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No respect, I tell ya, no respect at all

Vendors need to wake up to the fact that the small and midsized market doesn't want enterprise leftovers.

When it comes to IT respect, the small and midsized business (SMB) has been the low man on the totem pole. An SMB is like the nerdy kid who gets a wedgie from the big jock enterprise guy. But anyone who's repressed or ignored will eventually revolt. Remember Michael J. Fox's character in Back to the Future? He got the girl and the jock ended up as a cheesy used-car salesman remembering the glory days.

The irony -- at least in IT -- is that vendors who control the technology and dollars today were once the people who got wedgies. They swore things would change someday and they'd put the jocks in their place. And they did. But somewhere on their road to success, they became the jocks.

In the world of business IT, SMBs get the enterprise's hand-me-downs. The enterprise is the sexy place to sell because it buys leading-edge stuff for tons of money. Venture capitalists love the enterprise play -- sell software for a $1 million and let's party! Vendors follow the line because they need to build their companies to maximize shareholder value to justify all of that venture capitalist money. It costs a lot to hire a top-gun sales jock, so he has to hunt elephants not squirrels. A ton of money is poured into R&D and sales and marketing for products designed to grab the $1 million deal in one fell swoop. That's how EMC, Oracle and SAP made it, isn't it? They never considered the SMB until they bagged all of the elephants. Now, to feed the machines, they've decided to hunt squirrels.

The problem is that once they caught the squirrels, they tried to make them eat leaves like an elephant. But squirrels eat nuts. "Screw 'em," said the vendor jocks in their best Marie Antoinette voices. "Let 'em eat leaves."

The industry mantra has always been "If it's good enough for the enterprise, it sure as heck ought to be good enough for you peons." Well, I beg to differ and the revolution is at hand.

Not only shouldn't the SMB space be considered as second tier -- it should be the first thing vendors develop for. There are 1,000 times more SMB shops than there are enterprises. There's also 10 times the capacity requirement for overall data in an SMB, which is growing at a higher rate because it began from nothing. The collective financial opportunity is probably greater in the SMB space and -- drum roll here -- a real SMB product will translate directly into new opportunities and dollars for a play in the enterprise space, but not the reverse.

SMBs have the same need for data protection, disaster recovery, storage networking, virtualization, etc., as their big brothers, but their needs go a step further. They need the products to be cheaper to buy, cheaper to implement and easy to operate. SMBs remember their purpose, and it's not about creating a company that spends its time and money supporting IT.

Instead of relabeling some watered-down enterprise products, give SMBs what they want. SMBs don't want to be in the professional IT business -- give them something that works and they'll keep using it. Vendors may also find that if they satisfy SMBs, they'll revolutionize the enterprise. Does anyone expect me to believe that the enterprise doesn't want stuff that just plugs in and works, you don't need a Ph.D. to understand, is cheaper and solves legitimate business problems?

If you build a business designed to thrive on squirrels and you catch an elephant, you have a feast. If you spend your money building a business that needs elephants to survive and catch only squirrels, folks will go hungry.

This column by Mr. Duplessie first appeared in Storage magazine's May 2006 issue.

About the author:
Steve Duplessie is the founder and senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

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