SMBs want to virtualize, need VARs for security help: Symantec

If solution providers offering virtualization services aren’t looking into new customers among the small and medium business (SMB) market, they should be, Symantec Corp. (NASDAQ: SYMC) suggests, based on results from a global poll the security vendor conducted.

“It appears that small businesses appear to have a very robust interest in virtualization but it’s very early days,” said Kevin Rowney, director of marketing for virtualization, cloud and mobility at Symantec. He describes virtualization as a “sledgehammer of transformation in IT.”

According to the poll, 70 per cent of small businesses-with between five and 249 employees-are considering server virtualization. However, only 10 per cent have actually completed their virtualization projects.

For this poll, Applied Research surveyed IT managers from 658 businesses worldwide across various industries on behalf of Symantec. The top reasons for considering virtualization included reducing capital expenditure, operating expense and having fewer servers for more applications.

“Many small businesses are grappling with how best to take on the virtualization agenda,” Rowney said. Of those who haven’t yet implemented their strategy, the majority are in the planning and discussion stages or in trials. “I think you could guess that amongst the 30 per cent (not considering virtualization)…they’re probably worried about things like performance and security,” Rowney said. Security concerns, reliability issues and cost were among the reasons why some businesses were not considering virtualization.

Small businesses are typically more focused on opportunity and with that, they often take risks. “Neglectful security,” is common among small businesses, he said. Of the businesses surveyed, 20 per cent are completely unsecure, according to Symantec. Only 52 per cent are using a firewall, 26 per cent endpoint protection, and 22 per cent antivirus protection. Only 15 per cent always back up their data and 23 per cent never do, mainly because of budget and staffing concerns, he added.

Like past “new computing paradigms,” including the rise of the Web, early adoption often comes before all the security considerations are taken, Rowney said. As a result, companies aren’t prepared for what hits them. With virtualization, partners can provide guidance on what kind of security threats may arise so history doesn’t repeat itself.

Symantec recommends that smaller firms define a security strategy, and make sure virtual servers are secured to protect their data. Using a third party solution provider is a good way to do this, Rowney said. The poll results suggest that more than half of respondents rely on third party help for virtualization solutions, he said.Some applications, such as communications and productivity apps, are simply more difficult to virtualize, so small businesses haven’t taken the steps, he said. “Those require a lot more care and attention and third party staff,” he said.

Smaller firms lacking IT staff also often don’t have time to consider server virtualization, said David Briand, a solutions architect at Toronto-based Scalar Decisions Inc., a value-added reseller that works with numerous vendors. Operating virtual servers for SMBs is probably about a third of its overall business, Briand estimated. It has been in the business since 2004, but noticed a rise in interest in the last two years. That’s because small firms are starting to realize IT can help set them apart from the competition.

“Maybe they have a hard time wrapping their heads around securing something that’s not physical,” he said. “We always make sure security is one of the top things we address.”

Scalar will install a virtual server without security safeguards if requested by a client, and that might make sense in certain environments with limited exposure – such as servers used for quality analysis or development, Briand said. A firm must also make different considerations for a virtual server compared to a traditional one.

“The way a virus scan affects a hypervisor is not the same way a virus scan affects a traditional server,” he said. “You could introduce other risks into the environment that would affect the performance and manageability of the infrastructure.”

Despite the challenges with security and education around virtualization, the opportunity is definitely there for resellers, Rowney said. “It feels to me like if they simply ask around, they’re going to find opportunities.”