Why VMware needs to focus on SMBs

Why VMware needs to focus on SMBs

Summary: The majority of small businesses fail because of a lack of experience, insufficient capital, poor location, poor inventory management, and over-investment in fixed assets.


Thinking of VMware's dominance in server virtualization made me wonder how the company approaches small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and it occurred to me that the focus is really on enterprises. Are SMBs an afterthought for VMware? No, says VMware but yes, say analysts and SMBs. Given that VMware has only begun to focus in this broad area, with any serious effort, in the past year or so, it makes one wonder. My best guess is that VMware has begun to feel pressure from Microsoft and Citrix to make a server virtualization product lineup available that fits better into the SMB market than its standard vSphere products do. It's about time.

The VMware Essentials Plus Kit is one of its new weapons to win the SMB battle:

"VMware vSphere Essentials Plus Kit provides an all-in-one solution for small businesses to virtualize their physical servers and reduce hardware costs while ensuring superior high application availability and data protection. This kit includes six CPU licenses of vSphere Essentials Plus (for three servers with up to two processors each) and one license for vCenter Server Essentials."

VMware vSphere Essentials Plus Kit includes all the benefits of Essentials and:

  • VMware vSphere Storage Appliance for Essentials Plus

  • VMware Data Protection

  • VMware High Availability (HA)

  • VMware vMotion

  • VMware vStorage APIs

  • VMware vShield Zones

  • VMware vShield Endpoint

  • VMware Replication.

You get all this plus three years of Production Support for under $7,500. VMware Production Support is 24x7 for Severity 1 outages.

Admittedly, I've had a few negative things to say about VMware in the past, but I don't care who you are, that's a damn good deal.

And what's more is that you can expand with another package of three at any time. Why three, you ask? Well, if you know anything at all about the vSphere product, you should build your clusters in three server increments for redundancy, maintenance, and balance. Sure, you can add in new hosts one at a time, but if you already own the hardware, why not add the extra capacity for test and development, production standby, or disaster recovery?

And, yes, you could simply purchase VMware's Essentials package, which gives you the following features:

  • VMFS (Virtual Machine File System)

  • 8-way Virtual SMP

  • VMware Hypervisor

  • VMware vStorage Thin Provisioning

  • VMware Update Manager

  • VMware vStorage APIs

  • VMware vCenter Server for Essentials.

But note that vMotion isn't part of that three host package for $560. Spend the extra money for the Essentials Plus package to get the extra features and enhanced support options.

Now, you're probably wondering why I titled this post, "Why VMware needs to focus on SMBs". Good question. The answer is that VMware, the company that started x86 virtualization, lost sight of its most probable customer, the SMB, until recently.

VMware should offer a packaged product complete with hardware, software, support, training, and a support technician's block of time to get an SMB started with VMware's vSphere product line. I call this offering vSphere-in-a-box or VIAB, as in SMB VIABle Virtualization.

It's the turnkey solution that a lot of SMBs would purchase. Gladly. The part that a lot of ivory tower companies don't get is that small businesses often can't hire the expertise they would need to get something like this off the ground. There is a knowledge gap and a budget gap for smaller companies that could benefit from virtualization, but will never make the leap because of the barriers. The VIAB product could do make that difference and then VMware could hand off ongoing support to a local support company or partner.

Everyone wins.

And when that small company grows, whose products are they going to purchase again and again? A new one with a new learning curve and the mess of migration? No. They're going to choose VMware.

VMware needs to not only create a product offering and price point that's palatable to SMBs, but a full-service offering as well. SMB owners will look at the $7,500 price tag and pass it by because they see a product that is non-trivial to set up, manage, and maintain. They see the $7,500 as $7,500 plus the cost of hiring someone to take care of the hardware, VMware, operating systems and services as too cumbersome and too expensive.

Let me put this in plain English for you: You gotta make it easy for 'em. Is that clear enough? SMBs have to focus on doing their business, making a profit and building a future. If those SMBs aren't in the IT business, IT is a complex overhead and an ongoing headache for them.

The bottom line here is that you have to feel the pain of what it means to run a company that falls into the SMB range. And believe it or not, most of them do. It's a huge market and it's a very lucrative one, but you have to make it easy for them. And they're willing to pay a bit more for a painless experience.

Think about it.

No, really think about it.

VMware needs the SMB market. SMBs need VMware. Sure, there are the various free software options out there, but can you take them seriously for production? Maybe you could if you had the expertise to set up, maintain, and manage them for yourself.

What about Microsoft? Hyper-V is a great product. Microsoft offers it virtually (pun intended?) free of charge, but Microsoft is a software* company. It's doing exactly what VMware is doing — tossing out a product for you to purchase, but no turnkey solution for it. And no, strictly speaking, VMware isn't just a software company. They're owned by EMC. Think about the implications of VIAB that comes complete with storage, too. Now that's a VIABle product.

Puns aside, it's time for VMware to focus on the large and ever-expanding SMB market with a turnkey solution. Enough DIY already. Give me a solution that's running and ready for my business without the painful learning curve.

