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Parallels Overhauls Platform, Launches APS 2.0 and Cloud Storage

LAS VEGAS -- Parallels on Tuesday unveiled an overhaul of its channel-focused platform for delivering cloud-based services to SMB customers. Highlights include a framework to enable single sign-on across third-party Web services and a new cloud storage capability designed to improve hosters' efficiency.

Parallels CEO Birger Steen announced the host of new features before 1,100 attendees at the seventh annual Parallels Summit in Las Vegas, where he earlier made an impassioned pitch for the continuing relevance of the channel for reaching SMBs even as megavendors increase their direct sales efforts in the cloud.

One of Parallels' most interesting technologies is the Application Packaging Standard (APS), a framework that allows Parallels' service provider customers/partners access to about 400 cloud-based services that they can in turn offer to their end user customers. Cloud services offered through the platform include Microsoft staples such as Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, Google Business Apps, Symantec services and hundreds of other commercial and open source products.

The company on Tuesday unveiled APS 2.0, which has the design goal of making the packaged applications aware of one another and simplify the process of setting up and integrating the services.

Explaining the reasoning behind creating the platform, Steen said, "As a service provider trying to bring simplicity to your end customer, you have ended up selling a bundle. But consumption of the bundle has not been significantly better than if the customer had gone out and bought the services from individual providers. That's about to change."

Leading the effort to develop APS 2.0 was Michael Toutonghi, Parallels CTO and formerly one of Microsoft's 22 Technical Fellows. Toutonghi walked attendees on Tuesday through a demo of the changes, which include the ability to support single sign-on for customers across cloud services in the bundle, a shared service bus of APS 2.0 that can drastically reduce the customer set-up steps and time for cloud services, and the ability of service providers to use HTML5 to customize the interface.

As one example, Toutonghi showed how a service provider using APS 2.0 could almost instantly add an Ecwid online store to a customer's existing WordPress Web site.

Another early adopter of the APS framework is Symantec, which already has an APS 2.0-ready cloud service. In an appearance on the Parallels stage, Stephen Banbury, Symantec vice president of worldwide channel and alliance marketing, said of APS 2.0, "I think it's a real breakthrough in the cloud service delivery space."

As more cloud services get wrapped into the new framework, the intention is that they will be able to share data -- such as a CRM cloud service accessing an Exchange contact list or calendar.

Josh Beil, director of service provider marketing at Parallels, said that some of Parallels' high-profile cloud services, such as Symantec's, already support APS 2.0, but the process of porting services to APS 2.0 will take time.

"This time next year at the next summit, we expect to be reporting significant progress around the adoption of some of the more well-known applications in the catalog right now being up to the 2.0 standard," Beil said.

Also Tuesday, Parallels took an aggressive step into storage software for hosters. Parallels calls the technology Parallels Cloud Storage and it is packaged in a new product called Parallels Cloud Server, which will replace Parallels' existing products, Virtuozzo Containers and Bare Metal Server.

With Parallels Cloud Storage, a hoster's storage physically remains attached to the server, but Parallels' software virtually pools the storage into a local storage cloud. It can use standard disk-attached storage or work with storage area networks (SAN) or other types of storage.

"It really gives you direct attached storage prices at SAN-like performance and reliability," Steen said.

One early adopter is ServInt, a managed hosting services provider and long-time Parallels customer. On stage, ServInt COO Christian Dawson said the company has been beta testing Parallels Storage Cloud technology.

"Parallels Cloud Storage is the answer for ServInt for a number of different reasons," said Dawson, citing reduced reliance on hardware product lifecycles, flexibility and the ability to get greater usage out of existing storage capacity.

Meanwhile, during a pre-conference session with journalists on Monday, Steen argued that despite the massive involvement in cloud by megavendors such as Microsoft, Google, Salesforce and Amazon going direct to customers, the experience of the last few years is showing that the channel is as important as ever in reaching small and medium-sized businesses.

"We just don't believe that these guys are going to eat 100 percent of everybody's lunch," said Steen, whose company partners with Microsoft and Google to deliver some of their cloud services through APS.

"We consistently and categorically disagree" with the idea that the big players would crowd the channel out, Steen said. "The reason that there's been an ecosystem is not that you can't be big. The reason that you have this ecosystem in IT and telecom is that SMBs are so different. We think this ecosystem is going to continue to exist."

Steen said that Parallels saw substantial growth in participation in its partner program both among small hosters and among huge systems integrators and telecoms in 2012.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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