Sunday, January 30, 2011

Time to Register for First-Ever MVP Nation

From the mind and world of Harry Brelsford . . . a new kind of convention: MVP Nation.
MVP Nation is a new community event that will be held March 3-4, 2011 in Seattle. It is intended to connect three important communities in one place at one time.

The communities are:

1. Microsoft MVPsThis technical community will be in Seattle for the annual Microsoft MVP Summit February 28 to March 2, 2011. Microsoft predicts 1,500 MVPs from around the world will attend and 200 MVPs will attend MVPnation. Product groups we anticipate participating include Server Solutions, Windows Server, Client Operating Systems, Communication and Collaboration, Business Management, Business Productivity, Virtualization, Data Center Management, and many more groups. The MVPs will be the speakers at this event.

2. Community MembersCustomers, channel partners, consultants, and members of the public will be in attendance to learn from the MVPs. This is a great opportunity for the public to meet the MVPs!

3. Community SponsorsWith this collection of MVPs and community members, many vendors and product developers are eager to connect with attendees . . . and to build relationships with the MVPs.

You can register right now at

More registration information is available at If you would prefer registering by telephone, please call 206-201-2943 and ask for Jenny Hallmark.  Please have your information and credit card ready.

There are several early bird specials that expire February 3rd. Now's the time to register for this first-time event!


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Knowing What You Don't Know

We are involved in a project for a large software development company. It's all under NDA, so I can't give too many specifics. But, basically, they want to release a new product and they need a few "real world" installation stories.

Easy peasy nice and easy.

Our first two clients were very different. And the difference highlights one of my favorite paradigms for understanding the world at large:

Know what you know;
Know what you don't know.

All too often, we "think" we know something, but the thing we think we know is not true. Is such a case, we don't know what we don't know.

As professionals, we all have specialized knowledge that others don't have. You've probably said to yourself at some point that you don't expect clients to know about . . . [TCP/IP; mini-drivers; patch management; memory leaks; web development; etc.].

I don't know which needle the nurse should use. I don't know insurance policy is best. I don't know the difference between two legal phrases that sound identical to me. Those are specialized knowledge of the people in those fields. When I hire someone to take care of my "stuff" I need to know the line between what I know and what I don't know.

Well, some clients know what they know and some clients don't know what they don't know.

In the world of small business, there are a lot of people who don't know what they don't know. They hobble together Frankenstein Networks that "work" but they have no idea how inefficient or dangerous they are. Let me explain.

We're working with a technology from "Major Software" vendor. We'll just use the initials MS.
The product in question is a version of their Super Big Software package. We'll call it SBS.
One of the features of this Super Big Software package is that it wants to be the only Super Big Software package on the network. Otherwise, trouble ensues.

Client One: Knows What They Know

Client One brings us in and we see that they have eleven workstations plus a 12th machine just to show videos and PPTs in the conference room. Cool. There is an SBS device on the network, but it is only used for storage. Literally, it is used as a NAS device.

Workstations are all in a workgroup, which makes them a pain in the butt to manage.

We are going to drop in a new SBS Device, scoop over the data, and then begin attaching the workstations to the new network. They will move from a workgroup to an Active Directory structure. Everyone will lose their profiles.

Client knows this. Client knows the old machine has to go away. Client knows the difference between workgroup and domain. Client knows that profiles will be replaced by plain vanilla. That's the deal.

Client has a line of business application that might not make it into the 64-bit twenty-first century. He has moved this to a workstation and we need to make sure the data are backed up to the server.

Client knows all this. Client knows what they know. When we start discussing cooler new backup strategies, client fully admits that this is new to him. He knows what he doesn't know.

This client will save a LOT of money, hassles, and downtime because he has an honest assessment of his own knowledge about his network.

All good.

Client Two: Doesn't Know What He Doesn't Know

Client two tells MS that he has three computers, no server. No special needs. Plain and boring. Easy install. No real requirements.

Uhhh . . . So we do our network audit. Client Two owns two companies. They are separated by a wooden door. Company Three has three PCs, one laptop, and a an SBS device connected into a 10/100 switch, which he happily calls a Hub. They also have some network printers.

