Evolution Sometimes Favors the Small

Market forces pressure SMBs and also provide relief.

Large size is too often an advantage. Just as the smaller, vulnerable hadrosaurs had their agenda set by the massive carnivore T. Rex, small and midsized businesses often feel that they live in the shadow of large enterprises. Vendors and VARs have historically ignored or mistreated SMBs. Commercial software doesn't often fit their needs well. Extensive custom development is not always an option. And software with the most advanced capabilities likely has a price tag that's out of reach — not to mention the cost of employing experts to maintain and use those advanced systems. Yet, competing in the economy today frequently requires effective data management and interchange, smoother process integration, and quicker, more insightful analysis. I know of one-person businesses that conduct data analysis for business strategy; the need for intelligence transcends business size.

What will fill the gap between SMB need and accessibility? Evidently, market forces. "SMB is a major focus for the company. It's a fast-growing segment. It's a very profitable segment," said Hewlett-Packard's senior VP and general manager of its SMB segment, Kevin Gilroy, recently at the TechXNY conference. Gilroy was announcing HP's new products, services, and packaged solutions aimed at SMBs. The mountain has come to Mohammed. HP and its partners will be focusing on verticals and "micro-verticals" such as medical records management, delivering end-to-end solutions that are, he said, the product of listening to SMB customers' needs.

The compute power accessible to smaller budgets has, of course, been increasing. More and more enterprise-class software runs on Linux and Windows platforms. In fact, the 30-year-old Computer Measurement Group (CMG), for IT professionals who plan, measure, and manage the world's largest data centers and global business networks, and which has traditionally concerned itself with mainframe systems, finally decided this year to include discussion of Linux and Windows systems at its annual conference (December 5-10 in Las Vegas).

Unfortunately, the enterprise software that now runs on those lower-priced Lintel and Wintel systems is still too expensive and complicated for some SMBs. That's why so many other large vendors are retooling. IBM said its autonomic maintenance and tuning features in DB2 8.2 were aimed partly at attracting SMB buyers. Those features might cut down on personnel if not license fees. Application vendors that historically went after large enterprises — SAP, Oracle, Siebel, and PeopleSoft — have all been offering hosted versions to compete with the upstarts that threatened to undercut them. Hosting is available not just for applications, but for sophisticated analysis; Barra and Genalytics are but two examples.

Then there's open source software. The most widely used Web and application servers are open source. As for databases, MySQL is gaining in power and prestige, and PostgreSQL doesn't have a bad rep either. The open source community continues to roll out ever-better, inexpensive applications that give enterprise apps a run for their money.

Take heart, SMBs. The tide may be turning in your favor. And remember: only the small reptiles survived the age of the dinosaurs.