MSPtv Webinar: How The Channel Can Win With Cloud Computing

Now more than ever, cloud computing has become the single most important factor in helping boost the reseller channel to new heights. No matter their specializations or backgrounds, all channel players can leverage cloud computing to become more profitable, competitive and widen their reach with acquiring new customers and business opportunities.

I will be hosting a free live webinar for MSPtv with this title on June 23rd at 12:30 PM ET. You can register for it over on MSPtv’s site here.

MSPtv Webinar: Powering up your sales force is more than just using SalesForce.com

When it comes to picking their own internal customer relationship management tools these days, the first place that many MSPs start with is at Salesforce.com. The cloud-based CRM company has made a name for itself in this marketplace by providing very capable tools that can deliver the automation needs of large and small businesses alike.

In this recorded webinar for MSPtv, I talk more about the issues and some alternatives to using Salesforce.com

Webinar Jan 18th: Are you ready for the cloud?

In conjunction with the good folks over at MSPtv and Redmond Channel Partner magazine, I am hosting this event at noon ET on 1/18:

Are You Ready for the Cloud? How MSPs Can Dominate New Management Models.

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) need to assess how ready they are to provide complete managed cloud services for their clients. While Microsoft and other larger vendors offer a mixed message in terms of hosted vs. on-premises solutions, MSPs through the right partner such as Zenith Infotech can provide a complete range of cloud computing services. But you need to take the right steps and in this webinar, we will show you how. Register here

SearchSystemsChannel.com: Microsoft BPOS suite update

It’s been nearly two years since Microsoft unveiled its cloud computing offering, Business Productivity Online Standard (BPOS) suite. Microsoft BPOS suite offers online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office Live Meeting and Office Communications. It is sold by dozens of partners and has hundreds of thousands of individual users.

In this article for Techtarget, I discuss why BPOS is attractive to VARs, where it comes up short, and what Google is doing in the hosted services space.

The Price Is … Wrong!

In the past week, I have spent way too much time dealing with product pricing issues on a number of fronts. It shouldn’t be so hard to get a price – my motto is that the harder it takes to find out pricing, the less motivated customers are going to be to buy it.

Let’s give you some circumstances. I am back again reviewing products for eWeek (please, don’t all email me about your products, PR folks). For one review, it took four days, 10 emails and phone calls to get the actual price of the product. The PR person initially sent me something that looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics that didn’t make any sense to either of us (why did she send it, you might reasonably ask). Of course, the vendor didn’t have any prices on their Web site, at least not that I could find.

As a journalist, this gets my goat. I often hear, “We don’t want our competitors to know about our pricing.” Or “We use multiple tiers so our VARs set their own prices.” Hogwash. What these vendors are really saying, “We don’t have a clue what to charge for our product/service.” Shame on them!

For a client, I was recently working with them on their plan for their new software release. One of my issues is its current pricing model, which has five degrees of freedom:

• Number of PCs supported
• Three different “levels” or overall pricing tiers
• Overall capacity
• Two different software versions
• Other surcharges for extra features

That works out to many thousand different prices. You need a spreadsheet to figure out what you are going to pay. Now, granted, there are some complex software products out there and you don’t want to leave money on the table and charge fairly for your product. But five different knobs to turn before you can calculate a price? Not good.

I was a judge in a local competition put on by our county economic development office to pick wining business plans that would receive a nice $50k cash prize. In the five semi-finalist plans that I reviewed, three of them were missing pricing information. The plans were well thought out, had plenty of detail about the company’s prospective businesses, and even had copious pages of spreadsheets showing how the business was going to make tons of money in year 4. But without the actual price of the product or service, this information is just a lot of hot air. How can you tell if your business is going to be competitive? What is the sensitivity of your price to your market? I asked these questions of my semi-finalists and you could see that they just didn’t make the connection. Uh-oh.

So folks, here’s my advice. Keep it simple. Better yet, make a free version available for a limited time or a limited number of users or PCs or whatever. And if you can’t put your prices online where your customers can see them, then you shouldn’t be in business.

