Rackspace Doubles Down on Microsoft Competencies

Hosting and managed cloud services provider Rackspace is doubling down on its Microsoft commitments, at least in terms of earning Microsoft competencies.

Rackspace announced Thursday that it went from five Microsoft competencies a year ago to 10 competencies now.

Rackspace renewed gold competencies in Cloud Platform, Cloud Productivity, Collaboration and Content, Hosting, and Small and Mid-Market Cloud Solutions. The San Antonio, Texas-based provider added gold competencies in Application Development and Data Center and silver competencies in Data Analytics, Data Platform and Messaging.

The company also touted individual Microsoft certifications by its employees, referred to officially by the company as "Rackers" -- 1,000 technical certifications and 800 sales and licensing certifications. Without providing specifics, a spokesperson said the individual certifications marked a "significant increase" from 2015 to 2016.

The investment in technical expertise and competencies comes during a time that Rackspace has been undergoing major changes as a company. The company went private in a $4.3 billion deal that closed in November.

At the same time, Rackspace has been aggressively expanding from its traditional hosting business to add a substantial practice involving providing managed services for public clouds and hybrid clouds.

For what would be Rackspace's final public earnings release last August, CEO Taylor Rhodes said the company was providing managed services for nearly 600 customers on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft cloud services and OpenStack. "Demand is scaling rapidly for the expertise and managed services that we provide to businesses that use AWS, the Microsoft cloud and our OpenStack private cloud," Rhodes said at the time.

Although AWS has the bigger share of the total cloud platform market, Rackspace's emphasis so far has been heavier on the Microsoft side, which befits its 15-year partnership with Microsoft as a major hosting provider. The five-time Microsoft Partner of the Year Award winner's Microsoft technology products and services include Fanatical Support for Microsoft Azure, Rackspace Private Cloud powered by Microsoft Cloud Platform, Fanatical Support for Office 365 and Rackspace Support for Microsoft SQL Server.

That said, the company is rapidly building up its AWS expertise in parallel. The Rackspace Web site currently claims more than 700 individual AWS technical certifications, up from 500 in November and 300 in July.

While Rackspace is a major Microsoft partner in its own right, the company serves as an intermediary between Microsoft and a lot of other Microsoft partners, as well. Rackspace has referral and reseller programs and stepped up within the Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program last July from being a marquee Tier-1 CSP to becoming a Tier-2 CSP, a distribution role that allows companies in the Rackspace Partner Network to resell Office 365 and Azure.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 16, 2017 at 10:44 AM0 comments

Tech Partnerships Bolster Nintex Workflow Cloud

During its annual customer and partner conference this week, workflow and content automation platform vendor Nintex unveiled extended relationships with six key technology partners.

"Nintex is pleased to recognize our expanded partnerships with Adobe, Box, DocuSign, Dropbox, Microsoft and Salesforce -- all technology innovators driving digital transformation," said Nintex CEO John Burton in a statement.

RCP contacted Nintex via e-mail to get more information about what's new for the Nintex Workflow Cloud with each partnership. Here's what Burton had to say:

  • Adobe/DocuSign: "[The] relationships are extending beyond Salesforce-based document production with e-signatures to additional platforms such as Office 365 through connections to Nintex Workflow Cloud."

  • Box/Dropbox: "New actions within Nintex Workflow Cloud are designed to automatically integrate with Box and/or Dropbox. An event in either system can trigger workflow action in Nintex Workflow Cloud."

  • Salesforce: "[The] relationship is extending beyond our initial work in document generation (AppExchange: Nintex Drawloop) to the remainder of our product suite thanks to Nintex Workflow Cloud."

  • Microsoft: "[The] relationship is extending beyond SharePoint and Office 365 to Azure. Nintex Workflow Cloud is built on Azure which also extends workflows running in Azure."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 15, 2017 at 2:56 PM0 comments

Struggling To Navigate IBM PartnerWorld? Turn to Watson

When it comes to partnering with a tech giant like IBM, the options and programs can be overwhelming.

Which is why it makes sense that when IBM is trying to nudge its partners into the "cognitive era," the company would turn to Watson, its question-answering computer system.

The company on Tuesday announced a new Watson-based support tool, which is voice- and text-activated, on the portal for PartnerWorld, the IBM partner program. The announcement came as part of the 2017 PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.

