Microsoft yesterday made official with an announcement that a few of us knew was coming or suspected would happen at some point. Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 will be the last version of SBS produced. SBS 2011 Standard and Premium will be available in most channels until June 30, 2013, and through OEM until December 31, 2013.
Windows Small Business Server Essentials will become Windows Server 2012 Essentials, leaving Microsoft’s only SMB focused offering being a hybrid cloud based solution.
The reaction of the SBS Community
As you’d expect, the SBS Community worldwide is expressing a mixture of shock (but perhaps not surprise), anger and, in many cases, betrayal.
I fully understand why. I’m an outspoken cloud evangelist and for years have been banging the drum about the need for SMB IT companies to embrace cloud. I’ve also butted heads with some of my peers who don’t want to embrace that change. But I acknowledge that in all things, choice is important.
Cloud isn’t a fit for everybody
Many end-users don’t want Cloud solutions due to privacy concerns or the fact they are comfortable with on-site solutions. You can educate them, but ultimately they will decide what it is they want.
Many end-users can’t feasibly use Cloud solutions. Broadband Internet in the UK is developing rapidly, and I’m going to guess than even in two years time many homes and offices around the UK will still be limping by with very slow Internet connections.
By removing SBS from their product range, Microsoft are removing choice for end-users. Some might say they are forcing their world view on their partners.
Sure, you can still buy Windows Server, Exchange, etc. But try explaining to any end-user why they could get those features in SBS for a certain price point, and now they’ve got to pay many times more for individually more complex products with the same functionality.
Not everybody is ready for Cloud, and even by the time SBS 2011 is pulled from the shelves by Microsoft, I’m pretty sure that will still be the case.
Time for SMB IT Companies to re-evaluate
So Microsoft’s decision to end-of-life SBS is a difficult pill to swallow. But it might be the opportunity (or kick up the bum) that many SMB IT companies need to re-evaluate their business choices.
Most SMB IT Solution Provider businesses (including my own) were historically built on the back of a relationship with Microsoft. Customers wanted Microsoft products, and we sold it to them. Microsoft was the best solution available, at the right price, with the right partner model. Everybody wins.
The Alternatives to Microsoft
But take a look around today, and Microsoft aren’t nearly as relevant in the SMB market anymore.
- Office 365 (and it’s predecessor BPOS) simply aren’t SMB partner friendly offerings. But there are a plethora of other companies who offer similar hosted solutions that are partner friendly. In the UK, take a look at Secure Virtual or
ThinkGridColt Ceano or any one of a dozen other reputable and partner friendly Cloud vendors.
- SBS is dead, but for years credible (and in many ways superior) alternatives such as Kerio have been available. Kerio having a thriving user community, great support and a good reputation.
- As an SMB IT company, I’m betting you found selling Volume Licensing to price sensitive SMB clients difficult – but when Microsoft hiked their Volume Licensing by some 33% earlier this year for EU customers, virtually impossible. Trust me, other Vendors realise there is a recession on and price accordingly.
- You probably have clients who resent buying Microsoft Office. They use barely any of its functions, and so can’t understand its high price tag. Are you speaking to them about Open Office or Libre Office?
So be aware of these alternatives. Investigate them. Talk to other vendors. Talk to your peers about what they use. Don’t assume you have to partner exclusively with Microsoft to grow an SMB IT business.
Do talk to your clients about Microsoft solutions, but if they balk at the prices or inflexibility – offer them well considered and researched options. In my experience, most clients don’t care about what’s under the bonnet – they just want the solution to work for them.
If your IT business was built on the back of a partnership with Microsoft and selling SBS – the announcement of the end-of-life of SBS is tough. I feel your pain.
But you know your clients best. If they want cloud solutions, offer them cloud solutions. If they want on-site solutions, offer them on-site solutions. If they want a hybrid solution, offer them a hybrid solution.
Remember – you have and always will help decide what’s best for both your client and your own business, not Microsoft.