Analysis: SMEs buyers more willing to adopt latest technology

Virtualisation, cloud computing and unified comms are the technologies most in demand but resellers should not look to the public sector to be at the head of the queue to buy them.

Virtualisation, cloud computing and unified comms are the technologies most in demand but resellers should not look to the public sector to be at the head of the queue to buy them.

According to the latest Pearlfinders Index, which monitors trends and opinions in the IT world, in the fourth quarter virtualisation remained the most popular area for investment, and more customers were looking to move to the cloud

But in terms of buyers of IT support the industry/manufacturing sector was followed by retail and financial services with public sector lagging well behind.

The public sector started last year in third place in the buying stakes but slipped after March and has been in a steady decline since September ending 2010 in a fairly weak position compared to other areas of the economy.

To meet the customer requirement the skills that users are looking for in their channel partners include an in-depth knowledge of software, hardware but also managed services and outsourcing capabilities.

When quizzed about what they hope IT to deliver the users had some specific aims with supporting growth and improving efficiency at the top of the wish list.

Drilling down into the main three areas there are different approaches and varying customers that need to be taken and targeted by resellers.

Virtual lift-off

The attitude towards virtualisation has changed with it no longer being seen as just a route to saving money but more as an option to introduce greater flexibility.

In just the last few months of last year the reasons for deploying virtualisation changed with cost cutting dropping down the list of priorities.

"We saw a massive change in the drivers behind virtualisation work. Cost cutting dropped to be the fifth most popular reason.IT managers were more interested in looking at virtualisation as a way to improve the flexibility of their operations, enhance storage/DR infrastructure as part of a previously planned hardware refresh and for reasons of sustainability," the IT index stated.

The other main development is that for the first time the data back from Pearlfinders showed a stronger demand for desktop rather than server virtualisation.

One of the benefits of the technology no longer being seen as the new kid on the block is that smaller firms are more willing to embrace a tried and tested product. The influence of Microsoft's Hyper-V, VMware and Citrix in driving demand is also being seen in the SME sector.

When it comes to the second area of growth, unified communications, the Index threw up some surprising findings with the public sector remaining a strong buyer for the time being.

Unified comms

With a lot of UC contracts currently being worked on pre-dating the election the NHS and local government continues to be a buyer of the technology. That should of course change but some of the slack will be picked up by the private sector and SMEs.

"The growing penetration of hosted or cloud-based VoIP and UC platforms is driving uptake among SMEs. Resellers are starting to win the battle when it comes to convincing IT managers at smaller firms that a hosted UC solution can be both cost-effective and high quality," stated the Index.

One of the technological developments that should start coming through is the extension of video conferencing and messaging opportunities to tablets with the iPad, Samsung Galaxy and now Dell Streak all being more widely adopted by business users.

Cloudy skies

The final area of high interest in the current market will come as little surprise as cloud is still being hyped by numerous vendors. The technology is certainly being used and deployed more widely but a debate about the preference for private rather than public clouds exists.

Some users are perhaps a bit cynical about the cloud viewing it as another name for a virtualised data centre but overall the trend towards some sort of hosted solution seems to be gathering pace.

The sector which seems to have embraced the cloud with particular gusto is the financial services sector when some large banks made the move to the hosted environment in the last quarter of 2010.

But for the rest of the user base there are still concerns that resellers out on the doorstep selling will have to overcome.

"Within enterprise organisations, concerns over the security and up-time of public cloud-based solutions remain, as does nervousness over running mission-critical applications in these environments," stated the Index.

As well as fears over security and performance another issue is the ongoing confusion around the word 'cloud'. It has too many definitions and Pearlfinders found that some users are reacting negatively to the word when it's used in a sales pitch.

This echoes comments made by the likes of Computacenter,which has stated in the past that it avoids using the word because of the confusion issue.

Where cloud does seem to be making in-roads is in the SME sector, but there is a warning that the market is fairly fickle at the moment and resellers have to move quickly to take advantage of a vertical or sector that is buying the technology.

"The window of opportunity for selling to a particular sector can open and shut very quickly so it is crucial you target your prospects accordingly," Pearlfinders warns.

Overall the end of the year seems to have been a positive one but as long as the public sector remains a major customer of technology there are always worries that as the cuts start to bite so will the fortune of the IT sector.

However, if there is one silver lining it appears to be the rise of the SME sector as a buyer of virtualisation, cloud and UC.

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