"To help Business Partners quickly find information related to the PartnerWorld program structure, Competencies, program levels, incentives contracts and more, the company has developed IBM PartnerWorld Advisor," IBM said in a statement. "Building PartnerWorld support with Watson technology is another example of IBM's focus on simplification and is geared toward providing Business Partners with all the resources they need to do business with IBM."

There's a lot for Watson to help partners with, even those who have been working with IBM for a long time. IBM launched a redesigned, competency-based PartnerWorld on Jan. 1. Many partners have already hit the new tiers -- 5,000 are Silver, 2,500 are Gold and 75 are Platinum -- but many more are trying to find their way back into IBM's new partner structure. It's complex with 40 competencies at the start and more on the way in Q2.

"We've expanded and redesigned the PartnerWorld program to guide Business Partners of all types and models in developing capabilities aligned to our cognitive solutions and cloud platform strategy to deliver high client value," said Marc Dupaquier, general manager for IBM Global Business Partners, in a statement.

Partners will see changes at the top and bottom of the program -- from deep enterprise and ISV engagement to SMB volume. IBM this week announced new programs and initiatives to engage more deeply with ISVs developing for the IBM Bluemix cloud platform, as well as enhanced software incentives coming in April for partners conducting high-value activity, such as autonomous selling or bringing business in the commercial segment. In April, an IBM Express Start offering is supposed to provide a faster onboarding process for new partners to resell entry-level products. In the hybrid cloud arena, IBM and VMware are also expanding their partnership to allow IBM partners to more easily sell VMware Cloud Foundation and other VMware cloud services within IBM solutions.

It's a lot of change at a lot of levels that a well-implemented Watson-based tool could help new and longtime partners navigate. The question that only repeated partner trials can answer is whether IBM's PartnerWorld Advisor is guru or gimmick.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 14, 2017 at 3:58 PM0 comments

Microsoft Says Access Problems with the Partner Center Fixed

Access problems with Microsoft's online partner resources, noted by several partners Tuesday morning, have been fixed, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

"Some partners may have experienced difficulties accessing the Microsoft Partner Center, and this has been fully resolved," the spokesperson said in an e-mail exchange. The spokesperson declined to respond to follow-up questions about what caused the problems, which Microsoft resources were affected or how long any problems lasted.

Several partners Tweeted about problems with the Partner Center around 9 a.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 14, 2017 at 10:53 AM0 comments

Microsoft's Smith Shines Spotlight on Cyberwar's Effect on Civilians

Brad Smith sometimes uses his perch as Microsoft president and chief legal officer to draw disparate strands of tech, security, privacy, law and international relations together to make a larger point about emerging realities in the world.

He was at it again Tuesday at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, advancing a novel argument about the way cyberwar shuffles the responsibilities of nations, citizens, companies and soldiers.

Here's an excerpt from the speech (emphasis mine):

Let's face it, cyberspace is the new battlefield. The world of potential war has migrated from land to sea to air and now cyberspace. But cyberspace is a different kind of space. Not only can we not find it in the physical world, but cyberspace is us.

For all of us in this room, it is us. Cyberspace is owned and operated by the private sector. It is private property. Whether it's submarine cables or datacenters or servers or laptops or smartphones, it is a different kind of battlefield than the world has seen before. And that puts us in a different position, it puts you in a different position, because when it comes to these attacks in cyberspace, we not only are the plane of battle, we are the world's first responders.

Instead of nation state attacks being met by responses from other nation states, they are being met by us. And as we think about that change in the world, we should reflect upon one other, as well. It's a sobering thing to think about, but consider this: For over two-thirds of a century, the world's governments have been committed to protecting civilians in times of war. But when it comes to cyberattacks, nation state hacking has evolved into attacks on civilians in times of peace.

This is not the world that the Internet's inventors envisioned a quarter of a century ago, but it is the world that we inhabit today. And above all else, I think nation state attacks call on us as employees, as an industry, as private citizens to ask ourselves one fundamental question. What are we going to do?

