I spent some time this last week being very angry and upset over Microsoft’s decision to kill the EBS 2008 and future mid market product based on it. It’s now a week later and I’ve got to say I’m really surprised at the lack of response from other resellers on this topic. I’m also somewhat surprised at some of the comments and in particular who they come from on my previous blog entry from a week ago. Don’t get me wrong – I really appreciate it and I think it’s helped "realign" my expectations for the future. I don’t like to end things on a negative and I always try hard to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, so where to from here? I thought a post mortem would be in order as I believe very much in trying to learn from our mistakes.
Why did this hurt me and my business badly?
I think the first reason it hurt was because I personally had invested a LOT of time into EBS 2008. I had for 12 months last year, worked part time with Microsoft in getting the message out there to the channel. I was tasked with helping resellers understand the EBS positioning and messaging at a technical level along with other things. I was able to help project the message to the channel because I personally believed in it. I believed that this product had what we needed to help move things along in the Medium business space.
I have over the past 4-5 years been involved in discussions with the EBS team as the product developed. There are bits of EBS that I can say "that was my idea" and that gave me a great feeling, being able to personally contribute to a product that would have such positive effects on business’s that deployed it. I’ve installed EBS countless times during the beta’s and helped find and resolve many issues with it (like the one where it downloaded 10GB of WSUS data immediately after installation that would kill most Aussie internet connections).
At a business level, we’ve invested and were investing more and more into it. We had a number of our techs train up on it, and play with it even at home. One of our guys even spent $10,000 of his own hard earned cash to buy a server just so he could virtualise EBS and learn it’s ins and outs. We’ve had customer discussions about their growth and sold them on the idea that EBS was a natural growth path out of SBS. We’ve had long term planning discussions with customers and got them budgeting for EBS as their business grows. Now we need to go back to them and tell them that the products will cost more, and the implementation services will cost more as well.
All this hurts when you find the product is no longer there…
What went wrong and what can we learn from this?
I think we can learn a few things from this and hopefully the good people at Microsoft will think about this when they next have a crack at the Medium Business space.
Lack of proper positioning – initially EBS was positioned as the big brother to SBS and I feel that was wrong. It had the SBS resellers saying it was too expensive, and the medium business customers were thinking it’s too small for them.. Sure once you get past those initial impressions with customers the problems and concerns go away. You realise that EBS was in fact well suited for the Medium business space. I believe that Microsoft have more recently however realised this and were set on a better course.
Lack of decent reseller training – EBS is a deep product indeed – and I really don’t think that the depth of training was there for the SMB reseller. The most you had was a 5 day course on EBS (which was normally run as a 3 day abbreviated course). During that time you had to come to grips with the unique EBS installation method, System Centre Essentials, Exchange 2007, ForeFront Security for Exchange and ForeFront Threat Management Gateway. Each of those products are deep in their own right. Therefore it’s my belief that there should have been two levels of course – the first being a course for the experienced IT tech that takes them over the Unique EBS things, the installation process, and the customisations that EBS had done for it. The second course would be more in-depth on the component products.
Lack of ability for resellers to SELL the product – I honestly don’t believe that most SBS resellers had the knowledge or ability to correctly position and sell EBS. Most SBS resellers are very focused on the smaller end of the SBS market and they do very well there indeed. However selling to the Medium Business market is a different beast altogether. You are selling to the IT manager, not the small business owner. You are dealing more with budgetary processes that have longer lead times than in the SBS space. A typical SBS sale can be proposed, and closed in 3-4 weeks, however an EBS sale can be 6 months in the making as you work with a larger business and their processes. Those things don’t exist in the SBS space anywhere near as much as they do in the medium business space.
What can be done to make it better?
I feel that Microsoft have left us hanging for the moment. We don’t know (aside from the Enterprise level products) what we can provide to our clients. Microsoft have said that EBS is not needed anymore as there is a move to the cloud…. that being the case they need to clearly communicate this to the reseller channel. They need to provide a solid roadmap NOW for their resellers to enable us to build OUR joint business together. Microsoft may be our largest vendor in terms of influence on our business direction, and that is certainly something we are thinking long and hard about.
They need to provide more guidance on how to more quickly install EBS style configurations. For example, I’ve yet to find some decent guides on how to get SCE up and running quickly and have it tuned the same way that EBS was done. I’d love to see a guide on how to get SCE up and running and configured in under an hour. We need similar guides on the remaining components as well. These will help us continue to service the Medium business space at a cost effective manner and hopefully will not blow out the services installation costs which can cripple a project like this.
They need to provide guidance on how to use advanced features of the products – ie TWWEB is a partial replacement for RWW – but so little is known about it, how to configure it and so on. We need guides that will show us how to do these things. The information I’m sure is available somewhere on www.microsoft.com but finding it can be difficult.
My final thoughts on the subject relate to the future for other members of the Windows Essential Server Solutions (WESS) family. With EBS 2008 dead, there is no longer a family as such… there’s just SBS 2008. We’re back to where we were a few years back with a single product.
I’ll be watching carefully developments in this space as should you. Be mindful at all times of what your customers requirements are and ensure that you provide solutions to their requirements – that is after all why you are the trusted advisor is it not?
My concern is that Microsoft are too caught up in trying to compete with others vs making products that suit customer requirements. I think they need to concentrate on being the flame, not the moth.
This will be my last post on this topic for a bit. Yes I’m still upset, but we need to move on and focus on things that we can use to help our customers make more money and in turn it’s effect on our business models and hip pockets.