One line from the switch goes into the back of the firewall owned by Client Two. Client Two has plugged a series of 8" home made network cables from the back of the firewall into his patch panel. These connect three PCs, one laptop, and two specialty workstations that are only used for watching streamed Netflix. They also have some network printers.

The two offices must share network printers.

Client Two has no idea that the firewall is working overtime to manage traffic for four machines, two printers, the entire office next door AND two machines streaming video. All local and internet traffic goes through the switch on the back of the firewall. I don't know if it's just 10 MB or 10/100. I don't care.

When I sit down at Client Two's PC and run IPConfig/all I see that DNS, DHCP, and Gateway are all the same address. Cool. I also see a WINS server at a different address. I open a web page and VOILA! I see the SBS device.

At this point we explain that the two networks are joined, there is no security, and the old SBS machine is going to shut down 30 days after we set up the new office. Dude thinks we're trying to rip him off for the cost of a router to separate the two networks. (Cuz, you know, I'm going to totally retire on the profit from one cheap router.)

He explains to us that the two offices are completely separated in every way.

He does not know what he does not know.


Let me reiterate: I don't expect clients to know what they don't know. But if they want to save money and increase uptime, I really need them to be open to accepting the line between what they know and what they don't know.

The problem is NOT that the client is not a network engineer. I don't expect him to be. The problem is that the client honestly thinks he totally understands his network AND therefore thinks that our recommendations are intended to screw him out of his hard-earned money.

He doesn't know what he doesn't know AND he's not willing to admit the limits of what he doesn't know.

We want to put Client Two's office on a nice, separate switch so that they have 1GB bandwidth internally for their medical imaging systems. It's a cheap and easy way to make things go VERY fast.

We want to install a low-end router between the two companies so the SBS machines can't see each other. We can still map printers because we know what we're doing. Again, cheap, easy, and allows them to keep their other server.

In the end, this whole adventure is generated by MS's need to understand what happens if you sell this product OEM at places like Best Buy and let Joe Average install it in his network. What can go wrong? It works perfectly in the lab. But the lab is clean and simple to understand.

The clients who will have installation disasters are the clients who don't know what they don't know. They think they meet the basic requirements, but they don't even know how screwed up their network is because it "works" for them. It might barely work. But it works. They don't know that for less than $500 they could make it screaming fast and secure. It works.

Too bad the MS SBS software can't detect that wooden door that separates the two companies.


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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eight Lessons from the MSP Vendors

As you look forward to cloud services, what are some of the lessons from that the past that might be relevant? In addition, are there some lessons you can use to grow your own business?

Between about 2003 and 2008, the "managed services" business sprang forth and consumed our industry. The buzz has died down, but huge, permanent changes have been made in the way I.T. services are delivered, and they way I.T. companies are run.

Yes, there are plenty of break/fix shops left. But virtually all of them use tools and techniques in common with MSPs.

As a casual observer of this space, here are eight lessons I've noticed from the MSP wave:

1) Lesson From ConnectWise: Teach a Technician to Fish

Many companies have adopted this strategy, but few of them as successfully as ConnectWise. Basically, they taught their partners how to be successful Managed Service Providers when that industry was young. They showed people how to adopt a new business model and make money with it. This allowed them to sell a very expensive product into a market that was able to make money from the product.

2) Lesson From MSPSN: Build A Community

My friend Amy Luby and her partners did something amazing with a simple Yahoo Group ( She started this group and built a community who helped educate each other and address the key questions that arose in their businesses as they moved to the MSP model.

Many of these people became true friends online. They also became a great launching point for Amy's Managed Services Provider Service Network, which has since been sold. This is a great strategy for building a community.

3) Lesson From Autotask: Honest, open engagement with your clients creates an amazingly loyal and supportive following.

I'll never forget the first Autotask Community Live event. There was one discussion after another about how *this* could be improved or *that* could be better. But none of the discussions were negative. It was literally as if the partners were engaged in a discussion about how they and Autotask were on the road to a common good. Any company has good and bad experiences. But few companies can boast the kind of absolute openness and honesty that marks Autotask's relationship with their users.