The point about governments not protecting civilians in cyberwar is a bit overdone. Ask anyone who has both survived being shot and endured being pwnd to say which of the two experiences they'd prefer to go through again, and I think the answer would be pretty obvious. Or, maybe I should say, it is a bit overdone right now. The Stuxnet attacks made physical damage from a virtual attack a documented reality. Still, I suspect that should cyberattacks ever start actually killing or maiming civilians, nations will take a radically more aggressive stance on defending their citizens.

Smith's point about who is currently responsible for defense, though, is a solid one. It's possible to look at IT infrastructure through a lens that reveals that every person connected to the Internet has effectively been conscripted to stand guard at the nation's border. IT departments and security professionals are the first responders to international incidents, just as Smith describes.

Smith's attempt at a solution is what he calls a Digital Geneva Convention with six points. This slide from a related blog post on Tuesday lists the points:

[Click on image for larger view.] Source: Microsoft

While Smith's description of the new issues we face are largely spot on, five of those six points probably don't have much of a chance. Governments should and probably will beef up efforts on No. 2 (assist private sector efforts to detect, contain, respond to and recover from events). For the rest of the points, the fruits of digital warfare are too alluring to nation states. The costs appear very low compared to the catastrophic effects of kinetic warfare, and cyberweapons are more appealing to state actors due to their deniability.

This Digital Geneva Convention seems unlikely to prevail, but Smith has hit on an enormously important issue about the responsibilities of nation states to their citizens and to their private sectors as they engage in cyber operations against their enemies and allies. Shining a spotlight on the effect of digital warfare on every country's own population elevates an important element in policy deliberations.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 14, 2017 at 12:46 PM0 comments

Microsoft Azure Survey: Architects Are the Most Expensive Cloud Employees

Architects are the most expensive employee type for Microsoft Azure partners in most regions of the world, according to new Microsoft partner research.

Microsoft this month released details of a survey conducted in November of more than 1,100 Azure partners with active cloud practices worldwide.

The architect category was the most expensive cloud resource in every geography except for Canada and the Middle East/Africa (MEA), and architects were second in both of those geographies.

[Click on image for larger view.] Source: Microsoft

In the United States, the median cost of an architect was $125,000. The next closest categories were developers and sales/marketing employees, which both checked in at $100,000.

Sales and marketing was the most expensive employee type in Canada and in the MEA, according to the survey. In Canada, a sales/marketing resource was $90,000, while the median for an architect was $87,500. The difference wasn't that slight in MEA, where architects commanded about $30,000, while sales/marketing was at $45,850.

As for locating employees, respondents reported that referrals were the most important source. Seven out of 10 of the partners said they found employees through referrals. The next most popular method, according to the survey, was LinkedIn, with 59 percent identifying Microsoft's newly acquired social network as a key place to identify potential hires.

Microsoft's full 39-slide deck summarizing the survey findings is available here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 13, 2017 at 12:20 PM0 comments

Acronis Bundles Office 365 Backup into Acronis 12

Acronis is refreshing its comprehensive backup suite, Acronis Backup 12, with support for Microsoft Office 365 backups and some new VMware-related functionality.

The Office 365 backup is the main element of the new release and addresses a market opening that backup and recovery vendors have been scrambling over one another to fill. In fact, Acronis itself released a point solution addressing Office 365 backups in its Acronis Backup Cloud product in July as part of a cloud-first approach to product releases.

The new release brings the full power of the Acronis Backup solution for small businesses to Office 365, says Frank Jablonski, vice president of global product marketing and communications at Acronis.

"The key point here is that everything is being done from one solution for you," Jablonski says of the Acronis hybrid cloud architecture for managing and executing backups, synchronization and archiving on more than a dozen platforms, spanning most Microsoft technologies, some Linux, Macs, iOS and Android devices and several cloud providers. Bringing the technology into the Acronis Backup 12 solution means organizations can now manage their Office 365 backups to other clouds or to on-premise targets from the same Web-based console where they run all their other backup management tasks.

Functions that Acronis Backup 12 provides for Office 365 include the ability to back up e-mails, contacts, calendars, tasks and attachments; choose local or cloud backup targets; bring Office 365 files into compliance with organizational archiving policies; preview, browse and search Office 365 content; recover mailboxes to the original or an alternative location; and recover individual e-mails by delivering them as an e-mail.

Jablonski said heuristic, anti-ransomware protection will be added to the Office 365 backup capabilities later this half.