Calculating TCO without the need for new math

You are all familiar with those studies from industry analysts that show you what the “true” cost of owning various IT equipment. I am visiting Adtran today and one of the things they talk about is how easy it is to figure out the total cost of ownership (TCO) without having to apply a lot of airy-fairy multiplers or other fudge factors to really get to the bottom line. Here are some quick ways that won’t require you to go ask your fourth-grader to do the calculations for you:

  • Does your vendor offer extended warranties that really cover maintenance for five years at no cost, or do they require hidden maintenance contracts?
  • Does your vendor offer free firmware upgrades for as long as you own their gear, or do you have to pay after a year or two to keep current with their upgrades?
  • Does your vendor offer toll-free support both before and after you buy their product, and does the support team live somewhere in the US rather than overseas?
  • How does your vendor pay its telephone support staff, by per call completes, by customer satisfcation, or by some other metric?

I think you can see where I am going here. The more stuff that is included in the price, the less funny business you have to deal with when you are four, five years out and have to keep things running. (Too bad the American automobile industry hasn’t yet figured this out.)

EWeek: Towards better network applications intelligence

VARs looking for the next profitable frontier in network forensics have two widely different alternatives with the partner programs and products available from two vendors. The network analysis appliances available from Firescope in Huntington Beach, Calif. and Network Physics in Mountain View, Calif. offer very divergent approaches towards better network applications intelligence.

The idea is to get beyond doing packet captures, ports and protocol decodes to view and understand applications-aware information. In the past, many network analyzers have relied on deep experience and intensive training before they could be deployed as troubleshooting tools and useful for real-time threat mitigation. Products such as Network General’s Sniffer and Ethereal were purposely difficult to use and hard to gain experience with.

Instead, both of these companies have taken to aggregating network behavior patterns and making more intelligent analysis of applications across the network that can be more readily interpreted, and more readily deployed by VARs and security consultants with less experience.

Firescope’s appliance takes more of an open source and extensible framework that other vendors can add reporting and analysis modules. The total integrated package can then be sold by the VAR. “Our idea is to concentrate on end user usability and it is very easy for our partners to demo without having to have a lot of training investment,” says Steven Cotton, the company’s CEO. “Plus, it is easy for them to see immediate value and develop a technical core competency around our product. So that enhances their margins.”

To date, Firescope has “mashed up” its appliance with tools from A10 Networks, Actuate and Airtight Networks and is moving down the alphabet to other networking companies. “The idea is to tailor our product to better analyze and troubleshoot problems affecting overall IT system health, at the same time shortening the overall sales cycle for the VAR” says Cotton. To date, they have about 20 partners.

Network Physics is going about selling its network analysis product in a completely different direction. “We know that for many products, you have to become an expert on how every protocol on the network works,” says Scott Safe, the VP of marketing and product management for the company. Their NetSensory appliance, as it is called, looks at network events and tries to bring stateful inspection to the application and network behavior.

The real difference between Firescope and Network Physics is how they engage their partners. “We put together a cross-disciplinary team from both sales and our system engineers to work with the VAR directly on their top potential opportunities.” This almost one-on-one, custom training and consulting is a good way to familiarize a VAR with their product and gets them quickly immersed into their product. “This is a lot better than the standard classroom or webinars. You can learn more from the interactive sessions with the ultimate customer,” says Safe. “It is also a great way to help them baseline their customers’ networks and open up additional sales opportunities.”

To date, they have had more than 120 VARs join their program, with half in North America and half in Europe.

“With all the streaming audio and peer-to-peer users that are out on corporate networks today, there are a lot of non-business applications that are taking up network bandwidth,” says Dwight Barker, the VP of product management for the company. “We can help people with identifying that stuff, and as an example we can show a customer all the March Madness NBA championship games that are being watched over their network.”

The choice is yours: an open platform that VARs can layer additional functionality on top, or a custom series of training to help close the sale. Either way, forensics can now be used in wider situations by VARs.

