Friday, April 2, 2010

When it Comes to PCs for the SMB: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Jay McBain, Director of Small and Medium Business
When it comes to PCs, small to medium businesses (SMBs) are in the driver’s seat. Over the past two years, this segment of the market has exploded. While large enterprises largely put the brakes on PC spending, SMBs and consumers are still driving growth. The most recent forecasts from IDC predict sales to SMBs to grow double digits next year. PC makers and Channel partners are responding to this demand with new hardware, software and services solutions.
SMB’s comprise a large and diverse category. There’s no one all encompassing definition. Some have IT departments. Some don’t. Some behave more like consumers. Others like corporations. Some buy from retailers. Others buy from value added resellers. They all have varying needs that are largely dependent upon their total number of employees. However, they share more similarities than differences. Across the board, they value reliability, price and performance utmost. Compatibility with software applications, cooling/power, service capability, speed/ease, portfolio breadth, packaged solutions and hardware design are also important.
PC makers are fully embracing the SMB market, and as a result, you’re seeing new PCs developed especially for this segment - from laptops to desktops to servers. Typically, these offerings balance a more modern and eye-catching design which is more like true consumer PCs, with a blend of performance and security features that are more typical of the PC designed for the traditional large enterprise customer. Price forms the third point of this pyramid. Most SMBs are willing to pay between $499 and $799 per PC. Within that range, there are many choices of features. For example, more entry-level models may be equipped with security features like fingerprint readers while more expensive, full-featured PCs may offer Intel vPro technology and encrypted hard drives.
We’re seeing new form factors for SMB’s too. Netbooks, nettops, thinbooks, and even “all in one” PCs have made the jump from consumers to SMBs. Fueled by their attractive price points, most under $500, made many businesses turn their heads and give them a try. Now we’re seeing these “good enough” computing products being refined and developed specifically for these customers. Besides their affordability, another advantage of these types of PCs is space savings for those crowded offices! Many businesses are now using more than one device, and the price of these new categories of products have introduced the concept of “companion” devices.
Channel partners can capture long term opportunity as a trusted advisor from planning to initial point of purchase to deployment and ongoing IT management. When it comes to choosing the right mix of PC solutions, SMBs will rely on business partners to help them see the big picture and evaluate the purchase in terms of long term ROI – not just the sticker price. That’s especially true to ensure lower priced offerings meet the performance needs of growing SMBs. Evaluating quality, reliability, security and manageability software as a total package will also help build confidence with the customer for providing future services. Many of these customers without IT departments are looking for specific managed services like remote monitoring, patch management and managed security that channel partners can provide.
What will the next hot products be for SMBs? I expect the evolution of these new form factors with more business features to drive interest and sales. For example, netbooks with higher level business-grade computing features to continue to gain traction in this market as companion devices to a desktop that is left in the office. The choice of form factors will continue to expand, covering ultra-small devices right up to large screen desktop optimized devices. Channel partners will be front and center in recommending these new products, as well as ensuring that they can be integrated into the customer’s infrastructure and properly managed throughout their lifecycle.