Saturday, July 7, 2012

What did you do for SBS?

I see a lot of emotional reactions out there for the demise of SBS. I see statements like ‘this decision from Microsoft has ruined my whole business’ to which my immediate comment would be ‘so you are telling me you based your WHOLE business around a SINGLE product from a SINGLE supplier WITHOUT contingency?’. However, the more I look at the reactions the more I ask ‘If SBS was so important to you what did you do for SBS?"’.

 

Good business is a relationship, it can’t all be one sided and many who are claiming they have been ignored by Microsoft have in fact been exactly the opposite. For example:

 

- Have you actively participated in the many SBS user groups all over the world? Have you more than passively attended and sucked free information from presenters and other attendees? Have you offered to help run the group? Help doing presentations? Shared your knowledge with others? Networked with others from the group outside the normal meetings?

 

- Have you sat the SBS certifications exams? They have been around since 2003 days. Doing so provides a good indication to Microsoft of how people are serious about the product. It also helps Microsoft and customers ensure they are working with resellers who at least know something about the product.

 

- Have you blogged about SBS? Have you actively participated in forums? Have you again provided information rather than simply passively vacuuming everything up and using for your own business benefit? Have you helped create build wikis? Knowledge bases on the product?

 

- If you haven’t written about SBS have you supported those who do? Have you comments on their blogs? Said thank you for all the hard and largely unpaid work they do? Have you supported the publications that these people have created? Do you read their blog? Their Twitter stream? Have you even sent an email just saying ‘thanks’?

 

- Have you attended conferences and events that focus on SBS? Have you listened to webinars on the product? Have you bought books and other material about SBS? Have you tried to network with your peers doing SBS, share ideas and best practices?

 

- Have you even told anyone at Microsoft how good SBS is? How much it means to your business? Have you provided constructive criticism or feedback on the product to make it better? Have you shared you experiences from the field with customers to make the product better?

 

My experience has been that a very small group of people did a hell of lot to support the SBS product. They deserve recognition for getting it this far but without wide spread support from resellers what other choice does Microsoft have? Let me illustrate.

 

The average SBS install is say 15 licenses. Thus Microsoft makes money when a resellers sells these 15 licenses. But hang on, they only do so on average every 3 years when an SBS system is upgraded. They also typically make less on these licenses as they are bought via OEM (i.e. with the hardware). In the 3 years between SBS upgrades what revenue does Microsoft get? I’d say they get zip but they still need to support the product, provided patches, updates and service packs as well as be working on newer versions. That all costs money.

 

In all honesty the reseller is the one that makes the money in an SBS transaction. They make some on hardware, they make some on SBS, they make some on other software, they make some on migration, installation, setup and configuration. They typically also continue to money as an managed services provider (MSP) by charging the client a monthly fee to maintain everything. On balance the reseller makes a great deal out of SBS over its typical 3 year life but REALLY what does Microsoft get? Once the volumes of pure SBS sales drop below a certain point Microsoft really has no other option but to can the product. That point obviously came recently.

 

Does this mean resellers IT skills are suddenly null and void? No. Does this mean SBS can’t be bought tomorrow? No. Does this mean SBS won’t be support for the foreseeable future? No. Does this mean that there are no other options in the IT landscape to suit the need? No.

 

What it means is that the disruptive effect of the Internet is now reaching IT providers. It has gone through the music industry, news and print media, entertainment and so on. Did you really think that the IT industry was immune from such changes? As I mentioned back in 2008 blog post on the death of SBS

 

http://supportweb.ciaops.net.au/blog/archive/2008/05/25/the-very-last-version-of-small-business-server.aspx

 

you know what? Clients don’t care about SBS, they care about ‘their stuff’. They simply want access to it. It is the IT resellers job to provide a solution, how it is done really doesn’t matter to the customer. I was initially quite taken aback by the comments of Paul Thurrott which basically said SBS didn’t have any fans it simply had resellers making money from the product. However, upon reflection I can see his point (as I mentioned above). Client’s want simple. They don’t want complexity. Most technology is complex and SBS is one of the most complex products Microsoft made.

 

It seems to me that most resellers lament the loss on an onsite Exchange server, which is what most use SBS for. Most reseller deride SharePoint and Companyweb labelling it irrelevant and unused by clients. Even if that is the case (which I don’t agree with anyway) guess what? That is part of SBS and guess what? Even if you never use it you need to update it as it is part of the SBS package. I can’t tell you the number of updates that have blown up SharePoint Foundation 2010 on SBS when PSCONFIG is run of late for no consistent reason. You want a challenge? Try and recover an SBS installation that has a bad PSCONFIG update.

 

Again, too much complexity. Resellers are demanding more and more features be integrated into SBS. It just can’t be done within the limitations of SBS. Many have stretched SBS well beyond what its initial purpose was and that is testament to the product but you simply can’t keep doing this forever and keep the price down. Because you know what? IT is becoming a commodity and customers can’t see the value in paying for large server installation with lots of RAM and disk space all up front when they face an uncertain business future.

 

Sure this is painful. Sure this mean many need to retool and retrain. It will mean some may not make the transition. However, I honestly don’t believe that you can claim to run a business if you don’t have a contingency. I’ll bet you tell clients not to have backups, but you don’t have a backup business plan? How is that helping your customers and let alone you if you don’t?

 

As the as the famous quote from Edmund Burke mentions – ‘all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. For those who claim Microsoft has ruined their business by killing I simply ask, what have you (and those around you) done for SBS up to this point?