IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

2020 ChannelPro SMB All-Stars

VENDORS AND DISTRIBUTORS set themselves apart with noteworthy product launches, partner programs, and other initiatives every year. Perhaps never before in history, however, have such stellar performances been more needed or worthy of appreciation. With that extra significance in mind, here’s ChannelPro’s list of companies responsible for truly All-Star actions in the last 12 months. 

Where They Come From
The 2020 ChannelPro All-Stars were selected by ChannelPro’s editors 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.

ChannelPro SMB All-Star

BDR is the last line of defense against ransomware, and no one knows it better than ransomware coders, who often try to tamper with backups in their attacks. Axcient’s AirGap technology, a new addition this year to its X360 business availability suite, foils that move by requiring extra validation of commands to delete or change backup files and by storing “backups of backups” on a segregated off-site network that cybercriminals can’t see or access. The result is a sort of extra-last line of defense that makes victimizing vulnerable end users significantly harder.

Pandemics, you may have noticed, can be a bit of a distraction, but CompTIA didn’t let COVID-19 prevent it from acting decisively on two of the most urgent issues facing our industry—and nation—today. First, the IT community took over the cybersecurity information sharing and analysis organization (ISAO) originally launched by ConnectWise and began establishing it as a vital clearinghouse of threat data. Then it suspended all of its usual tech industry government lobbying and redirected the resources that freed up into efforts aimed at furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion in IT and beyond. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what leadership looks like.

For several years now, D&H has been calling out esports as a major emerging opportunity. Maybe the rest of us should pay more attention. After all, from radio to television to computers, D&H has a century-plus history of spotting huge markets early, and PwC expects global spending on esports gear and services to rise at an 18.3% CAGR through 2023 to nearly $1.8 billion. This year, D&H further cemented its place at the vanguard of esports leadership by launching the industry’s first certification program for esports solution providers. The time may not be far off when that credential, or another like it, is something few resellers can afford to be without.

Introducing a 17-inch laptop smaller by surface area than 48% of 15-inch products would be a pretty impressive accomplishment for most hardware makers. For Dell, whose new XPS 17 notebook debuted in May, it almost felt like same old, same old. The company has been doing trailblazing work building big displays into compact, lightweight frames since 2012, when the first XPS 13 and its virtually borderless “infinity display” arrived. These days, plenty of other manufacturers tout notebooks with nearly bezel-free panels, but the XPS 17 shows once again that Dell remains the name to beat in this category.

Businesses today want solutions, not products, from their IT partners. Most hardware makers, however, remain stubbornly focused on raw unit sales when evaluating partners. HP’s totally rebuilt global partner program, named Amplify, is a rare and progressive exception to this rule. Officially in effect beginning this month, Amplify rewards partners for forging strategic customer relationships built around outcome-oriented solutions, rather than sales revenue alone. We expect it to set the model for what hardware vendor partner programs look like in a new age of computing.

As it happens, however, HP’s place among this year’s All-Stars has been secure since March, when it introduced the Neverstop Laser family of printers for home offices and “micro-businesses.” Designed to require fresh toner less often than competing products, the new devices feature an affordably refillable toner tank rather than expensive toner cartridges. The upshot is an offering that brings the convenience and savings long provided by tank-based inkjet printers to the laser printer world for the first time.

Other companies offer ransomware detection software. Other vendors sell vulnerability-spotting services too. But how many vendors offer such products for free? That’s essentially what Huntress Labs did this year when it provided new anti-ransomware and external reconnaissance solutions to existing users of its “persistent foothold” security service at no additional cost. And that’s just the beginning, according to Huntress, which says this year’s launches are the first manifestation of bold, long-term plans to continue adding services to its portfolio in response to evolving threats without raising prices.

Dell’s XPS 17 isn’t the only 17-inch laptop introduced in the last year with eye-popping specs. The LG Gram for Business 17 fits that mold as well. The featherweight clamshell, which packs a roomy, impressively high-resolution display into a slender yet durably constructed case, weighs in at a scarcely believable 2.98 pounds. That’s less than many 15.6-inch models, and makes toting around a notebook with way more screen space than a typical “thin and light” device a practical option for road warriors.

We’re giving Microsoft its own award, rather than asking them to share one with Zoom, but quite frankly we were tempted to give them each two out of sheer gratitude for what they pulled off this year when the coronavirus forced millions of people to begin working from home all at once. Microsoft, which had 20 million active Teams users worldwide a year ago, found itself supporting 115 million by October. The success and speed with which Microsoft scaled up to meet surging demand, and kept all of us productive as a result, helped prevent an economic downturn from becoming an economic catastrophe.

