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For about a year now I've been telling clients that they may or may not be buying a new server, depending on what's right for them. Since January we have been pushing people away from servers and into services. Now when we sell a server we are confident in saying "This IS the last server you'll ever buy."
Rewind a bit . . .
We're at a point in the evolution of servers and the SMB space that makes the future very easy to focus on. Two years ago this was a little harder to see, but not impossible. I remember sitting with Vlad Mazek at the Microsoft Partner conference when they announced that Microsoft would be selling directly against the partners. We both blogged about it at the time.
About the same time, I entered into a series of sometimes-public conversations with people about overloading SBS and servers generally. At the time, we were asking a box with 4 GB of RAM and a 32 bit O.S. to run Server, Exchange, SQL, ISA, and SharePoint while serving up files, authenticating logons, handling remote access, and acting as a fax machine.
Some people still are.
Let me repeat a few thoughts from February 2008:
- "By 2012, I believe everyone will have come to grips with the fact that Exchange does not belong in the small office. As a consultant, your options are to become a hosting provider, become a hosting reseller, or simply find a hosting company for your clients' email.
With luck, we will also have come to grips with the fact that a public-facing web server shouldn't be in an office too small to handle an attack in real time. So that's hosted.
And let's all hope that bandwidth continues to increase while the prices decrease. So we'll all have two or three times the bandwidth we have today.
Let's assume that the micro businesses don't want a "home" server. So the first thing you do is scrape the label off with a razor blade and put on a label that says Biz Server Nano.
. . ."
After that I laid out some ideas about the kinds of servers we'll be seeing in order to make this reality come true. In particular, I discussed a hybrid of the SBS and Windows Home Server that I called Biz Server Nano.
I'm happy to report that Windows Foundation server is about 90% of what I predicted in Biz Server Nano. Have you seen the commercials where people say they invented Windows 7? Well I take full responsibility for the Windows Foundation Server AND the next cool server coming out of Microsoft's SBS team.
At the same time, in my blog post from February 23, 2008 I said that Windows Essential Business Server (centro) will have both been released and taken out of production by 2012. It disappeared a lot faster than I thought it would. I was on the beta program for that product and stopped participating when I realized that I would never sell it to a client.
I also noted at the time that . . . "If Microsoft doesn't provide the right combination of servers, someone else will." Now there are challenges from Lotus and IBM, not to mention Linux in the cloud.
No one needs a server. They need technology. They need storage. They need Exchange. They don't need to own their own as long as they have the services they need.
That's where cloud computing comes in.
Waiting for The Obvious
What's next? Well, think about the very small office (1-15 users). If you owned such a business, or were starting one today, what do you need from technology? Break out of your techno-goober mold and address this question from a totally new (client) perspective. What do you (what does the client) NEED?
You need email. Still the killer app of the Internet.
You need calendars and collaboration.
You need as much of your office as possible to be accessible from phones, iPads, laptops, and other remote devices.
You need telephones.
You need storage.
You need someone to make sure all this stuff is working, and is available all the time.*
You need "office" documents.
You need an Internet connection!
. . . and what don't you need?
You don't need to own a server. You may have to have one under some circumstances. But don't assume so.
You don't need to "own" software licenses.
You don't need hard drives, power supplies, and a server room.
You don't need a big phone system bolted to the wall.
(* Don't pass over the really good news that someone needs to configure, set up, and maintain all this stuff. That's you.)
Technical consulting is a strange business. At all levels we run into people who are at various levels of "do it yourself" making major decisions about technology spending. We've all got clients who have somehow managed to patch together elaborate systems that work - without the advice of consultants. It may not be the perfect system, but it works for them and addresses their comfort levels with regard to budget, uptime, usability, and reliability.
These folks are now figuring out how to store files "out there" somewhere. They're figuring out how to get by without owning six Office Pro Plus licenses at $500 each. They're figuring out how to get voice systems that don't require a box on the wall, and email/collaboration systems that don't require their own server. They're figuring out how to get Blackberries and iPhones connected.
Yesterday, when you came into their office, you sold them a server and simplified their life.
Tomorrow you'll offer them a combination of services that works better together and is more easily managed (but no physical server).
So what are you offering today?
Write this down and we'll revisit in 24 months: I believe you have about two years left before the technology you sell has absolutely zero resemblance to what you were selling on January 1, 2010. I could be wrong. My last batch of predictions came true in half the time I predicted.
In many cases it still makes sense to sell servers, to own servers, and to rely on servers. In many cases it still makes sense to sell on site backup solutions because you'll need to recover on site when something goes wrong. In many cases it still makes sense to install hardware and software "locally" because either 1) the programs don't work efficiently over the Internet, or 2) the services are not powerful enough unless they're local.
But even today you can see that both of those objections disappear if you have everything hosted and all you do is connect to the robust systems "in the cloud" with an adequate client (RDP, Citrix, etc.).
Microsoft, Google, IBM, Intel, and others are actively developing servers designed to integrate on-premise solutions with hosted solutions. And where they're lagging behind the obvious need for integration, people are figuring it out on their own. Clients are figuring it out. Consultants are figuring it out.
I need a setup wizard that asks . . .
- Where do you want to put the data? [local drive] [hosted drive] [custom solution]
Where is Exchange? [local drive] [hosted brand] [my colo]
Where is the Web Site? [local drive] [hosted brand] [other Linux] [other Windows]
Connect this server to [Windows Live Service] [Google App] [other]
Without the wizard, I have to do all this myself. And that's what we're doing today. But any minute now I expect someone to provide this integration service. It will be built into the O.S., but it might also be provided as a service online.
In our most recent postcard campaign, we ask Which of these do you prefer?
- "I want to own a big server that costs a lot of money and I want to pay to maintain it for three years. Then I want to buy another one."
- "I don't care about servers. I just want my technology to work and to help my business be more successful."
Note: KPEnterprises will help clients no matter which option they choose. But in the Micro space, we think the cloud based option is the most obvious.
We recently posted up three programs that lay out the migration process from SBS to cloud computing. Two of these were done in conjunction with Managed Services Provider University and one was a Cloud Services Roundtable broadcast.
All of them are posted now at www.cloudservicesroundtable.com. We have one more with MSPU scheduled for May.
If you haven't yet received push-back from clients when you talk about new servers, you will soon. By the end of this year, on-premise cloud solutions from Zenith Infotech will rock our world. At the same time, new server hardware and operating systems will blast the Gospel of the Cloud across the country and around the world.
Just as with Managed Services, you don't have to come up with the perfect solution before you jump it. It's much better to design a solution that allows you to make money and gain market share today. You know how technology is: whatever you come up with has a short shelf life. So you might as well get in the game now.
Luckily, this one's pretty darned easy to figure out.
Now go make money!