SAN FRANCISCO – Virtualization: it’s not just for the enterprise anymore. VMware is taking virtualization to the small and medium-sized business (SMB) segment.

About 40 per cent of the over 22,000 attendees at this year’s VMworld conference are SMBs, and a little over a year ago the vendor launched a more concerted effort to target this key market segment. Marjorie Young-Krauss, senior director of SMB marketing with VMware, told that the vendor decided to look at the market in a more granular fashion.

“We realized the entire SMB market needs to be segmented. There are customers that are more sophisticated and mature, and others that aren’t,” said Young-Krauss. “We did research and looked at what’s our install base, and what’s whitespace.”

VMware goes to market in the SMB through channel partners, relying on the channel to be the link between VMware and SMB customers. Its research found that the more mature SMB customers often function much like larger enterprise customers. There are SMBs in areas such as health care, education or IT services that, though small businesses themselves in terms of headcount, serve a lot of customers and benefit from virtualizing their IT environment to do so, much like a larger enterprise.

The less sophisticated SMB client for VMware might be a small retail operation looking to gain a business advantage through IT. It may have 10 servers in its small retail shops.

“They’re looking to maximize their IT investment. They have smaller budgets, and want ways to further leverage what they already have,” said Young-Krauss. “One hundred employees and up is what we see as the sweet spot. They’re the primary targets to go beyond server virtualization, to virtualize business critical apps, a business continuity and disaster recovery solution, and adopting private cloud and automation.”

While VMware doesn’t release specific products for the SMB space, she said its core product suites – such as vSphere, vCenter Operations Manager and Horizon View – are targeted at all market segments. But it does create Essentials Plus kits for smaller customers, bundling a simple kit for customers looking to do specific targeted things, such as virtualizing their servers. It also has Acceleration Kits, with different VMware suites such as vSphere with Operations Management for customers ready to go to the hybrid cloud.

VMware may be perceived by some as enterprise-focused, but Young-Krauss said word is getting out that it’s an SMB player.

“We have a strong following on SpiceWorks (an SMB-focused IT community) with over 70,000 small business followers that engage with us in that community,” said Young-Krauss. “And over 40 per cent of the attendees at VMworld are SMBs.”

Ottawa-based IP communications vendor Mitel is a VMware partner, and has partnered with a VMware hosting partner, RackForce Networks of Kelowna, B.C. to offer a cloud-hosted unified communications solution. Stephen Brown, vice-president of cloud strategy and strategic partners with Mitel, said it’s a good example of a solution, built on VMware, that can benefit SMBs. It can even be combined with a virtual desktop solution based on VMware technology, to virtualize both communications and the desktop together.

“A hosted solution is often less expensive for an SMB to provide that doesn’t have its own IT staff to manage its own solution, or the budget to put in a system and a data centre,” said Brown.

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