New Technology Enables Small Companies to Look Big

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:39 pm

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) increasingly will implement information technology (IT) infrastructure similar in quality and efficiency to those of larger corporations in the remainder of 2006, IT experts say.

IT manufacturers and resellers will aid SMBs in acting more like large corporations with new products and services that offer efficiency, security and room for growth on a smaller scale and for a smaller budget.

“The SMB is becoming more sophisticated over time and wants to look more like the larger enterprise,” said Denise Marcilio, director of SMB HP Americas, a division of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Corp. (HP).

SMBs are investing in high-speed Internet connections for productivity, whereas in the past, they had not seen the investment as a priority, Marcilio said.

“Large enterprises do not have to think about (high-speed connections), and mid-sized companies do not think twice about it, but small businesses are starting to understand the importance of going mobile and being efficient when out in the field as well as in the office,” Marcilio said.

HP has made strides to listen to its SMB customers and offers products that will accommodate the SMB need to act more like a corporation than a home office using consumer-level products.

According to Marcilio, the observations that HP has gained from customers and potential SMB customers include:

•    SMBs will evaluate and upgrade their IT in key areas in 2006.

•    SMBs are looking toward security and data protection for peace of mind.

•    SMBs are finding new ways to market their themselves.

Ninety percent of SMBs in the United States have at least one personal computer, and many will be adding more or replace their current PCs in 2006, according to International Data Corp. based in Bedford, Mass.

There is also an increase in portable devices, according to research by Forrester Research Inc., headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. The company says 31 percent of SMBs are planning to conduct major upgrades to desktop computers in 2006, and 28 percent will be upgrading laptops.

“I absolutely agree that SMBs are looking to upgrade technology and in many cases build technology into businesses for the first time,” said Mike Porter, area general manager for the Midwest for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. “Another big trend that Microsoft and I see is mobility.”

It is almost essential that SMBs are mobile, IT experts say. SMBs tend to not have the large sales force that enterprise-sized companies can use to get ahead in the marketplace.

“SMBs have always been mobile and always need the ability to add technology, but they can’t go out and put together an IT staff,” Porter said. “SMBs need less complexity in technology and mobility.”

Products such as Microsoft’s Small Business Server, the HP Compaq 6300 Notebook PC with extended battery life and security software applications from Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp. offer the safety, security and efficiency that SMBs need to run day-to-day operations without being concerned about the status of the IT infrastructure.

“Technology solutions allow SMBs to implement solutions and technology so that the business is efficient, customers are served and the network is secure,” Porter said. “That is what the Small Business Server is designed to do.”

New Berlin-based Software One, a software reseller and licensing company, is expecting to double its revenue in 2006 in part because of an influx of IT upgrades, said Keith Ackerman, marketing director and chief information officer for Software One.

Software One has been working with many of its mid-sized clients on the preparation of the release of Windows Vista, a new Windows operating system with features including added security, networking, speech recognition and Windows backup.

“The corporate philosophy tends to be that organizations understand the value that systems can bring in terms of increased efficiency or enabling companies to service customers,” Ackerman said. “Some companies like to keep current with technology. Other smaller corporate customers without a large IT budget tend to stick with something that works and use it until they are forced to upgrade when the system is no longer supported or a new custom application is written for the specific industry.”

Oconomowoc-based Paragon Development Systems Inc. (PDS) recently launched the MidMarkIT Suite, an IT solution literally in a box. The majority of PDS’ clients are enterprise-size companies, said Austin Park, vice president of infrastructure services for PDS.

To create the MidMarkIT Suite, PDS used its expertise of enterprise-size IT solutions and brought the basic idea down to a smaller, more affordable level.

PDS’ SMB customers are looking to lower costs, mitigate risks and maximize efficiency, Park said.

Among the products and services offered with the MidMarkIT Suite is a data center. The data center is inside a temperature-controlled box and uses a blade server system so that servers can be easily plugged and unplugged, consolidated and automated.

If SMBs consolidate their IT infrastructures, they can save money, Park said. The data center offered by PDS enables SMBs to have one system that requires less time to manage, less effort to back up and support the system and can be virtualized for added security and redundancy, Park said.

“SMBs have been ignored on the advanced technology space for so long that a lot of this is foreign to them and they don’t understand it,” Park said. “PDS is trying to bring the technology down into the SMB space and people assume that it is expensive, but the irony is that it is cheaper than what they are buying for pedestal servers.”

Pedestal servers consist of one computer, most likely in a non-climate controlled closet within a business. The servers need constant attention to assure that data is backed up and security is in place.

However, a managed data center such as the MidMarkIT Suite can run on its own and can save a company up to 30 percent in operating costs, Park said.

To save time and money, SMBs also are looking toward Web-based applications to do business, including online mail servers, intranet applications for communication between companies and clients and the use of instant messenger programs for increased customer service and internal efficiency.

Dean Turner, executive editor of Symantec’s semi-annual Internet Security Threat Report, said more SMBs are realizing the importance of patching vulnerabilities within applications and operating systems. However, they need to be more aware of the possibility of bot networks.

Bot networks are implemented by hackers. The attacker will set up a ghost user on the network and keep it dormant so that it goes unnoticed by the network users. The attacker can then use the bot network to gain confidential information about users within the network and can use it as a tool to send out spam e-mails.

According to the Internet Security Threat Report, attackers have changed their focus from the perimeter of the network and corrupting systems to Web browser applications and are looking for financial gain.

“Viruses on Web browser applications are becoming more prevalent as SMBs look for ways to streamline operations to reduce cost and consider implementing things like Web applications,” Turner said. “Web applications are particularly dangerous because they were not designed with security in mind. They are not going through a rigorous security audit.”

With consistent security audits, companies will be able to spot potential bot networks or unusual activity coming from individual machines. By installing patches released by software developers, companies can protect even their Web-based applications.

“More attention is being paid to security and back up, and SMBs are becoming savvy in the way they want to store and protect information,” Marcilio said. “More and more SMBs recognize that they need to back up data for software and compliance requirements.”

IT industry experts expect the widespread technology adaptation by SMBs to continue as more products come to the market that are customized to the needs of industries, company size and growth goals.

“We are seeing SMB owners looking for ways to learn how to grow their businesses, leverage technology to make businesses run more efficient, for ways to ensure better service to customers and also to make sure that when the businesses make the decision to invest in technology, that it keeps the business up and running,” Porter said.

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