Well as announced this last week, SBS as we know it is dead. Understandably, resellers are up in arms over being blindsided by Microsoft with this discontinuation of the SBS product (with up to 75 users) as we have known it for years. But were they really blindsided or did they fail to read the signs? There’s a few things that I want to focus on in this blog post
Microsoft Cloud Vision
Steve Ballmer back a few years said something along the lines of “we’re all in for the cloud… and if you are not on-board then we’re not the vendor you want to partner with” I guess that people thought this was simply rhetoric. Most resellers didn’t see the writing on the wall for many of the products within the Microsoft stable. Essential Business Server v2 was the first to fall in the march towards the cloud. Most didn’t realise that SteveB was in fact driving the company down a specific path regardless of if the user base wanted that or not. SteveB is the one here that has made those decisions. SteveB is the one pushing his team to build products for markets that are not ready for them yet. If you want to shout and scream at someone, then SteveB at Microsoft.com is the person to do it to, not the SBS team. The SBS team are a great bunch of people that are doing the best they can to build a product to his definition of the SBS market. Sadly, I feel that the death of SBS as we know it is premature.
The Reseller Channel
SteveB wants to crush the competition, but I fear that he will do so at the expense of many many resellers. But maybe those resellers weren’t really the partners that Microsoft wanted in the first place. Maybe it’s been part of the plan all along to move to the cloud so that Microsoft could weed out the resellers that were not “worthy” of taking to the next level. Maybe it’s a good thing – either way though I feel it creates some level of distrust between Microsoft and the reseller channel that will be hard to overcome.
Am I worried about MY business in the SMB Industry? Heck no. I’ve always strived to build solutions for clients that fit their business requirements. It just happens that SBS has filled that need for 15 years now. It means that I like many others need to retool myself and rehone myself on other products and technologies so that I can build solutions for my clients needs. I will survive – of that I am sure. Sadly however I feel for other SMB resellers. Those that built their business around just ONE product. They will also have to retrain themselves. The sad part about this is that whilst they may have the desire, they may not have the cash flow in the current global economy to do so in a timely manner. For them it will mean closing up shop. They will blame Microsoft for this, and to an extent they are valid in that view. I wonder if Microsoft took this into consideration when they made this decision?
I also feel for our customers. With this change, I believe that Microsoft are doing themselves and the client base a disservice. I feel they are going to lose potential customers with this “all in for the cloud” vision because in many cases, the pipes that connect the clients to the cloud are just not up to standard… and won’t be for a few years. The Internet connection for most clients is the biggest single limiting factor. Microsoft have failed to take this into account that the here and now speeds and reliability are not up to it.
Another point I worry about is the wide variety of solutions that customers will be exposed to. With SBS being around for so long now, it was a pretty much certainty that when we walked into a new customer they’d have SBS. We could easily pick that up and run with it. Now, I hear talk of people looking at various Linux solutions as well. That’s a concern in the long run as I fear customers will have poorly implemented solutions by relatively untrained resellers. The customers won’t have as much choice then when it comes to choosing a reseller that can support their solution. The end result of this is that resellers will either need to skill up on the various Linux alternative solutions out there as well as the Microsoft offering or they will need to just focus on one type of solution. Either way, I’m not sure that this is good for the customers.
The community was once very strong around SBS. Sadly over the last few years, there’s been quite a softening overall of the community spirit. A certain degree of apathy has grown and continues to grow within the community. People relying on a few people to do the grunt work and then always taking, not giving back which was the main reason I got into this space to begin with.
The community will survive too – but it will be different. It already IS different. It will be one where information is not so readily shared. Where information will be sold more so than given… or if given will be given amongst a select few within the confines of the various groups have have sprung up as a result of the community fracturing. Who is to blame for this? Honestly – the community is. The community has not gotten behind things the way they could have. The community has gotten soft and seriously has not contributed the way they should have. But people will blame Microsoft for it.
Back in 2010, when Microsoft were building SBS 2011 Essentials & SBS 2011 Standard, I made a prediction to some of my MVP buddies. I told them that I would be very surprised if Microsoft didn’t in fact not produce an SBS 2011 Standard given their focus on the cloud. I envisaged that Microsoft would make SBS a role that you added to your Windows Server product. Looks like I was out by a version but essentially this is what we’ve got now. I fully don’t expect there to be a future version of Window Server 2012 Essentials either – it will be as I describe – a role that is added onto the full product.
Can we build solutions on Windows Server 2012 Essentials? Sure we can. I lament the fact though that those solutions will be built only to suit 25 users. We can use normal products beyond that and the associated costs with them. This is a thing that SMB businesses must carry. Alternates to the Microsoft stack are there. Kerio for one makes a decent mail system and we’ve been working with it for some time. I’ll be seeing what we can do to incorporate Kerio more into potential future solutions as well.
I’ve not done the numbers yet, but there may well be a good case for actually building a 50 user solution based on Windows Server 2012 Essentials and then morphing it up to a 50 user solution. It looks as if the added cost will only be around $425 USD which is the cost of the base product. Time will tell.
The End Game
Ultimately the end game here from my perspective is to build a solid business helping SMB Clients overcome their business problems with IT solutions that are both enduring and cost effective. Whilst I might have a personal issue with the cloud in some aspects, it does not stop me from acknowledging that in the right circumstances, the cloud is a great solution. It does not stop me building my own cloud solutions for our clients. It does not stop me recommending the cloud where it’s appropriate for a clients needs taking into account business risk/return.
None of this stops me from looking at what is left of the Microsoft solution stack and building great solutions for my customers using it as I have done in the past. None of this stops me from using not just Microsoft products, but products from other vendors as well to build those solutions. Nothing stops me from learning new products and new ways to do this.
None of this stops you either. We’ve had our pity party, now let’s get our butts into gear and move on. Microsoft have made their decisions. Microsoft won’t change. We will. We will and we will be stronger for it. We will survive!
I’ll be doing blog posts in future about how we can use Windows Server 2012 Essentials to build solutions for our clients business needs. Stay tuned!