Also in the refresh of Acronis Backup 12, the company added support for VMware vSphere 6.5, among other VMware-related improvements.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 08, 2017 at 9:57 AM0 comments

ThreatTrack Breaks Out Partner Program for VIPRE Endpoint Security

ThreatTrack Security Inc. on Wednesday unveiled a new partner program specifically for those SMB partners representing its VIPRE endpoint security product. The VIPRE Partner Program has more aggressive margins, three partner tiers and new dedicated channel employees.

The VIPRE program represents a new channel program for Clearwater, Fla.-based ThreatTrack, which previously lumped its VIPRE-selling partners within an umbrella partner program that also covers higher-end advanced threat solutions for enterprise and federal government customers, according to the company.

At the beginning of this calendar year, ThreatTrack began an effort spearheaded by Chief Revenue Officer Jason Greenwood to expand its base of about 4,000 VIPRE-focused partners and to empower existing partners to increase their revenues within the SMB market.

A key enhancement is a major bump in partner discounts. Previously, VIPRE partners could get a base discount of 15 percent and an additional 12 points for deal registration. Under the program announced Wednesday, partners of any of the program tiers can get a 25 percent discount and can double that discount to 50 percent through qualified deal registration for opportunities of more than 50 seats.

"We've matched the industry's highest-rated endpoint security solution with one of the channel's most aggressive discount strategies and profit-accelerating programs to give our partners a tremendous advantage in the market," Greenwood said in a statement.

The three tiers of the VIPRE program are Authorized, Certified and Expert. Partners registered at the Authorized level gain access to self-service materials. Partners selling at least $20,000 worth of VIPRE solutions annually can join a Certified level, which includes quarterly business reviews and access to new channel employees handling account management and pre-sales engineering support. Partners bringing in $100,000 in VIPRE sales qualify for the Expert tier, which includes customized collateral materials to help with marketing and lead generation.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 08, 2017 at 12:21 PM0 comments

Google Setback Shows the Microsoft Ireland Datacenter Case May Not Be Over

Google's recent legal setback requiring the cloud giant to hand over customer e-mails stored on servers outside the United States suggests that the U.S. Department of Justice will fight a recent decision by a higher federal court in a similar case involving Microsoft and its datacenter in Ireland.

In the Microsoft case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, in late January declined to re-hear a case in which the Appeals Court previously ruled that Microsoft did not have to turn over e-mails that the government demanded that were stored in Microsoft's datacenter facilities in Ireland.

Conversely, on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter ordered Google to comply with search warrants and turn over to the FBI customer e-mails that were stored abroad.

"Although the new decision is only a single opinion by a single magistrate judge, the decision shows that the Justice Department is asking judges outside the Second Circuit to reject the Second Circuit's ruling -- and that at least one judge has agreed," wrote Orin Kerr, a professor at The George Washington University Law School, in a blog post for The Washington Post after the Google decision on Friday.

Rueter did acknowledge the 2nd Circuit ruling in his decision but ultimately ruled against Google. One key difference between the cases involved the way Microsoft and Google stored the data. The e-mails in question in the Microsoft case were exclusively stored in Ireland and were there for some time. The data that Google had refused to turn over had been partitioned so that portions were stored in the United States, while others landed in datacenters in different countries.

The cases are complicated, and hinge on the Stored Communications Act (SCA), the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) and many other factors.

The importance of the issues involved to the U.S. government and to U.S.-based tech companies with global business interests virtually guarantees that the fight will continue.

As Kerr nicely summarized the interests at stake in an earlier blog post about a previous twist in the Microsoft case: "For Microsoft, it is thought that lots of European business may hinge on the outcome. In the post-Snowden world, many Europeans are very concerned about the risk of U.S. spying on foreign communications. U.S. government access to foreign e-mail accounts is a sensitive question. ... And it's easy to see why it matters to [the] Justice Department. A U.S. provider can easily put the e-mail of U.S. customers on a server abroad. If doing so would place the e-mail outside the reach of a U.S. warrant, then U.S. providers could readily thwart U.S. search warrants in domestic cases by putting their servers in places where alternative legal process would be spotty or unworkable."