Relying on home networks never meant for business-grade applications is a headache for remote workers made worse by sharing those connections with everyone else in a crowded household. Enter Ooma Connect and Ooma Wi-Fi, two additions to VoIP provider Ooma’s portfolio that when used together allow channel pros to give work-from-home users an affordable, dedicated LTE network of their own—free from the performance slowdowns and security dangers produced by their Netflix-watching, game-playing kids. Business owners get greater productivity and reduced risk. Their IT provider gets a new recurring revenue stream.

MSPs have long relied on this Kaseya unit’s Network Detective solution to assess the security of SMB office environments, but most of those offices have been abandoned this year. Without missing a beat, RapidFire Tools shipped its new Network Detective Microsoft Cloud Assessment Module and Network Detective Work from Home Solution. The former product identifies and assesses all of the now-indispensable cloud services in a customer’s Azure Active Directory. The latter produces report cards with letter-grade risk scores on the often personally owned PCs that employees use to connect with cloud services from home. Together, the two systems give channel pros powerful tools for protecting clients impacted by the coronavirus pandemic precisely when such tools are most needed.

Zero-touch network provisioning was a time- and money-saver for channel pros before COVID-19. These days, it could potentially be a lifesaver too. That’s what makes SonicWall’s SD-Branch solution such a timely arrival. The bundled combination of firewalls, wireless access points, and switches, all of which share single-pane-of-glass management and touch-free configuration, lets channel pros deploy a complete, secure Wi-Fi infrastructure at branch sites and other locations without dispatching technicians to potentially risky customer offices.

All the big distributors and most of the industry’s vendors have enablement programs that provide sales, marketing, and training advice. The Tech Data Coaches program stands apart from such offerings, however, by delivering more personalized instruction on a wider range of topics. The innovative venture offers free advice on everything from security and cloud computing to lead generation and financial management from volunteer Tech Data employees who work in those fields. That people-helping-people approach turns what might otherwise be just another partner resource into something with more of the community spirit the SMB channel is known for. 

Give hackers credit for one thing, anyway. They do know how to innovate. When email security solutions grew increasingly effective at reading phishing messages for hidden threats, the bad guys began replacing plain text in their attacks with infected pictures of the exact same words. Vade Secure’s Computer Vision Engine foils that technique by using artificial intelligence to “see” threats embedded in text-based images, as well as logos and QR codes, much as a well-trained human eye might. Unlike less sophisticated vision engines, moreover, Vade’s technology focuses on the image itself rather than its underlying code, which can be subtly altered to evade signature-based detection mechanisms.

Though it’s still known best for monitors and projectors, ViewSonic has been reinventing itself for some five years now as a supplier of solutions for communication, collaboration, digital signage, and other use cases. Two examples of where that journey has led ViewSonic landed the company among this year’s All-Stars: a re-tooled version of its Finch Club partner program better aligned with those expanded ambitions and the recent launch of myViewBoard Classroom, a browser-based remote learning application that turns ViewSonic’s myViewBoard digital whiteboard into a foundation for hybrid instruction models that combine in-person classes with distance learning.

We’re giving Zoom its own award, rather than asking them to share one with Microsoft, but quite frankly we were tempted to give them each two out of sheer gratitude for what they pulled off this year when the coronavirus forced millions of people to begin working from home all at once. Zoom added more users in the first three months of 2020 than in all of 2019. The success and speed with which Zoom scaled up to meet surging demand, and kept all of us productive as a result, helped prevent an economic downturn from becoming an economic catastrophe.

ChannelPro SMB Not for Profit All-Star

Launched as an online discussion group in 2014, RIoT is a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the Internet of Things through a startup accelerator, R&D lab, educational programs, and more. When the coronavirus struck early this year, the organization sprang into action with Mission-R, a “moonshot initiative” aimed at nurturing innovative makers of IoT products that could help state and local authorities combat the virus and its economic effects.

Among the offerings to receive funding through the program was one that uses natural language processing to help governments pull actionable trend insights from a flood of inbound virus-related emails, and another that automates the essential work performed by contact tracing teams. By getting solutions like those off the drawing board and into action sooner, RIoT gave a much-needed boost to public and economic health at a time when both were in grave peril. 

ChannelPro SMB All-Star Honoree

The sudden imposition of stay-at home orders this spring in response to COVID-19 triggered a barely conceivable 31.4% plunge in GDP, on an annualized basis, in the second quarter of the year. Vendors and distributors responded almost immediately with everything from online classes in work-from-home computing to free or discounted licenses and billions of dollars of short-term financial assistance. Needless to say, self-interest played a role alongside altruism for those measures, but their speed and scale helped more than a few IT providers successfully navigate unprecedented times.

So why hasn’t ChannelPro awarded an All-Star trophy to any of the vendors that offered pandemic assistance to their partners this year? Because there are simply too many of them to recognize. We salute their collective efforts instead, and thank them for coming to the aid of a struggling, blindsided channel with such energy.

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