Having a few days to reflect on the events at TechEd Professional this year, there are a few things that stand out -– some are fairly obvious, and some less so.
1. Microsoft has done some very good things for small-business IT
I've been working on Microsoft's new Small Business Server and Essential Business Server, and the folks in Redmond have done some very good things for the SMB market in areas ranging from management interface to licensing. (Yeah, I know –- sanity in licensing. Who would have thought?) A full Test Center review of each is coming, but my impressions haven't really changed dramatically since the first time I saw them –- these are solid platforms from which to run a small to midsize business.
2. Microsoft still needs to do better things for the workstation user
I know that TechEd Professional was for the business IT person, but I was struck by how few sessions really dealt with Vista. Maybe it's just me, but I would have thought that there would be a greater push toward helping businesses move to Vista, especially given the impending demise of Windows XP for most corporate purchasers. I've heard users say that they have no trouble with Vista: I'm just not one of those users. It's fascinating to me that Microsoft seems to be hitting its stride in the back end while giving the competition a real window of opportunity on the user end.
3. The virtual is becoming the real
Virtualization is taking off for businesses from the very large to the incredibly small. With the new cloud services now being offered through the Google App Engine and Amazon EC2 and S3, very small businesses can plan for tremendous success. Here's a fearless prediction from your humble blogger: Some of the folks being cut loose from large companies in our current non-recession will end up building killer success stories on a good idea, a few contacts, and the computing resources they buy on-demand from Google or Amazon. The largest enterprises have always been able to buy computing resources (OK, who's old enough to remember when time-share computing was a big deal?), but now that ability has filtered down to small companies that can really take advantage of the service. I'm very, very excited about this one.
4. What you do is more important than what you do it on
As applications move into the cloud and their interfaces move more completely to the browser, the end-user platform matters less and less. Agnostic computing, in which the network and the application doesn't care what the supplicant interface runs on, is the wave of the future. I'm not just talking about the basic Windows v. Mac argument here –- the user might be, at any given moment, on a desktop machine, a laptop computer, a smart phone, a PDA, or a wireless handheld tablet. On one level, this sort of flexibility creates a security and support nightmare: on another, it's the perfect opportunity for IT to finally demand the sort of standards-based infrastructure they've known was the best answer for years. I spend a lot of time working from strange places, and I'm very excited about the growing capabilities of computing from the road. Small businesses will lead much of this migration because small businesses tend to have the larger majority of their employees working away from the office. The front seats (and hoods) of pickup trucks and high-mileage sedans will be the scenes of real IT progress in the next couple of years.
5. Small business is the heart of future IT
Every vendor I talk to these days wants to build their SMB market size. Many of them have only rough ideas about how to go about doing that. The result is going to be some confusion in the market, as products and marketing campaigns run ahead of sales channels for the next few months. Be a little patient -- whatever the service or product you need, the odds are good that you'll be able to get it before too long. If you're in the business of providing IT services to small businesses, your life is going to get much more exciting in the coming months -- you should be able to carry just about any line you want (and can show any sign that you’re able to sell). The fact is that small and midsize businesses will drive the economy out of the current problems, just as they have in the past. The difference this time is that the computing tools will be helping to an unprecedented degree.
I've started to get some response to my earlier queries about the tools and services that you're using to make your small business a success. If you haven't already, please take the time to drop me a note about what you're doing, and why. I know that there are some truly great SMB IT stories out there.