications weakens small companies, PaulMcNamara, CEO of Coghead, told TechNewsWorld. His company delivers aplatform for SMBs to leverage cloud computing to build custom, onlineapplications.

“IT products for SMBs are designed to be less expensive than theirenterprise counterparts, as well as simpler and easier to deploy andmaintain. One of the best ways to make SMBs solutions easier to useis by leveraging cloud computing applications that require only acomputer with reliable Internet connectivity — no servers, softwareinstallation or maintenance,” McNamara said.

For instance, he explained, a computerworkstation with Internet connectivity is all that is required toleverage cloud computing services.

What to Avoid

For an SMB, enterprise-level hardware is generallymuch more expensive and requires a highly specialized technician toproperly configure the device, according to Black. Also, certaintypes of infrastructure categories are wasteful for SMB users.

“Workstations are extremely important, but enterprise servers are notneeded for small businesses, as there are many other solutionsavailable,” Black said.

Also, Web servers are typically not needed for small business as theycan have their Web pages hosted offsite. Small businesses typically donot have the bandwidth or redundancy to effectively host their own Web sites, henoted.

Lean, Mean Machines: Tech for the SMB, Part 2

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