It has served them well and allows them to embrace even more openness as they go forward. Their success builds upon itself.

4) Lesson From Zenith Infotech: Very profitable products make very loyal (and patient) customers.

Sometimes, when you look at new products, you get engaged in a discussion of features/benefits. Sometimes you're looking to fill a niche. And sometimes you look at the profit. Zenith has all these discussions. But when they get to the profit part, they blow the doors off the competition.

Certain products, like the BuDR (Backup and Disaster Recovery) have been so profitable for partners that they have resulted in large bank of good will that's hard come by these days. Despite many delays in the Smart Style cloud offering, Zenith partners hung in there because they knew the profits would be spectacular.

Profit doesn't have to mean less expensive. Profit on expensive things is just as good! :-)

5) Lesson From SMB Nation: You don't have to keep doing the same thing!

My friend Harry B started out writing books and doing consulting. Then he started a conference. Then a few road shows. Then a conference here and there. Then a magazine. Then a video venture. Then more conferences.

Harry employs one of my favorite techniques for success: Do a bunch of stuff and keep doing the things you enjoy the most, and those that make the most money. Too many companies go out of business because they get stuck doing what they were created to do. Sometimes it is best to re-formulate what you're intended to do.

This is particularly true in the world of technology. Things change fast. Examples include managed services and cloud services.

6) Lesson From Microsoft: At the end of the day, you need to drop things that don't work.

A lot of people got bit in the butt because they signed up for the Response Point VOIP program and invested their future in Microsoft's offering to small biz. I'm certainly sorry for those folks, but all successful businesses need to do this from time to time.

Sometimes businesses (especially large ones) change for change's sake. They don't like to sell things that aren't seen as "new" even if they're hugely popular. But they also need to prune their branches strategically in order to maximize growth for the rest of the plant.

You need to do this in your business too. Remember when we made money selling power supplies and other spare parts? Today that's a rare occurrence. We used to sell time by the hour, now it's by the month. We used to sell expensive servers into client offices. Now we sell cloud services.

To add new things and stay profitable, we need to drop some things we used to do.

7) Another Lesson From Microsoft: Embracing the community consistently over time has huge rewards.

Very few companies (and even fewer large companies) have had the kind of amazing success that Microsoft has enjoyed in the SMB market. One large part of this is their commitment to embracing the community, participating int he community, and supporting the community.

The MVP program gets lots of air play, but Microsoft has several other programs in place. Most notable are the SBSC program, the PAL program, and the Local Engagement Teams. Unfortunately, VERY few partners are taking full advantage of these programs.

But the partners who have engaged tend to be very active and very successful. As a result, Microsoft has been able to push one marketing program after another through this part of the channel, and maintain some hefty profits in the middle of a recession.

If you sell into a community, consider a level of involvement that you can use to improve your long-term economic picture. If you participate in a community, make sure you're totally aware of the power it yields.

8) Lesson From CA: Sometimes it's possible to screw up so bad that you can never be forgiven.

This is a sad note in many ways. CA (former Computer Associates) had a great backup product in the 1990's and early 2000's. But they basically stopped supporting it even as they continued selling it. Support got worse and worse.

We used to sell 50% Brightstore (CA) ad 50% Backup Exec (Symantec). Then it became 25/75. And eventually, after one too many negative experiences, it became 100% Symantec. We *wanted* to have an alternative, but at the mid market there just wasn't another alternative.

CA re-engineered their product AND their support system. They re-introduced their product (2005?) and pushed it heavily in the SMB space. They gave copies to everyone who wanted them. They pushed and pushed. They begged and pleaded. They bundled. They trained.

And then it just faded away.

Because sometimes a horrible treatments just so bad that you're not willing to go through it again. We had a brand new NFR copy of the revised CA backup suite on our shelf for three years before we gave it away. Unopened. Apparently, many others did the same thing.

Good customer service and support is great for business. Occasional screw-ups happen and can be forgiven. Consistently bad service will eventually bite you in the butt. You can lose clients forever.

