IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

2017 ChannelPro SMB All-Stars

Plenty of folks have been talking about blockchain—the radically transparent public ledger used to ensure the integrity of Bitcoin transactions—as a technology with potential uses in realms far beyond digital currencies. Acronis is one of the first vendors to turn that talk into action. The BDR vendor, whose U.S. headquarters are in Burlington, Mass., began adding a blockchain-based feature called Acronis Notary to its backup products nearly a year ago, in fact. The system, which uses publicly recorded hash values to help businesses verify that their protected data hasn’t been tampered with, is an innovation likely to become commonplace in competing solutions too—later ...

There are two good reasons to include chipmaker AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., on this year’s All-Stars list, both of them related to the Ryzen family of PC and server processors the company rolled out this year: 1) Ryzen is packed with impressive features like neural network-based technologies that automatically adapt to changing application requirements and “Smart Prefetch” algorithms that accelerate performance by retrieving data likely to be needed shortly in advance; and 2) By giving longtime market leader Intel Corp. some genuine competition atop the processing pyramid, AMD has brought a little healthy competition back to a market badly in need of it.

This Kirkland, Wash.-based vendor significantly upgraded its MSPComplete solution not once but twice this year, and essentially invented a whole new product category in the process. The most efficient MSPs, BitTitan believes, do the same things in the same proven ways every time. MSPComplete’s “runbook” technology helps channel pros document those time- and money-saving workflows, automate the steps that don’t require human intervention, and orchestrate everything else in a manner that ensures technicians always follow standardized best practices. It’s a concept so simple yet powerful that documentation vendors are now scrambling to add it to their own products as well.

This one-time small business backup vendor, headquartered in Boston, has been making a bold play for midmarket leadership since 2016, when it purchased EVault, a maker of BDR solutions for midsize businesses, from fellow All-Star Seagate (see below). This year, it added failover and data migration capabilities to its arsenal by acquiring DoubleTake Software, and rolled that company’s partner program, EVault’s, and its own into a single, fully integrated offering that’s made Carbonite significantly easier for channel pros to do business with and provided them additional routes into new product categories.

Ransomware will do over $5 billion of damage in the U.S. this year, according to researcher Cybersecurity Ventures. Yet it and other exploits increasingly lurk in places traditional signature-based security solutions can’t see. Next-generation technologies offer much-needed protection, but have been difficult for managed service providers to price and deliver. Enter Cumming, Ga.-based CARVIR, which offers signatureless security software from SentinelOne, of Mountain View, Calif., in subscription-priced packages tailored to the MSP channel. The new offerings have made next-generation security easier for channel pros to consume at precisely the moment their customers most need next-generation security.

Like the weather, the shortage of qualified technical talent is one of those problems that everyone talks about, but no one does anything about. Except, that is, CompTIA, of Downers Grove, Ill., which has been pouring serious time and money into an ongoing effort to close the so-called IT “skills gap” through ventures like its January acquisition of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, a membership group for IT managers from outside the channel. CompTIA hopes to use it as the launching pad for a new generation of technicians ready, willing, and able to manage today’s increasingly complex IT infrastructures.

They do keep busy at this company’s Norwalk, Conn.-based headquarters, don’t they? In January, Datto took a bold step toward reinventing itself as a provider of business continuity solutions, while simultaneously reinventing the meaning of “business continuity,” by launching its simple yet powerful Datto Networking line. In June, it added a similarly intuitive managed power solution. And in October it made the bombshell announcement that it would be merging with Autotask Corp., of East Greenbush, N.Y., to form a managed services goliath with an all but end-to-end product portfolio. We can’t wait to see how, or if, Datto tops that in 2018.

Make no mistake, this Denver-based vendor is absolutely determined to seize pole position in the data protection market. For evidence, one need only look at its appointment of ex-ConnectWise President and COO Matt Nachtrab as CEO, his hiring of former ConnectWise co-worker Adam Slutskin as chief revenue officer, and most especially eFolder’s merging with Axcient Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based maker of disaster recovery-as-a-service offerings for midsize businesses. Moves like those have made eFolder one of the most consistently interesting—and unpredictable—vendors to cover this year.

You’ve got to love a vendor that zigs where others zag. Just when Apple is betting big on a new iPhone with a $1,000 price tag, Chinese hardware maker Huawei, which operates out of Plano, Texas, and Cupertino, Calif., here in the U.S., starts rolling out high-quality unlocked smartphones like the Mate 9, which integrates with Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, at price points below $500. Other manufacturers, we strongly suspect, will soon be forced to follow that disruptive move with feature-packed, budget-priced offerings of their own.

