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The Virtual Future Looks Bright For SMBs

A year ago, many SMBs were still asking, "what's virtualization?" Today, it's a very different situation.

A year ago, many SMBs were still asking, "what's virtualization?" Today, it's a very different situation.In early 2009, Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, visited a number of U.K.-based user groups to discuss virtualization. At the time, said Sobel, "I got a lot of comments that this was the first time they'd ever heard of virtualization in SMB or the first time that they'd thought about virtualization in SMB."

"By December, I visited a group in Philadelphia and more than half the room was already doing virtualization," he added. "To have that level of change in the user group community, which is largely small business IT consultants, is pretty dramatic."

Other IT experts advise SMBs to move cautiously on virtualization; in some cases, server virtualization simply can't generate a significant ROI, especially in very small IT shops. As Sobel's statements imply, however, SMBs that don't at least investigate the possibilities are making a mistake.

Sobel emphasizes one of my favorite examples of how server virtualization can benefit SMBs: as a disaster recovery option. At Evolve Technologies, most of the customer deployments in 2009 were virtualized, Sobel says. The most sensible way to bring virtualization into SMB customer accounts is for disaster recovery, he says. "The one we find is most interesting to customers is moving their backup images off-site with the ability to virtualize into a remote location," he says.

Sobel is also finding SMB customers receptive to using virtualization to move to new hardware without overhauling software environments that they're happy with. "When they were shoving servers off the line three or four years ago, energy consumption was not as important as it is now," Sobel says. "If you get new systems and get rid of old ones, that results in real savings."

On the other hand, SMBs need to manage their expectations when it comes to server consolidation. "For the S in SMB, you don't see the 16-to-1 and 20-to-1 consolidation that they talk about in the enterprise. But you are seeing the 3-to-2 and 4-to-2," Sobel said.

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Downward pressure on virtualization software costs will also benefit SMBs in 2010. According to Sobel, this is partly due to the fact that while VMware holds a commanding lead in the enterprise market, smaller IT shops that run mostly Windows-based systems are more likely to find that Microsoft offers some attractive virtualization solutions.

Keep in mind that this article appeared on the Redmond Channel Partner Web site. The general thrust of the article, however, seems to be correct; as Microsoft ramps up its efforts to compete against VMware, the resulting competition can only benefit SMBs.

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