Must-Have Ingredients for SMB Servers

What makes a server so special? Intel's general manager of channel server products lays it all out. By Michael Siggins

“SMB customers buy solutions. They don’t buy hardware,” says Intel Corp.’s David L. Brown. “They just want their business problems to be dealt with in an automated fashion, and that’s why software is equally as important as the hardware.”

Brown, general manager of channel server products and marketing director of the company’s data center group in Hillsboro, Ore., elaborates on this assertion and talks about the most important ingredients for an SMB server in a conversation with ChannelPro-SMB Publisher Michael Siggins.

ChannelPro-SMB: I understand you have a list of what an SMB server must have. Can you tell me about that?

Brown: OK, sure. Let’s start with the first item, an entry-level server board. We have a lot of customers who are selling to clients that are still using desktop products as servers—the “desktop on the side” phenomenon. What we believe very strongly is that small businesses need the capabilities of a server—even a one-socket expandable server that may have a small form factor or a pedestal form factor that looks like a PC, but the motherboard has capabilities that make it more server ready, more reliable, more scalable, and with better performance. And being able to offer this entry-level server board gives the channel customer an opportunity to gain more account control.

In other words, when you’re delivering and supporting the basis of a compute environment for small businesses, you become even more of a trusted adviser than when you’re just supplying hardware. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all businesses have the same type of compute work requirements or performance requirements. Some small businesses may have applications in the workstation space that require a high level of performance—maybe even dual-socket capabilities, additional I/O slots, additional DIMM slots, and so forth.

So making sure you’ve got access to additional motherboard options that offer these capabilities is the second “must have” for servers, so you can address the variety of small businesses you’re calling on as well as the need of a given small business as it continues to grow and expand to different applications.

ChannelPro-SMB: What’s the third thing a server should have, from your perspective?

Brown: Data protection, which is a no brainer. In the mid-2000s a [contingency planning company] claimed that 70 percent of small businesses that experience a data loss go out of business within a year. And if you pull that forward to now with the economy being what it is, and with the additional regulatory issues surrounding data and the need to archive it, there is a paramount need for server technology and for the channel to offer that type of protection to their customers. This also gives the channel customer an opportunity to [achieve] additional revenues in the account by offering rate options and data storage options.

And, this may sound like a cliché, but SMB customers buy solutions. They don’t buy hardware. And that means you need to have a software stack—which is the fourth "must have"—that’s going to deliver the capabilities that they’re looking for. It could be as simple as mail and Web capabilities, or it may require virtualization capabilities. You need to be able to talk to the solution, look your customer in the eye, and assure that customer that your solution is certified by the various software organizations.

We have a program called the Enabled Solutions Acceleration Alliance where we go out to popular ISVs, take their software, and validate it on our products so that when you sell our products, you can claim that your product is certified on VMware, Symantec, and on a variety of Microsoft products as well.

ChannelPro-SMB: And what, then, is the fifth "must have" in the IT provider's arsenal?

Brown: Solution and services. For a lot of customers in the SMB space, a server or compute purchase represents a large capital outlay. They want that to be protected for as long as possible, so be sure you have a good warranty in place. For example, we offer a three-year warranty on all our server components and products, as well as the ability to sell up to a five-year warranty. If you can offer the five-year warranty, you give your customers peace of mind in their investment. You also have the option of offering remote managed services, break-fix services, or next-business-day parts replacement—and on-site support is key.

Intel offers next-day support to any city in the U.S. that UPS can get to overnight; so full-service customer support and technical support.

ChannelPro-SMB: When should partners approach SMBs about their first server purchase or upgrade?

Brown: There’s no better time than as soon as the business opens its doors to talk about server technology. But bear in mind that a lot of end users are thinking about the business they’re offering and aren’t concerned about automation for their environment. So talk to them about their business and the needs of that business, and [see] what solutions you can offer. Then direct them to your product line, which could start at an entry-level server, which compares favorably in price to a desktop system.

ChannelPro-SMB: What types of pushback are they likely to get?

Brown: When you talk about anything other than the client PC, they’re concerned about cost. But if you can talk to them about the warranty, the stability, and the reliability, that’s the counter position on cost.

Another pushback you might hear is, “Is this going to be difficult to implement and manage? It sounds complex.” And the way to counter is that there are several offerings now that are very simple to get up and running without an in-house IT resource. We have manageability modules that are very easy to use and supported by graphical user interfaces.

ChannelPro-SMB: In what vertical markets do you see opportunity for SMB VARs?

Brown: Healthcare would be one area that would be a great target for server technology—patient record keeping needs to be secure, reliable, backed up. A small doctor’s office or clinic running on a desktop computer is not positioned for the industry’s regulatory issues.

The legal industry and accounting, where there are regulatory issues and the need for compute capacity and storage and backup, also need to have an environment that is secure and can take advantage of the features that servers offer. And you’d be surprised how many retail operations are running on client-based technology and could really benefit from moving to server technology.

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