Can the cloud become an SMB standard?

Can the cloud become an SMB standard?

Summary: The biggest obstacle to widespread SMB adoption of cloud technologies might well be the vendors who can't live up to their customer's expectations.


When I wrote last week about the potential business risk of using the cloud I got a lot of feedback, both here and in my inbox. Unfortunately, while there were a lot of concerns about the safety and security of using the cloud expressed, most of the people passionate enough to respond missed the fact that the biggest segment of the cloud consumer market, the SMB customer, doesn't care about most of the issues that knowledgeable IT folks raise.  Frankly, in many cases they are simply willing to believe the claims made by the service provider, especially if their tiny IT staff has bought in to the vendor's marketing.

It's easy to dismiss their lack of interest and simply say that they will learn from experience. But remember that bad press gets a lot more traction than positive reporting, and that dissatisfied customers are much more likely to make noise about a product or service than a satisfied customer.  And while the SMB customer who doesn't have a great deal of technical expertise at hand isn't going to be making waves in the technical community, they are likely to talk about their bad experiences with a cloud vendor with other business leaders in their community, and it is very hard to get that bad experience out of a customer's mind when they hear about it from a business peer.

Part of the problem can be traced to core technology vendors.  There are a number of major providers that let third-parties build on their services and offer partnership programs that these third-parties then use in their marketing. The third parties can then build on the name recognition of the core technology they build on and advertise that they are a "Precious Metal Partner of So & So Corp" which gives potential customers who know little about these programs a better feeling about their forthcoming purchase.

The vendors themselves are at fault for the dilution of the value of these partnership models. Many vendors only requirement to be a top level partner is that the third-party pay a top-level fee and keep a small number of staff (which might be as small as 1), certified on their product on hand.

To a certain extent, the experience is similar to the early days of many well-known certification programs, where someone could be certified with only book knowledge and zero actual experience. Over the years, the certification programs which gained the greatest amount of respect in the industry were those that required not only a deep level of knowledge, but also hands-on technology and product experience.

The cloud service provider market needs to learn from these experiences and develop programs that provide some level of guarantee to the potential customer that they are going to get the best possible service and support from their cloud experience. Accreditation programs need to be developed that learn from the mistakes of earlier programs and can be used to accurately gauge the level of commitment that a service provider is offering and their ability to deliver on their promises (remember that terms like SLA and QoS often mean absolutely nothing to the average SMB customer).

The Technical Accreditation Program now being offered by Mitel is a good example of the way the industry should look at providing a higher level of confidence to potential customers. Of course it is only a starting point, as the programs are not a requirement for Mitel resellers, but currently only a way to differentiate the service offerings between different service providers who utilize Mitel technologies. The program has value only if Mitel makes an effort to educate consumers as to why the higher levels of certification are necessary for a reseller, but as that would mean that they would be marketing  against partners who choose not to invest in the skillset the accreditation programs require, it seems that it would be unlikely that Mitel would make that marketing statement directly.  It's a fine line the vendor must walk between their partners and their customers.

The "cloud", as a technology entity, can easily lose the confidence of the SMB market, which is where the cloud can have the most benefit and do the most business. It's going to be up to the vendors in this market to try to prevent this from happening.

Topic: Cloud

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  • I don't see how on earth ...

    ... there can be this pie in the sky business architecture where companies are fully reliant on public clouds. Computing is complex technology, where many things can go awfully wrong, and also where something always goes wrong. Any company with 10+ employees (maybe less) is going to need an IT department to continually assess the company IT needs, implement policy, and address technical issues. Every company needs at the very least, one technical person who can do the above, assess the claims made by cloud vendors, judge cloud vendors' capabilities, continually examine their work, plan for disaster recovery from a cloud experience that goes wrong, and be able to execute a disaster recovery.

    IT administration share qualities similar to programming. Now while Rapid Application Development (RAD) techniques have simplified program development work for developers, application development is by no means trivial now. New requirements, the changing landscape, competition, etc. have resulted in programming still being relatively complex, with the simplification made possible by RAD techniques, just allowing things to be manageable. The same thing will happen with IT administration. Companies will always need the high level of skill provided by IT departments to assess their complex IT needs, as their business and the technical landscapes change, and to ensure execution of IT policies which are in the best interests of the organizations. (The use of clouds will make things more manageable, but it will by no means eliminate all complexity.)

    Most every company will continue to need its own IT department the same way Captain Kirk needs Spock. This can, and will never change. Clouds can help out companies and IT departments, but they can never replace IT departments - not if the companies don't want to play Russian Roulette with their data.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: Can the cloud become an SMB standard?

      @P. Douglas

      I deal with SMBs all the time who have up to 40 employees, do $10 million plus revenue yearly and have IT "staffs" that consist of 1 person. And often that person has other responsibilities, too. They outsource their IT needs, usually to a VAR or consultant that has their own agenda.

      You describe an optimal environment that in the majority of small and mid-size SMB customers, just doesn't exist.
      David Chernicoff
  • RE: Can the cloud become an SMB standard?

    As a technology vendor of cloud-based solutions catering to SMBs, I couldn?t agree more. This is one of the reasons why we only work through existing SMB VAR/MSP channels, trying to educate them how to deliver cloud-based data protection to their customers for the mutual benefit of both sides. Those channel partners also own first line support. They have to, as they own the customer relationship, just as it is with any other product or service.

    A recent CompTIA survey found that more than half of SMBs first turn to their existing IT service provider to find out about cloud solutions ? they expect, and prefer, to get it from them. And why wouldn?t they? Just because there are new technologies out there doesn?t mean that existing supplier-customer relationships are gone, nor does it change the fundamental challenges that SMBs have with managing their IT: Limited resources and limited knowhow. It is untenable that SMBs will start working with dozens of providers ? one for CRM, another for email, another for security, another for storage, etc. ? just because it?s now technically possible to do this. SMBs will continue to aim to get their IT from a handful of providers (sometimes a single provider), and those providers will need to step up and deliver cloud solutions in a professional, knowledgeable way, even if the infrastructure is not under their control. That?s why SLAs are in place not only between the MSP/VAR and its SMB customer, but also between the cloud service provider and the MSP/VAR.

    The current gap between cloud and traditional IT will gradually close as more and more IT service providers figure out how deliver cloud solutions effectively. Taking responsibility for the service will be part of owning the customer relationship.
    Liran Eshel- CTERA Networks
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  • RE: Can the cloud become an SMB standard?

    Have you seen any stats on the relative split of the cloud market between SMB vs. Large Enterprise?