If you want to build a better mousetrap, you have to think like a mouse.

What do you think of VMware's SMB product offerings? Too little, too late, or just the right mix of DIY and SMB "Git 'er done" mentality to meet the need? Talk back and let me know.

*Xbox and Surface don't count for this discussion.

Topics: VMware, Virtualization


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • SMBs great

  • What about Microsoft?

    Can the argument be made that relying on the Hyper-V hyper-visor in Windows Server 2012 is a more affordable and practical approach for SMBs?

    The IT manager of an SMB can often have less opportunity to learn solutions from multiple vendors. In my case, as sole support for my employer, I'm not allowed a lot of time off to learn new technology. And I hate the finger pointing that often comes as 2 vendors try to blame each other for a server related issue.

    Hyper V in Windows Server 2012 seems to offer much of the advantages of VMWare, while still presenting a single source approach to problem resolution.

    What do you think?
  • Great Points Made

    I specialize in supporting very small businesses where 2 Servers or more are the exception. I've dabbled in virtualization for disaster recovery purposes (vs Server consolidation) but seem to lack the time or desire to really build, configure, test etc. A turnkey SMB solution is a great idea. Not that VMWare Workstation and Hypervisor are overly complex, but there are enough annoyances and minor issues that prevent me from completely putting something in place.
  • Not So Fast!

    vSphere and especially any add-on product for VMware platforms are already priced for the SMB. It is te large enterprise where they need to compete. Sure add on VOPs (operations) or any other package and it is priced by the core or user. Mutiply this out by 100 16 core hosts or 200 hosts and the price tag quickly gets out of hand. When the management asks for ROI you are left speechless. In addition, none of the sales guys want to sell you anything but ELA's.
    If you only have one or two products like an SMB you are fine.
  • We have large production esx 5 and and dev esx 4 enviroment

    But, we just installed a 4 node cluster of hyper V 2012, to replace the esx 4 in dev.

    Having worked in a SMB, getting over the hump of buying of SAN's and offline nodes is a huge hurdle.
  • Expand statement misleading

    Article states "you can expand with another package of three at any time". That makes it sound like you can just expand your cluster by combining 2 essentials kits. You can buy another kit at any time but you cannot combine essential kit licensing which means you need a new cluster with its own vcenter. Page 7 of the vsphere_pricing.pdf whitepaper explains that. To "expand" an existing cluster you need to by an acceleration kit to upgrade to vcenter standard and standard CPU licenses for the hosts.
    • Not what he meant

      If you read Mr. Hess' comments carefully, he is talking about a 2nd 3 server package to act as test/dev. and/or disaster recovery. Your comments at the licensing level are true, but he comment still applies for the use case he highlights. Admittedly, you can't vMotion VMs between the two clusters, but there are ways of getting around that on the SAN back end. In fact, if you buy two more servers & put Open-e on them, each cluster can have iSCSI storage and they can replicate storage back & forth at the block level. Finally, if you put them on the same high-speed subnet but in different buildings, you almost have a bullet-proof DR setup.

      Or, move to certain areas of Kansas and use the GIGAbit ISP you will find there (you may have heard of them - starts with "G" :-). Then your DR setup can sit on AWS or something and it will feel like next door.
  • $7500!!!

    Are you out of your mind completely! That's the IT and software budget for 5 years for a SMB. You guys need to smell the coffee of a SMB before your post idiotic messages in these forums.
    Felix Blackburn
  • A better mouse trap, and its available now

    Ken, once again a well written post.

    May I suggest that you consider the value proposition of the Intel Hybrid Cloud platform as an attractive alternative for SMBs.

    The Intel Hybrid Cloud offers on-premise servers and application software for performance, cloud backup, pay as you use utility pricing, and managed services delivered by Intel's managed services partner network.

    Advantages for SMB owners is that they do not need to tie up precious capital for hardware or software, and can focus on their business operations, not IT. Very cost effective and flexible, and backed by one of th biggest, most respected names in the industry, Intel.
  • I've got some Very Small Business single server Hyper-V's in place

    Like cs2inc above I've got many very small businesses that could benefit from virtualization. At 3 of them I've implemented Hyper-V Core. These companies can afford to be down for the short period of time it takes me to deliver a temporary replacement server I maintain in my office in the event of catastrophic server failure. I used to use StorageCraft hardware independent restores but Hyper-V is faster and cleaner for this purpose. I also use Veeam for backup. We have been using small form factor Dell OptiPlex computers on a shelf for remote workers. Even with Microsoft's ridiculous extra licensing fees for virtualizing Windows 7 it's still cheaper to virtualize those than go on maintaining machines on a shelf. I put 5nine manager and coreconfigurator on the hyper-v core to manage the instances. I had been doing a lot of virtualization since the Connectix days for development purposes. When Server 2008 released I virtualized our production in house network and found better performance from separate virtual servers for SQL, IIS and file/print/domain server than running all the same on the same single instance SBS Server. 2008 R2 boosted performance even more. This all works for very small businesses but Microsoft would prefer them use cloud services so plays down virtualization for very small businesses.