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Enterprise software vendors jump on the Express bandwagon

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Two out of four ain't bad. So far, out of the big hitters in the enterprise management space, IBM and BMC have announced 'Express' versions of their products.

IBM's announcements came in February of this year and BMC's in March. Neither announcement offered anything particularly innovative, not from a functionality perspective anyway: the tools will offer similar, if cut-down capabilities as their enterprise versions, such as help desk, application monitoring, event management, and so on. The real interest comes in the pricing (lower) and packaging (easier to deploy), and the products are to be targeted at mid-market customers.

Different software vendors define the mid-market in different ways but, suffice to say, these are the companies whose IT is sufficiently complex to require a team of support staff but for whom the term 'enterprise' would be pushing the point. We're probably talking thousands, rather than hundreds of users, but certainly not very many.

It's easy enough to package up products for the mid-market who, after all, have very similar IT support challenges to their larger brethren. There is also a desperate need for such tools, which until now have lain financially out of reach of the cash-strapped IT budgets of smaller companies. Even if the money was there, management tools could be difficult to justify. The $50,000 question, however, is will companies adopt such products now the price has been dropped? Realistically, these are not the first ever mid-market offerings of management tools, and the price points being set by IBM and BMC are awfully similar to those we have seen in the past.

We believe that if Express products are offered on the strength of brand or function alone, they face an uphill struggle. The reasons why companies failed to purchase in the past remain valid today, and neither IBM nor BMC have exemplary track records at managing the kinds of channel partners they need to get these products to deployment. Drivers of the new wave of IT service management in the enterprise, such as the standardisation of management processes through ITIL, do not have mid-market equivalents: ITIL is unlikely to scale down to provide the process guidance appropriate to smaller companies, which do not have the budget for services to implement such processes, even if they have the will.

Rather than the top-down, strategic approaches familiar in enterprise environments, mid-market companies tend to work more from a bottom-up perspective - solving problems as they happen and implementing tools to help them along the way. It is for this reason we believe Microsoft stands more chance of success, as (through its distributed systems management initiative) it is looking to deliver a framework that pulls together its various fragments of management capability and ties them together into an integrated whole. What Microsoft currently lacks in its portfolio, it gains in its approach - and, indeed, any shortfalls can be filled by partnerships, OEM deals and acquisitions.

For all comers, there's also the possibility of online versions of tools, offered as a hosted service. At first glance it is difficult to see how this would work - think of the complications (security and otherwise) of allowing your systems to be monitored by a third party, across the Internet. However, such an approach may well offer the 'on-ramp' that is required by smaller businesses - limited trials (by user seat, by device monitored or by functionality used) could be expanded as the value of the technology was proven. We know that at least one major vendor is considering hosted management, and we expect to see such offerings in place by the end of this year.

What with IBM, BMC and Microsoft now at the table, we await with impatience what CA and HP (both under new management) have to say on the subject. We're not expecting much from these vendors any time soon - HP has its work cut out developing its enterprise management portfolio, and CA also has enough on its plate as it develops its SMB packaged information protection tools, taking on McAfee and Symantec in the process. Speaking of the latter, there is a chair reserved for Symantec if the company could only get its act together and realise that there's more to IT management than "information integrity", a.k.a. anti-virus and backup. Indeed, the more the merrier - particularly if the healthy competition results in these companies finally getting the tools they need, at a price they can afford.

Overall, we do believe there is an untapped market for IT management tools in medium sized businesses. This isn't a case of trying to sell tools to organisations that don't want them - the need and will is there to use such tools, and if the approach from the vendors can be made to fit the requirements of the customers, it should be a win-win all round. In the meantime, we hope that the overall effect of mid-market interest should result in further downward pressure on pricing, which should be welcomed by customers of all sizes.

Copyright © 2006 Macehiter Ward-Dutton

This article was originally published at IT-Analysis.com.

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