IBM aims for SMB market share

IBM is looking to bring new, cost-effective solutions to the SMB market, according to Samer Shaar, general manager of IBM Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan

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By  Paul Barthram Published  November 2, 2003

|~||~||~|IBM is looking to bring new, cost-effective solutions to the SMB market, according to Samer Shaar, general manager of IBM Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan

CME: IBM is looking to increase its share of the SMB market, how is the company planning to do this?

Samer Shaar: SMB business in general today is a focus area for IBM at a worldwide level. The focus stems from basically simple economic dynamics. This market is more than $300 billion, it is huge, it is growing, and it is underserved.

We need to bring the best solutions to this market in a cost effective manner. This is answered by our on-demand vision. When we began talking about on-demand computing, ten years ago in 1993, we had at heart to bring something very simple to our end users, a better return on investment. We will take care of offering the end user an entry-level service, to use IT as an enabler to their business. We embarked two years ago to set up the first co-location and application hosting provision [in the Middle East], it is one of 38 e-hosting facilities worldwide, today we can offer hosting services.

CME: Has there been a good response to hosting services for SMB customers?

Shaar: We have a few SMB customers, today we have small companies hosting websites with us, It is more tilted to enterprises as they are more sophisticated in decision making, but they are leading the way to give confidence to SMBs that this is the future. There is a bit of misconception that [hosting] is geared towards enterprise, the reality is the whole concept is built and developed to cater for services for SMBs.

CME: Surely as an IBM partner it is better to sell a complete solution to a customer rather than refer them for a hosting service?

Shaar: The simple answer is it is the customer who is in the driving seat. Us and our partners will put the value proposition to the customers, but at the end of the day the customer is king. There is always an upfront referral fee for such services. Today the way we are tackling that market, we are working with ISVs, and they are offering their own applications, so there is an ongoing revenue stream.

CME: IBM is also being very aggressive with Linux and open source-is this something you can target at SMB customers?

Shaar: We are pushing open source initiatives to cater for lots of specific markets, but there are three things we need for open source to be a success-we need applications available, we need Arabic language support, and we need the third party resources to support, manage and grow infrastructure in a cost effective manner. For Arabic support we already have a huge investment Arabising Linux with our R&D team, driving that initiative.

The second initiative that will help the SMBs to go into open source is the applications. We are working in tandem with many application providers, to make their solutions available on open source platforms. To help SMBs with a fast adoption we are working on bundling solutions. The concept is simple, we need something out of the box, with all the basic functionalities that are required, for them to run based on their local requirement

To get the resources to support open source, IBM is working with a lot of universities across the region, to give them full access to our technologies and application development tools, plus we offer a full curriculum for them to certify their students on. So within eighteen months you can have a graduate fresh from university with a certificate and training to manage open source architecture and applications. That partnership is showing good results already, we have graduates that are certified and can join the work force.

CME: Have SMB customers taken on open source solutions yet?

Shaar: Today we are seeing the growth of open source in a lot of sectors, like high performance transaction computing in the oil & gas sector with companies like Aramco; a lot of banks have started to move onto that platform for its security and reliability; and the governments of the region are moving in that direction. Once the governments adopt it, and show that it is a sound system, we will see the SMBs choosing it too.

CME: Are your channel partners ready for open source?

Shaar: Yes. We have been working on certification programmes for the last 24 months, we have the teams in place, not only the support side, we have the local expertise that can develop these applications here, there are a lot of initiatives, and there are a lot of people certified on the Linux side.||**||

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