One of the worst customer service experiences of my life was from Tech Data. So I stopped using them and will never go back. Every once in awhile some poor sales rep calls me and wants me to give them a whirl. What I say is "Your company worked really hard to lose my business. I don't want all that effort to be for nothing."

- - - - -

These aren't immutable lessons or anything like that. Just some musings from the SMB space.

I hope your business does great in 2011. I'm working to make it a great year for mine!


Friday, January 07, 2011

Harry's Buying Me a Beer (Join Us!)

Want me to attend your next event? It's easy: Buy me a beer!

Harry Brelsford, SMB Nation, and SpamSoap have teamed up for a big BeerFest in Portland next Wednesday (Jan 12th).

It's really in Tigard, which is great news for us. I'm meeting with the Portland Technology Wizards user group on January 12th. If you're interested in attending that meeting as a guest, visit

Afterward, we're all heading over to Harry's Beerfest.

The Beerfest will be held at:

McCormick and Schmicks Grill
17015 SW 72nd Ave
Tigard, OR 97224

Oh . . . and it's FREE !

Register for free at

- - - - -

Here's a summary of my schedule in Portland next week. I'd love to have you join me for some or all of these:

1. Intel Hybrid Cloud Roadshow
(Co-Sponsored by Intel)
Tuesday, January 11th
6PM - 8:30PM

Fairfield Inn & Suites
6100 South West Meadows Road
Lake Oswego, Oregon 97035

Info and FREE registration at

Someone who attends this meeting will win a server that night. Must be present to win. It's free, but you need to register.

2. Portland Technology Wizards
Topic: Relax Focus Succeed(R) and using RFS Strategies in Your I.T. Business
Wednesday, January 12th
2PM - 5PM

Microsoft PacWest Office
10260 SW Greenburg Road, Suite 600
Portland, OR 97223

3. BeerFest with Harry Brelsford and SpamSoap
Wednesday, January 12th
5PM - 9PM

McCormick and Schmicks Grill
17015 SW 72nd Ave
Tigard, OR 97224

Register for free at

- - - - -

Join me at all three events!


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Busy Week: Charlotte, Cloud Services, Ft. Lauderdale

I haven't really used this blog as a travelogue, but we're definitely kicking off the year with LOTS of activity!
Right now I'm in Charlotte, NC. Who knew this was such a happening place? I have been inundated with opportunities for lunch, dinner, breakfast, beer, and rides to and fro. I literally don't have time to see everyone and everything.

Today I'm in Charlotte, going to a major event for the Intel Hyrbrid Cloud Roadshow. We have well over 100 people registered! So if you're in driving distance of Charlotte, please plan to join us! Info and registration at

BTW: The folks at Intel have been VERY supportive of the user groups and I.T. Pro groups around the country. We've been to Las Vegas, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and New York City. We're looking forward to

- Ft. Lauderdale (in two days)
- Portland, OR
- San Francisco
- Cincinnati
- Atlanta
- Los Angeles

and more.

Every time we hold one of these events, Intel asks whether we can do more.

At some point it has to stop, but right now the Intel Hybrid Cloud has traction!

. . .

Cloud Services Roundtable

On other fronts, the Cloud Services Roundtable begins its second year of life tomorrow with my second annual "State of the Nation" address on cloud services. We have had a heckuva year and 2011 will kick major butt.

Tomorrow (Jan 5th) at 9:00 AM pacific / Noon Eastern, I'll give a roundup of where we've been and what I think you can look forward to in the year ahead.

I think it is fair to say that there hasn't been as much opportunity and optimism in the SMB space in the last four years. So don't sleep through it! Jump on board and join us.

Registration info at the Cloud Services Roundtable web site:

. . .

Then on to Fort Lauderdale . . .

So I'll be in Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday for the big Intel Hyrbrid Cloud Roadshow. And then Monday I fly to Portland, OR to do it all over again.

I could fly home on Friday. But since I'll be in Florida in the middle of winter, I figured I'll just hang out here and fly to Portland from here.

That gives me five days in the 80 degree temps . . . on the beach.

I consider it my first "vacation" of the new year!

Relax . . . Focus . . . Succeed


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