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Bundles have been a fact of life for SMEs and home users for almost as long as the PC has existed. It’s easy to understand the lure of putting the PC together with a few other products (usually software and peripherals) that, allegedly, make it either more productive or more economical for the cash-strapped consumer or small business owner to buy.
And for almost as long as there have been bundles, there have been complaints that they’re not really put together for the benefits of small businesses or home users but for the sake of the vendors. Disgruntlement at bundles that appear to be designed more to try and make failing products appear more attractive - the old lipstick on a pig trick - has often been reflected in their sales performance. More cynical customers could be forgiven for looking at bundles and pondering “what’s wrong with these products that the vendors are trying to offload them onto us?”.
The other major gripe about bundles is that they often reflect the paucity of thinking from many vendors when it comes to the small business market. Instead of marketing to them in a similar way as they would to larger customers, vendors appear to treat most small businesses as second class citizens who should be grateful for whatever they get. In some instances, what they get is an intentionally crippled enterprise product stripped of much of its functionality. Throwing it together with something else isn’t going to prove that attractive to many small business owners.
Then there’s the perception that many vendors are being patronising to smaller customers by trying to sell them bundles. While there’s an attraction in selling a customer a solution that works out of the box, it also suggests that all small businesses are the same and can make do with a basic set of technologies.
That’s not to say that bundles are a bad thing. When done right, they can prove an economic and simple technology solution for small businesses. And there’s no doubt they are attractive for many owners and managers who don’t want to spend too much of their valuable time on IT matters. As David Fearne, technical director at Arrow ECS, notes, when you’re looking for new technology and services, “the choice and variety of functionality and service offerings can be complex”. And that’s regardless of whether the business is an SMB or a large enterprise.
It’s not patronising to acknowledge that it can be more difficult for some smaller businesses “to make decisions on the best IT solution as they often don’t have a skilled IT professional or dedicated department in-house. Instead, it’s typically a shared role with another area in the business. For example, the finance team could also be responsible for the IT systems and software - or the service contract SLA”.
Vendors that provide bundles “can often help in these situations”, Fearne believes, “as they typically include enterprise features and functionality at a more manageable cost for SMEs”. He argues that bundles can “deliver better outcomes for the customer as they have a feature-rich solution backed by a good level of service. And, in turn, the smaller vendors can duplicate the solution and service for many users, reducing overall costs. This integrated, simple and low-cost ownership model is what’s required to be future proof”.
Sebastian Prat, founder & CEO at Flexxible IT, believes that SMBs have similar goals to enterprises, “to reduce cost, complexity and improve user experience”. But he warns that bundles which “are hard coded are unable to provide the flexibility to solve their challenges and are unlikely to be successful in this space”.
Nevertheless, he agrees with Fearne that it is difficult for smaller organisations with limited resource “to review all technologies needed in the infrastructure stack” so there is value in “taking advantage of best of breed technologies that are integrated, cost effective and simple to use”. If vendors can provide a solution that addresses their needs, it can “go a long way in helping SMBs to focus on innovation rather than worrying about the IT infrastructure”.
It helps if vendors put a programme in place for channel partners behind the bundle. Flexxible IT recently announced a channel programme with HP to market an integrated workspace appliance to SMBs using HP’s mobile and desktop thin clients. The appliance integrates the hypervisor, storage replica for HA, Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, Windows 10, Windows 2016, Microsoft Azure Overflow, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Azure Backup and NetScaler.
Jeff Groudan, vice president, global head of HP Thin Clients, HP Inc, described the programme as offering “a new level of simplicity when procuring, sizing, configuring, installing and managing an on-premise workspace solution. The channel now has a new powerful yet simple alternative solution that can be deployed quickly that wasn’t available before.”
As technology becomes more complex and integrated, so does the market for bundles. “As the procurement of IT from SMEs has matured over the years, vendors will need to ensure their bundles truly add value to prevent competition from ‘born-in-the-cloud’ companies – which are disrupting these services,” Fearne warns. “There are many new Software-as-a-Service vendors who deliver outcomes for their customers and threaten traditional bundles with becoming less relevant.”
In many ways, appliances are today’s bundles and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) appliances are the latest and most wide-ranging manifestation of that trend. And they are bundles that can be bundled together. What this means is that bundling is moving upwards from SMBs to the enterprise. In addition to the HCI new kids on the block, mainstream vendors are also climbing on board. HPE’s GreenLake on-premises consumption-based offering, for example, includes infrastructure, edge computing, backup, SAP, database and big data and allows customers to choose modular, pre-packaged infrastructure with the ability to unlock capacity as they need it. In other words, it’s a big bundle.
There’s a certain irony that, after being the last in line for technology developments and trends for so many years, SMBs may well have set the trend for the way the enterprise IT market develops in the future.