The much discussed and misread SMB is the power house of the Canadian economy. Employing 64 percent of working Canadians, small and medium sized businesses account for over half of the country’s GDP.  But if the contribution of the SMB is clear, defining the needs of this community has proved more elusive due to group heterogeneity. This is especially true in the case of IT – does the SMB behave like a miniature version of the enterprise or do small and medium sized businesses have unique technology needs? The answer in tech provisioning – as in so many cases – is ‘it depends’. While the SMB faces challenges and opportunities to use advanced technologies in creating new business value which are similar to those that the enterprise encounters, the smaller business works within budgetary and staff resource constraints to support a user population that varies as much as the SMB segment itself.
But what can we understand about how the SMB is responding to major IT trends? In broad strokes, it’s fair to say that the SMB is an enthusiastic participant in the mobility and communications revolutions. As the Techaisle research in the figure below shows, over half of Canadian SMBs (defined as companies with 1-500 employees) currently use file sharing and social tools to collaborate and are beginning to explore video, mobile, web and whiteboard conferencing/collaboration tools. But more remarkable in this research, is the expected growth in usage across all solution categories. Within the next 12 months, SMBs anticipate significant investment in collaboration, and in the more network-intensive solutions in particular: use of desktop and mobile video, for example, will increase 300 percent, while use of multiple simultaneous modes (e.g. text, chat, voice call, video call) is expected to double.
SMB interest in the productivity benefits of better collaboration is evident in these findings. What is also clear is the new strain on networking that this expanding implementation of virtually all types of collaboration will entail. In cloud, implementation challenges for the SMB are also apparent. By most accounts, cloud markets are showing robust growth – $191 billion is the estimated spending growth for cloud services in 2017 according to an SMB study developed by AMI Partners – and cloud a great ‘leveller’ that offers enterprise class computing capability that was formerly out of reach to the SMB. But if adoption by large and smaller businesses is contrasted, as in the figure below, this picture changes somewhat.
Techaisle’s research shows strong correlation between company size and cloud adoption: while 92% in the medium/large segment are using or planning to use cloud, in the small segment, the corresponding figure is 53%. A number of issues no doubt play into this gap; however, difficulty in building and maintaining the predictable and secure networks needed to support the additional data exchange involved in cloud computing is a likely factor holding back roughly half the small business population.
To help the SMB community take better advantage of new productivity enhancing applications, HP has developed a line of “Just Right” IT solutions spanning its hardware/software portfolios that address the unique needs of the SMB customer. In networking, HP solutions aim at: simplicity of management to allow IT staff that may not have specialist knowledge to quickly connect staff and resources; affordability to stretch SMB IT budgets; and reliability to improve network performance and availability, characteristics that will become increasingly important as SMB networks come under mounting pressure from cloud, mobility, BYOD, collaboration and other network intensive applications.
At the same time, and in recognition of SMB heterogeneity, HP has designed its networking offerings to address SMB needs “whatever the size or maturity level.” To this end, the company has modelled the typical networking requirements in three model configuration scenarios, building in flexibility through specific equipment options in its OfficeConnect Portfolio. These options range from plug-and-play unmanaged switches to smart-managed switches with advanced features and functionality, and from standalone to centrally managed wireless solutions for up to 10 APs to deliver mobile access to smartphones, tablets, and other wireless devices.
As a starting point, HP has outlined the basic architectural configuration for an unmanaged network as in the diagram below:
According to HP, the benefit of this approach is that the unmanaged network is simple enough for plug and play deployment, but provides enough speed and reliability to connect several on-premise servers, PCs, notebooks, and printers. Based on industry-standard technologies, HP technology to support this basic configuration allows the organization to rapidly scale as networking requirements grow.
As demands on networks become more complex with the introduction of mobile requirements, many organizations will need to move beyond this basic configuration. As guidance, HP has developed a second reference architecture designed to provide high-performance wireless and wired LAN connections for servers, storage, printers, client PCs, and notebooks across main campus and branch networks as follows:
The advantages of this smart-managed network are: customized operations using an intuitive web interface for simple, remote PC-based management; speed and the ability to scale throughput through Gigabit Ethernet networking, web-managed security control (network guests access the Internet through a separate virtual LAN); as well as support for network-efficient and cost-effective power over Ethernet for wireless and voice applications to accommodate SIP based telephony and converged applications.
A third configuration option has been designed to meet the networking needs of the mid-sized company. Based on deployment of HP’s FlexNetwork architecture, which has been specifically designed to support wired and wireless networking, cloud computing, and rich-media traffic, this option represents HP’s answer to addressing network complexity in larger, more heterogeneous customer environments.
A key feature in this third configuration is ease of deployment and management. Built on open industry standards, networking technologies in this last model may be easily integrated into existing infrastructure to avoid rip and replace and into HP OfficeConnect solutions to allow customers to easily evolve their requirements. Additionally, the architecture is supported by third-party applications from the HP AllianceOne ecosystem of partners, including Microsoft, Citrix, and Avaya to enable greater customer choice in collaboration/communications technologies. The configuration is modular to support organizational scale; secured by TippingPoint network security products; and managed via a single console to remove complexity associated with multiple management platforms. Citing independent research, HP also claims optimized performance – up to 66 percent lower cost of ownership – and savings of up to 25 percent on power and cooling costs.
If three reference architectures cannot reproduce every scenario in the multiplicity of SMB customer environments, they offer guidance that may be useful as IT managers and staff consider how to best tackle the gathering storm of new stress that will land on networks by growing use of productivity, cloud, mobile and collaboration apps. In each configuration, HP has taken care to incorporate deployment ease, simplified management, performance reliability and opportunity to scale – needs that are common to virtually all members of the SMB community. In so doing, HP is looking to encourage SMB customers to review its portfolio lineup.
For more information on HP Just Right networking, visit HP here.
 This figure does not include self-employed individuals, or those working in agriculture, fishing and trapping, private household services, religious institutions or military personnel of defense services. Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours. Statistics Canada, 2011. Key Small Business Statistics–July 2012 (http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/vwapj/KSBS-PSRPE_July-Juillet2012_eng.pdf/$FILE/KSBS-PSRPE_July-Juillet2012_eng.pdf).
 According to latest Stats Can estimates, SMBs account for 54% of Canadian GDP. Small, Medium-Sized and Large Businesses in the Canadian Economy: Measuring Their Contribution to Gross Domestic Product in 2005. Statistics Canada. Ibid.
 Worldwide SMB Global Model 2012-2017, AMI Partners, 2013.
 “ROI of a complete networking portfolio: delivering value from the network edge to the core,” IDC white paper, September 2011.
 “HP 5400zl and 8200zl Switch Series competitive performance, power consumption, and TCO evaluation vs. Cisco Catalyst 3750-X and 4500 Series,” Tolly test report #210152, November 2010.