Eight industry subject-matter experts highlight the biggest trends and opportunities for 2012.
Sometimes, we need only look at the technologies and trends that have already hit our radar screens to know how to handicap what’s on tap for the year ahead. And that’s exactly what our panel of experts has done.
Not surprisingly, cloud computing figures prominently in 2012 as SMBs continually but gradually dip their toes into the pool of cloud services. So, too, does managed services, as MSPs conquer their fear of the as-yet unknown and begin to deliver cloud solutions as a service. Other growing technologies set to make a larger footprint in 2012 include data security, storage, VoIP, and virtualization.
We also look at developments in custom systems, which, despite reports to the contrary, are alive and kicking in niche markets such as higher education, the scientific community, and government. Another community that’s thriving but evolving is the one IT providers deal with every day. Industry stalwart Arlin Sorensen weighs in with his observations on the vendor-partner ecosystem and how affinity or peer groups can help point the way to new business opportunities.
Arnie Bellini is co-founder and CEO of ConnectWise, a Tampa, Fla., provider of business management solutions for IT service partners. Bellini has been in the IT industry for 30 years.
“The number one fear from MSPs is the cloud,” says Bellini, and that fear is misplaced. Bellini believes the cloud isn’t a threat but an opportunity. In an evolutionary process, organizations are moving to the cloud, “one icon at a time,” he explains. As email, word processing, collaboration, and other applications move off-premises, the adoption of the cloud is a trend that will drive managed service opportunities.
“There are three main developments fueling technology acceleration: bandwidth, mass storage, and CPU power,” Bellini says. When considering such developments, MSPs will have more things to manage, not fewer, because “everything is going digital, which plays right into
the wheelhouse of MSPs.” The servers and applications that go to the cloud will be replaced by other technologies that require management. One promising area is mobile technology; tablet PCs, notebooks, and other portable devices will proliferate and need to be managed. Print services are another hotbed as are IP-based security devices such as cameras.
Think beyond hardware and devices. As a differentiator, “MSPs can offer help desk services so their customers can get the highest productivity out of the applications they are using,” he says. Vendors represent another option. “The way technology is going, there will be more vendors rather than less,” he explains, “and a new area where MSPs should be completely focused on is vendor management.” The typical SMB has many vendor relationships. “Just like with networks and devices, MSPs can manage vendors for their SMB customers.”
Todd Swank has spent years in the system building industry and is vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a manufacturer of custom systems in Burnsville, Minn.
As channel partners can readily attest, the custom hardware business isn’t what it used to be. “We could put together an Intel motherboard with a nice case and a Microsoft operating system and sell it and make good money,” recalls Swank. “That kind of product has become very commoditized.”
Today, Swank looks to Google and Facebook for inspiration. To reduce costs and improve efficiencies, the two companies are building their own servers. Well-known companies “that are building their own servers rather than going to Dell and HP shows that there are good opportunities in that space,” Swank says.
Swank sees potential with servers not based on Microsoft technology. Linux-based Web servers are a growing opportunity, and Apache servers continue to make inroads as well. “A lot of people don’t have the expertise in open source software, so this is where we can add value to the equation,” he says.
Specifically, Nor-Tech has been building custom systems for the high-performance computing market in the government, commercial, scientific, and academic sectors. GPU-based (graphics processing unit) solutions from NVIDIA and high-resolution LED or LCD monitors are popular in universities and corporate environments. “The technology is used in walls of displays, tiles, or a series of projectors that are tied together for research or teaching,” Swank says.
Another opportunity for builders and integrators is mobile technology, using a hybrid approach. For example, Nor-Tech sells other manufacturers’ notebooks and wraps its own products and services around them. The company also sells mobile labs to schools—products that capitalize on its custom systems experience. “We sell the cart and notebooks together, and add value by selling 16, 24, or 32 notebooks integrated into a lab that a school can roll into a classroom.”
Above all, be nimble. As a product becomes commoditized, “it’s just too difficult for the smaller companies to compete,” Swanks says. “We have to go into those niches of the market that aren’t overly competitive, and find out where we can add value, leverage our experience, and provide solutions to our customers’ pain points.”
continue on to security and cloud computing...