IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

2015 SMB All-Stars

Where They Come From
The 2015 ChannelPro SMB All-Stars were selected by the editors of ChannelPro-SMB, based on their assessment of the year’s biggest vendor-related storylines, as well as input from a variety of outside experts and channel partners. The All-Stars list varies in size annually, and has neither a minimum nor maximum length.

The year 2015 saw big-time changes for this Burlington, Mass.-based BDR leader. On the technology side, Acronis added support for Mac OS X clients and enhanced support for Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange to its Backup Cloud product, introduced a new file sync and share solution called Acronis Files Cloud, announced global availability of its Acronis Disaster Recovery Service, and wrapped all of those solutions together in the comprehensive new Acronis Data Protection Platform. On the channel side, the company overhauled its global partner program, which now features three membership tiers, stronger sales rewards, and a deeper pool of sales and marketing resources.

With archrival ConnectWise clearly in its sights, Autotask is making an aggressive and impressive foray beyond its familiar base in PSA software. Late last year, the East Greenbush, N.Y.-based company released its Endpoint Management system, an RMM solution based on the CentraStage software it acquired in September 2014. Another major acquisition, this time of file sync and share vendor Soonr, followed this summer. President and CEO Mark Cattini has indicated that there will be more purchases in Autotask’s future, providing additional capabilities for Autotask partners.

Carbonite’s consumer backup offering, which continues to grow at double-digit rates, may be hot, but its younger SMB backup business is smokin’ hot. Indeed, SMB bookings jumped 43 percent on a year-over-year basis in the Boston-based company’s second quarter, the most recent as of press time. Earlier this summer, meanwhile, Carbonite issued a new release of MailStore Server, the email archiving solution it purchased last December, and began letting partners offer their clients free 30-day trials of Carbonite’s Server Pro Bundle, which adds server protection to the company’s better-known workstation coverage.

Software-defined networking, network function virtualization, and cloud computing are rapidly turning routers, switches, and other traditional networking devices into yesterday’s news, so network hardware kingpin Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., is pushing fast into more promising markets like data virtualization and cloud services—and bringing its partners along for the ride. Within the past year alone, Cisco has introduced seven new cloud-related service offerings, announced a new software partner program, and expanded its cloud and managed services partner program. It will be interesting to see just how much further Cisco redefines itself under the leadership of freshly seated CEO Chuck Robbins.

Norwalk, Conn.-based Datto’s flurry of offerings and enhancements this year included new support for Office 365 environments and Linux devices, the addition of enterprise file sync and share software from ownCloud Inc. to Datto’s SIRIS on-premises BDR appliances, and the introduction of a slick and intuitive new partner portal. “[They’re] completely dominating the playing field in terms of advanced backup, business continuity, and disaster recovery in one combination of device and service,” says Datto fan Josh Liberman, president of solution provider Net Sciences Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M.

Even more intriguing than the company’s recent BDR moves, however, is its entry into a completely new market with the launch of the Datto Networking Appliance, a remotely manageable “born in the cloud” router with automated 4G failover that’s designed for maximum simplicity and reliability.

Two years after going private, Dell continues to turn one-time skeptics among SMB partners into believers. The Round Rock, Texas-based hardware giant says it will invest $125 million in its channel this year alone, including $26 million worth of improvements to its deal registration system, quoting tools, and ProSupport customer service offering, among other partner program components. New products like the slick XPS 13 Ultrabook, with its groundbreaking bezel-less “infinity display,” prove that Dell hasn’t lost its chops in hardware design either.

Even before it officially came into existence on November 1, the post-split half of Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP that sells servers, storage, networking gear, and converged systems was already winning hearts and minds within the channel pro community. In August, HP Enterprise announced that it would eliminate all risk of deal poaching and channel friction by paying its salespeople a zero commission on SMB deals that don’t include a partner. A louder statement of commitment by the newly spun-off business to its SMB resellers is hard to imagine.

Not content to release one wave of power-sipping new processors this year, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel unveiled two, beginning with a batch of new Broadwell processors at the start of the year and continuing with the first of its efficient new Skylake processors in September. Intel’s January launch of the new Curie line of processors for wearable devices and more recent investments in both quantum computing and the OpenStack cloud platform show that it’s eyeing a variety of markets beyond its core PC processor business too.

Lenovo has been one of the SMB channel’s go-to PC vendors for years, and the company is well on its way to assuming a similarly central place in server sales as well. Since acquiring IBM’s x86 server business in 2014, Lenovo, whose U.S. headquarters are in Morrisville, N.C., has boosted the share of System X servers it sells via resellers from 50 percent to 70, and plans to grow that number even further going forward.