Time to talk about tablet PCs

Tablet PCs have firmly established themselves in certain vertical markets where users don’t have offices or need to compute while standing. But as the tablet market matures, more sedentary office workers could benefit from using them, particularly when it comes to annotation and approval tasks. This presents opportunities for solution providers to spread the message about tablets.

In my story for eWeek’s Channel Insider this week, I talk about what the channel can do to help promote tablets as a solution for their customers.

eWeek: Online backup strategies for the channel

As more small businesses expand, they need to make sure their data is protected in case of disaster, theft, or unintentional user error. A number of online backup companies have entered this market, and some even have well developed channel programs and begun recruiting VARs. Companies like Asigra, Zmanda, LogMeIn, StorageGuardian, Vembu Technologies and Intronis are leading the way.

There are three important issues for VARs to consider before selecting their backup partner. First, how much data is going across the Internet and how long will the initial backups take? In certain cases, sending a great deal of data over the Internet could take days to backup several tens of gigabytes. It might be better to make image copies locally and then do incremental backups across the Internet – or upgrade a client’s Internet bandwidth.

“The sweet spot is someone who has less than 4TB of data because of the high cost of large amounts of additional bandwidth,” says John Leek, who is the director of technology for NetStandard in Kansas City, Mo. “Any more than that and you will need more bandwidth to get the data backed up nightly.” Net Standard is a managed services provider and outsourced data center that also sells its own Asigra-based backup solution called Data Safe. They have more than 60 TB of protected storage under management currently.

Todd Wahl, with Technology Force, Inc. of Norcross Geo. resells LogMeIn’s backup services. He cautions VARs to understand how much data is being protected. “When you have a large amount of data, you can be waiting days or weeks to get it restored.”

Second, who owns the storage servers, how will the data be stored on them and where will they be located? What Wahl likes about LogMeIn is that he can own the storage repository, which offers more security to his customers. Other backup services, such as Elephant Drive or JungleDisk, make use of Amazon’s S3 storage repository. This gives them a low-cost means of providing protection, but they are also dependent on Amazon’s data centers to maintain these servers. This is all well and good until they go offline, as what happened earlier this year for more than a day.

Also important is how the customer data will be stored, preferably encrypted and compressed. “Our clients like our solution because they have regulatory requirements that require encrypted and offsite data storage,” says Leek.

Finally, is backup part of a general managed services offering or will the VAR be a specialized backup-only provider? There are pros and cons of both approaches: a general MSP can offer additional services and revenue opportunities, while a specialty backup provider can focus on this particular issue and develop deeper expertise that includes support for non-Windows clients as well as server-based data too. It really depends on the direction that the VAR wants to go towards. “The ideal VAR customer for us is someone that has a lot of managed services customers and is looking for something more reliable than tape, and has financial or medical vertical clients,” says Leek.

Vembu, based in Chennai, India, is “placing our betas on regional service providers to drive online backup adoption amongst SMBs,” says Lakshmanan Narayan, the co-founder of the company. “In our experience, SMBs looking at online backups are essentially buying peace of mind – their regular IT service provider is probably best placed (and trusted) to provide them this service.”

Wahl suggests that VARs offer additional services, such as the ability to create DVD copies or next-day delivery of a new hard disk with the data pre-installed.

Clearly, online data storage is a technology who’s time has come. “We have reached the point where online disk storage is cheaper than tape,” says Leek.

Server repurposing comes to the channel

My latest tech files column for eWeek’s Strategic Partner edition talks about how the concept of server repurposing is extending virtualization and describes ways that VARs should take a closer look at this technology. The idea is to take the parts of a server such as its IP address, its disk storage, and its associated applications, and make them virtual so that they can run on any machine in a data center and aren’t tied to a particular piece of hardware. When an enterprise needs more processing power for particular applications, you can bring up a new server in a matter of minutes and have it satisfy this demand.

You can read the full version here.