An announcement on the Official Microsoft Small Business Server blog that the current version of SBS (2011) will be the last cannot be allowed to pass without comment I believe. This is going to be a long post so hang in there as I share some thoughts.
Firstly, I have to congratulate Microsoft on providing such a fantastic product that has lasted so long. According to the Wikipedia article, the initial version of SBS (4.0) was released on the 22nd of October 1997. I am proud to say that I have been involved since day one with the product and have been lucky enough to generate a living from the product over many of those years. For that I thank Microsoft.
I however want to turn my attention to the reaction I have seen from many resellers who are bemoaning the demise of SBS and their cries that Microsoft is not listening to them and the SMB market place. In all honesty, I think it is these resellers who have it completely back to front in that it has been them who have not been listening.
Back in May 2008 I wrote this post:
which spoke of SBS 2008 being what I considered the last version. Rereading the article, I found this a little prophetic:
“I can't see that in another 5 years we'll have SBS 2013. I'm sorry, but I think it will be gone.”
Back then I saw the EBS server as an option but that is also gone, however the gist is still as valid today as it was back then.
“You have either to move up market with EBS (which will be tough for one man bands) or embrace "cloud computing" (but if everything works right why do customers need you?)”
I have spoken before about the concept of having to specialize or upscale.
I also found this article about SBS Essentials from 2 years ago that I posted:
Again, an interesting observation was:
3. If you are a reseller and you haven’t started learning about Microsoft online services a.k.a. BPOS well here is what Steve Ballmer recently told partners at the Microsoft world wide partner conference:
“If you don’t want to move to the cloud, then we’re not your company.”
I cannot therefore understand how ANYONE can be surprised by the demise of SBS as we know it. The writing has been on the wall for a long time, problem is most have chosen to ignore it.
Let’s look at some reasons as I see it.
A. SBS is Microsoft’s most complex product sold to the least technical and qualified audience (SMB). It is range of products such as Exchange, SharePoint, ISA (when it was on there) and so on, all crammed into a single server. That means compromises had to be made pure and simple. That also mean when update were made things broke. That’s what happens when you have complex devices, the chances of problems is much greater.
This also mean that SBS was out on it’s own in regards to development. I know for example that SharePoint is not supported on a domain controller or on Exchange server EXCEPT on SBS. So if it isn’t every except on SBS isn’t that going to spell problems? Sure is and this was the case will all products on SBS.
B. The technological landscape has changed. Sure cloud computing isn’t all that’s it’s cracked up to be and online services still can’t totally replace all on premises installations but guess what? The trend is that they will. Broadband link speeds are improving. Cloud based technologies are advancing so rapidly now that there soon won’t be anything that isn’t possible via the cloud.
I remember when SBS 4.0 came out. I was a Novell guy. Novell even had a small business server style offering that I considered for many clients but guess what? I looked past the immediate technical deficiencies of SBS 4.0 and believed that it would wind up being the product more greatly adopted. Luckily I was right. The same applies here, you have to look at the overall trend and not be blinked into what you BELIEVE is happening here and now.
I will also point out to those who point to low broadband speeds being a limiting factor for cloud adoption, I’ll bet you don’t remember having to get SBS 4.0 running with a 33KBps dial up modem? SBS survived that and prospered in the early days of broadband, the stage we are at now with the connections to the cloud is no different to my mind. The connection speeds are only going to improve.
C. The customer landscape has changed. Most customers work outside a traditional office now. They have employees and contractors all over the world, working at all different time and on all different devices. Their expectation of computing is now as a utility, they want to pay a monthly fee for exactly what they use.
Most business owners I speak with DON’T want servers. They DON’T to pay upfront for technology and most also DON’T want IT providers. Why? In short most have gotten screwed by IT providers who were no ‘professional’ enough. Much of the sour reactions to the demise of SBS has come from the traditional SBS User Group community. These guys do a GREAT job for their clients, they go above and beyond the call of duty HOWEVER they are the minority by far. I can’t tell you the number of SBS systems I have seen that are so poorly installed, configured and maintained that I shudder to even be considered an IT person when I see them.
In the end resellers serve customers and if customers don’t want servers then that has to be accommodated.
D. These same SMB resellers in my opinion have failed to band together in a way that allows them to present a united face to Microsoft. With some many tiny resellers out there Microsoft really doesn’t have any visibility on what is really happening out there.
I know there have been plenty of false starts trying to get a strong and united community voice to represent the SBS cause but you know what? Simply saying something doesn’t mean it will be heard, you have to frame it a context that the other party will understand. Microsoft has never really understood the SMB (sub 75) market and that is not all their own fault. You need to show them volumes to make an impact. Sure SMB represents a huge group, COMBINED I agree but the reality is it has been about to provide a coherent front.
As hard as this may sound, I firmly believe that there needed to be a united international organization to represent the needs of SMB resellers to vendors like Microsoft, but to my knowledge there is not one that has come close.
E. Microsoft is a corporation. It is a business. The main aim of a business is to generate revenue for its shareholders. If the SBS investment is not paying dividends and doesn’t seem to be well then good business logic says that it should be shut down and the resources allocated to where there is more opportunity.
At the end of the day, don’t forget SBS is Microsoft’s product. They LICENSE people to use it. I hear the complaint about what do businesses do who have based their business model around SBS? My argument is that if you blindly based your whole business around a single product from a single supplier and didn’t have the acumen to look at the trends in the market and learn from others who are in the same space subject to the same pressures then your business is going to struggle.
If you a single man IT reseller focused on SBS and you are surprised by the demise of SBS then you have not being doing justice to your shareholders i.e. YOU!
F. The support of SBS doesn’t end today. You can still buy SBS and you will be able for a while yet. SBS will still be supported but it is certainly on the decline as a platform. Know what? That means an opportunity to look to grow into something else. That means an opportunity to consider what options are available. The bottom line it means you gotta do some work to help clients understand what they need. As they say when you have lemons, make lemonade.
It probably means that you need to consider and develop your business model. As I mentioned before, it is really not the first time that should have had to consider this BUT even if it is that doesn’t stop you from making that a priority now.
An intelligent person understands that they cannot totally control their environment they can only control their reaction to it. Most people like me started out in IT because they loved change. They loved testing new hardware and software. They loved running things up in their spare time. They loved to learn what made technology tick and then deliver solutions to customers.
It seems to me that most people who bemoan the demise of SBS have become old ‘fuddy duddies’ who have become the mainframe people they used to mock. Change is a part of business as it is a part of life. An old Japanese saying is most appropriate here I believe. It says that the average man sees life as a daily burden weighed down by frustrations but a warrior sees it as an opportunity to test and hone their skills. It is what they live for. It is the spice of life that makes living so worthwhile. It seems to me that many SBS folks have become too sedentary in a field where change is the constant factor.