All of the big distributors have cloud computing marketplaces. Only Irvine, Calif.-based Ingram Micro has a cloud computing platform designed to help resellers purchase, provision, support, and bill for customized solutions combining multiple SaaS applications, while giving makers of SaaS applications easy, self-service ways to get in on that action. The total package, along with an associated push into infrastructure as a service, puts Ingram out in front on cloud among its peers in the “pick, pack, and ship” set.

We could tell you that it was cool new products that landed Lenovo on this year’s All-Stars list, or perhaps the data center partner program it launched in April, which is built around clear-cut revenue targets and offers generous benefits. In truth, though, we chose to honor the hardware maker, whose U.S. headquarters are in Morrisville, N.C., because 2017 is the 25th anniversary of the ThinkPad product line that Lenovo bought from IBM in 2004. Fans of the iconic brand had reason to worry about its fate back then, but devices like the updated X1 Carbon notebook, X1 Yoga 2-in-1, and X1 tablet Lenovo rolled out this year are but the latest illustrations of how consistently the company has done right through the years by the ThinkPad name.

Let’s face it, when it comes to hardware design, PCs and monitors tend to get most of the glory. All the more reason, then, to include Logitech, whose Americas HQ is in Newark, Calif., among this year’s All-Stars. With far too little fanfare, the keyboard and pointing device manufacturer has been steadily shipping products as intelligently conceived as they are visually striking, from the MX Master 2 (near mousing perfection) to the MX Ergo (a much-needed update to thumb trackballs), to the Craft wireless keyboard (a potentially category-defining device equipped with a “creative input dial”). All three offerings are proof positive that big achievements don’t always come with big price tags.

In an extraordinary, and extraordinarily rare, display of humility by one of the biggest vendors in IT, Microsoft confessed its past sins as a partner at its Inspire partner conference this summer and then outlined dramatic steps aimed at correcting them: The creation of a consolidated, company-wide partner group; the launch of a co-sales program that pays Microsoft account managers commissions for helping makers of Azure-based solutions close deals; and the re-alignment of Microsoft’s salesforce and partner organization to drive sales of industry-specific solutions. Make no mistake, these are the most sweeping changes Microsoft has made to its channel strategy in many, many years.

We’ve lost count of how times our tired fingers have typed the word “first” in relation to something new from this San Jose, Calif.-based maker of networking and storage products. From the first multigigabit switches with five dynamically assigned speeds, to the first 1U NAS unit with 12 bays, to the first networking devices to offer anytime, anywhere, plug-and-play management via a free mobile app, NETGEAR has been blazing trails all year long. We’re also big fans of the ingenious solution the company developed in partnership with Arcus Global Inc. that allows a single NETGEAR ReadyNAS device to serve as a storage repository for both business data and video surveillance footage.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and Razer, a Taiwanese OEM with U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, has given the world much to behold this year. Notable examples of the company’s eye-catching, mind-bending designs include the Lancehead and Atheris gaming mice, the BlackWidow TE Chroma V2 mechanical keyboard, and the Blade Pro gaming notebook. To be totally honest though, we probably would have given Razer All-Star status based on one new product alone: the triple-display Project Valerie (pictured), a gaming laptop so indisputably sick that even nongamers want one.

Integrating an acquisition as big as Avnet Technology Solutions (ATS) is a major undertaking. Yet Clearwater, Fla.-based Tech Data, which bought ATS from Avnet Inc., of Phoenix, in a $2.6 billion transaction that closed this February, has been pulling it off with unusual speed and skill. As a result, one-time product peddlers looking to prosper despite commoditization from cloud computing have enjoyed faster access to specialized solutions expertise, even as established solution providers have gained rapid access to an expanded inventory of hardware and software products.

In 2016, this unconventional collection of independently owned, cooperatively run MSPs was notable mostly for its big plans. This year it began producing real results. From leveraging its mass buying power to get big, fast product roadmap changes out of IT management software maker Kaseya Ltd., to opening an enterprise-grade 24/7 help desk, to rolling out the nucleus of a national salesforce and laying the foundation of a security operations center, The 20 has begun bringing one of the most ambitious, potentially market-shaking visions in the SMB channel to life.

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