As for vendors, software giant Microsoft Corp. made some notable announcements. In 2012, the company ended Small Business Server (SBS), arguably one of the most popular products aimed at the small business market. While many partners reacted with fear and trepidation, Susan Bradley believes the move was good for the channel. “The end of SBS really represented the end of cookie-cutter solutions,” says Bradley, partner at TSH&B Inc. in Fresno, Calif. “People installed SBS where it shouldn't have been installed. It often wasn't the best solution, but [it was] the easiest to install and the cheapest way to get a server and possibly SQL.” With SBS off the table, partners were compelled to understand the needs and workflow of their clients, in effect becoming advisers rather than product peddlers.
Steve Ballmer, the company’s ebullient CEO, stepped down and was replaced by Satya Nadella in early 2014. Bradley sees this as good for the channel, although Microsoft has yet to address the disjointed nature of its small business products. According to Bradley, Microsoft’s Azure could benefit from a more holistic approach. “Azure feels a bit too disjointed as there are not enough Azure items working together or documented well enough for the small business consultant,” Bradley asserts.
Microsoft’s end of support for its XP operating system in 2014 was long overdue, and Bradley adds that partners should prepare now for the demise of Windows 7. “When operating systems get to the end of their life span they are no longer safe to be used for day-to-day operations,” she says.
It may be hard to imagine, but mobility was just an emerging trend when ChannelPro-SMB first hit the streets. Today, it’s difficult to find an individual or small business that doesn’t rely on mobile devices as much as—or in many cases more than—tethered machines. With the BYOD trend, many individuals use multiple devices and regularly mix the personal and professional. This, in turn, makes security and compliance all the more complex at both the endpoint and throughout the network.
MSPs have responded by offering mobile solutions aimed at and priced for individual users, including partitioning, remote wipe, and other security- and management-related capabilities. Yet despite the added management challenges, mobility in general and BYOD in particular are here to stay, due to increased productivity and cost containment. “Technology has enabled software, networks, and devices to be onboarded easily, to the point where ‘mobile first’ is now a viable strategy,” says Stephen Drake, a former mobility analyst at market research firm IDC who is now director of partners and strategic alliances/mobile for Red Hat Inc., headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. “There are big benefits to allowing people to use the tools that they are most familiar with,” Drake says. “Mobility is not a side project anymore.”
With regard to what lies ahead, Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst at business strategy firm The 2112 Group, thinks 3-D printing and high-resolution scanning will be particularly transformative for the manufacturing industry. Holographic and immersive displays along the lines of Google Glass or Oculus Rift could spell the end of desks cluttered with multiple large monitors.
Of most significance, Walsh says, is the Internet of Things (IoT), although he finds the label misleading. “The real value of IoT is not just that connectivity leads to data collection and analytics, but that the data collection is automated and is followed by action that is automated.” (Think of a connected refrigerator that senses diminishing food supplies and reorders groceries accordingly.) In such a connected world, Walsh expects that today’s trusted advisers—IT providers that tell clients what to do—will transform to become trusted providers who do what their clients need. In Walsh’s vision of the future, “the channel has to think more about outcomes and less about products.”
MEGAN SANTOSUS is a writer based in Boston.