CEO Satya Nadella has this once-slow-footed IT leviathan in Redmond, Wash., on something of a roll. Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system had already been downloaded 75 million times as of September, its Office 365 collaboration suite wins 50,000 new SMB customers a month, and interesting new apps like the Sway presentation system and Send email system are showing up constantly, along with versions of Microsoft’s Office solutions for iOS and Android devices. Incredibly, software-oriented Microsoft even appears to have taught device-oriented Apple a thing or two about hardware design: After years of stubbornly calling them unnecessary, Apple equipped its new iPad Pro with both a stylus and detachable keyboard, just like Microsoft’s Surface tablets.

Perhaps best of all from a channel perspective, Microsoft’s newly expanded Cloud Solution Provider program allows partners to bundle and bill customers for a wider array of online solutions than ever. “I believe with the CSP program Microsoft has once again ascertained its position as one of, if not the, strongest through-partner vendors in our space,” says Jamison West, CEO of Seattle-based MSP Arterian.

From the Tegra X1 “superchip” to the more recent and even speedier GTX Titan X, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia has been introducing super-fast, super-efficient gaming processors based on the company’s breakthrough Maxwell GPU architecture all year long. It’s probably just a matter of time before that same combination of high performance and low power consumption makes its way into the rest of Nvidia’s products too. The Android TV set-top box Nvidia launched back in May is an impressive addition to the Shield line of gaming devices as well.

Introduced in August and specifically designed for SMBs, ShoreTel Connect is the first unified communications platform that companies can run on-site, online, or both, putting channel pros and their customers in complete control of how and where they deploy UC solutions and how rapidly—if at all—they migrate their UC environments into the cloud. Just in case that wasn’t enough, ShoreTel dramatically simplified its partner program, boosted financial incentives for deal registration by 50 percent, and added new marketing development funds for cloud-related opportunities.

A leader in cloud security and governance, Skyhigh Networks of Campbell, Calif., helps companies find and eliminate unauthorized “shadow IT” deployments. “I’ve always believed that you can’t secure what you don’t acknowledge, and Skyhigh Networks’ technology helps bring that challenge to light,” says Kevin Beaver, principal information security consultant at Principle Logic LLC of Atlanta. Beaver also admires Skyhigh’s willingness to share insights from its vast trove of cloud usage data in research reports, including the one issued in July that provided the tech industry’s first overview of Office 365 adoption and risk statistics.

Three big moves landed LogicNow, of Dundee, Scotland, on our All-Stars list for 2015. First, it integrated its MAX MailProtection and MAX MailArchive solutions with its MAX RemoteManagement platform, giving MSPs the centralized control over those programs they’ve long coveted. Second, it rolled out an innovative new machine learning feature called LOGICcards that draws on billions of data points from the millions of devices LogicNow partners support to provide advance warning of potential device failures and security threats. And third, it made MAX Backup the first BDR product on the market with per-device rather than usage-based pricing, giving resellers a more predictable basis for forecasting costs and controlling margins.

Michael Klein, president of Computer Directions Inc., a solution provider in Albertson, N.Y., on Long Island, likes the way LogicNow treats its partners too. “Unlike many cloud firms, they do not hide behind a website,” he says. “They have people willing to help and have great customer service.”

It was a busy summer for Draper, Utah-based StorageCraft. In June, the popular BDR vendor introduced a professional services program that channel pros can tap into when facing especially thorny deployment and management challenges. Less than a month later the company launched an updated version of its ShadowProtect SPX solution (which debuted just a short while earlier in April) that supports both Windows and Linux devices through one interface. And some six weeks after that came word of a new tiered pricing model for the company’s StorageCraft Cloud Services offering that lets partners flexibly match the services they buy to a given client’s needs and budget.

Long a provider of advanced consulting services to the SMB channel, Third Tier introduced its first product offering this spring, and it’s a solution every admirer of Microsoft’s gone-but-not-forgotten Small Business Server should take a look at—especially if they’re leery of sharing clients and profits with infrastructure-as-a-service providers. Called Be the Cloud, it’s a heavily virtualized cloud-in-a-box solution that lets channel pros deliver a complete SBS-like experience to any end-user device via their very own in-house public cloud, resulting in higher profits and greater customer stickiness than offerings involving third-party hosting providers.

Three words summarize what made this Bellevue, Neb.-based software vendor a 2015 All-Star: integration, integration, integration. Thanks to a slew of agreements inked over the last year, Tigerpaw’s flagship PSA solution now offers advanced connectivity with software from RMM providers AVG, LabTech, and Servoyant; business intelligence vendor BrightGauge; and outsourced help desk supplier GMS Live Expert; plus the ability to import configuration, pricing, and quoting data directly from the catalog of value-added distributor Jenne Inc. Just for good measure, the company also launched a new version of its mobile app featuring CRM functionality, as well as a revamped partner training portal.

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