Owners of small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) view their information technology (IT) as a necessary evil. For example, most SMBs dread the cycle of upgrading old laptops and desktops every few years (IDC notes that PC sales in 2017 are the strongest they've been in five years) to keep up with the latest version of Microsoft Windows. For decades, large companies could buy a special enterprise version of Windows to make this process relatively easier for their IT staff—and thanks to a new program now SMBs are doing it, too. But what brought about such a major change in how SMBs upgrade their IT?
Enterprise vs. Professional
When most SMBs buy laptops today, they come pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows 10 Professional. This differs from most large enterprises that buy Windows licenses in bulk separately for their laptops as a capital expenditure—a program called an Enterprise Agreement (EA). The special enterprise version of Windows 10 that large companies get with an EA is essentially like the Professional version but has features enabling Windows to be easily deployed and managed on multiple types of computers with added data security protections.
The High Cost of Staying Current
Until recently, most SMB owners have balked at buying Enterprise licenses because of the cost. As much as the owner of a five or fifty-employee company wants those Windows 10 enterprise features, the cost of an EA was always more than the Pro version that comes with a new laptop. And most SMBs can't justify a return on investment in terms of "value for the money" because they don't have dedicated IT departments to manage Windows 10 Enterprise deployments like a large enterprise does. However, a recent Total Economic Impact study by Forrester proved upgrading to Windows 10 provides a measurable return on investment:
Security Is No Longer Optional
Now that most SMBs rely on Internet-based services for everything from point of sale to payroll, data security is a top concern. The fact is a PC running an older operating system like Windows 8.1 (released in 2013) is significantly more vulnerable to cyber attacks than those running the currently-supported Windows 10. These outdated PCs are considered "attack surfaces" for hackers—and these attack surfaces double in size when running outdated versions of Microsoft Office. If your company is using Office 2007, Office 2010, or even Office 2013, then you are opening yourself up to a larger attack surface for hackers.
For any business that deals with credit cards or online payments, there is the added risk of losing customer data to hackers or not complying with either industry or government-mandated data protection standards. As much as SMBs hate the hassle of a company-wide operating system upgrade, it is one of the most helpful ways of protecting both employee and customer data from cyber criminals.
A New Option Rises
These factors influenced Microsoft to offer a new EA option for SMBs to get Windows 10. The new "E3" level of an EA costs well under $100 per year/per user and features:
- A simple "software as a service" deployment and licensing model where SMBs pay for Windows 10 Enterprise at a low monthly rate (an operational expense rather than a large, upfront capital expenditure) while allowing Windows to be installed on up to five devices per user including their home computers that they may use to access company information.
- A free upgrade path exists for any device running Windows 10 Professional to Enterprise. If the company chooses not to renew, they would remain on Windows 10. What makes this feature even more valuable is the fact that if the SMB upgrades devices from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 Enterprise, the SMB can keep Windows 10 Professional on those upgraded devices even if they quit the E3 program at a future date.
- Hardened data security such as biometrics to authenticate users via fingerprint or facial recognition. If SMBs on E3 want more advanced threat protection that can fix things after a cyber attack, there is an easy upgrade path to the E5-level program
The new E3 program for Windows 10 is a great option for SMBs looking to lower their overall total cost of ownership, leverage the agility of cloud, and be more secure. We're a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider with a proven track record of helping SMBs get more productive while also staying current and secure.
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