In short, these questions aren't settled. Look for new legislation from Congress, a continuing push by the DoJ to develop dueling federal court rulings or for the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually take up one of the cases.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 06, 2017 at 12:11 PM0 comments

Kaseya Partner: New RMM Release Shows Company 'Mojo'

A lengthy and well-run beta testing program that culminated this week in the latest release of Kaseya's remote monitoring and management (RMM) product, VSA 9.4, is evidence of the company's newfound focus, says one longtime partner.

"The mojo has completely changed with different management and a renewed focus on customer feedback, and on the whole feedback loop of 'We have this issue,' and they're truly putting their money where their mouth is," said Chris Banta, director of security and automation for Alpharetta, Ga.-based Safe Systems Inc., which provides IT services for community banks.

Safe Systems, which has been a Kaseya partner for 10 years and belongs to the company's Partner Success Council, has been kicking the tires of the beta for a while. "This is the highest-quality release that we've seen from coding and certainly the most collaborative release, as well," Banta said.

A Kaseya spokesperson confirmed that the four-month beta testing timeframe for version 9.4 was the longest beta testing period the company has held for a VSA release.

When he took over as Kaseya CEO a year and a half ago, Fred Voccola promised to focus on making the products powerful, easy to use and scalable. "It's demonstrating the continued commitment to shut up and listen to our customers," Voccola said in a telephone interview about the latest release. "It's the fourth release that we've had where we've met all of our commitments."

Key enhancements for 9.4 center on look and feel, which were overdue for refurbishment, as well as more cross-platform support for macOS and Linux. Company executives say the process of discovering devices on a network is much faster and more powerful in the current release, helping MSPs make a strong impression in presales engagements. Another focus was on proactive alerting and automations to allow MSPs to cover more endpoints with the same number of technicians. Meanwhile, Kaseya is also continuing to put pricing pressure on competitors, this time on the cloud backup front, executives say.

For Banta, the changes are welcome. "There's this huge, old culture of bashing Kaseya," he said. "We're seeing the culture shift at conferences."

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 26, 2017 at 2:58 PM0 comments

Microsoft Quietly Shifts Partner Focus to ISVs

As the new year begins, Microsoft is quietly increasing its focus within the partner channel on its ISV community.

Gavriella Schuster, the corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group (WPG), telegraphed the shift in a December "State of the Channel" briefing with channel media.

Her comments were focused on partners developing intellectual property (IP), which in most cases means that they are writing code, but can apply to business models or vertical expertise.

"We continue to invest heavily in helping IP services develop within our partner ecosystem, so we're focused on partners of all types actually who are interested in building out IP and creating new and differentiated services offerings. We've seen a tremendous groundswell, both within a traditional ISV channel, as well as within many of our systems integrators and a lot of the consolidation activity that you've probably noticed in the partner ecosystem, as well, where even some traditional resellers are acquiring organizations that have some IP services," Schuster said.

The next part was the kicker that should make infrastructure partners and straight resellers sit up and take notice that things may be changing.

"At the end of the day, I believe that within a year, the majority of our partners will be delivering some sort of value-added differentiation and IP services on top of the technology stack in some way to deliver more value to their customer," Schuster said.

Microsoft's Chief Evangelist, Steve Guggenheimer, made a related point in a separate conversation. Discussing the opportunity areas for Microsoft partners this year, Guggenheimer said the best was for partners to build vertical solutions for their customers built on Azure.

The most compelling piece of evidence about the shifting focus to ISV partners is the retooling of the partner organization that will take place on Feb. 1. Mary Jo Foley reported the changes on her All About Microsoft site in early January. Microsoft hasn't separately announced them, but a spokesperson has confirmed that Foley's report was correct.

The changes reach across Executive Vice President Judson Althoff's Worldwide Commercial Business Group, but the changes within the partner community indicate a clear shift to putting developer partners first. Previously, worldwide partner policy was coordinated in many places but primarily and most visibly out of Schuster's office in the WPG. Schuster reported to the head of Worldwide SMS&P, Vahe Torossian, who had broader business responsibilities in his portfolio than partners. Now Schuster, as well as the head of the Enterprise Partner Team, Victor Morales, and Kim Akers, who runs an ISV team, are part of a new One Commercial Partner business. That unit is run by Ron Huddleston, corporate vice president of the Enterprise Partner Ecosystem for Microsoft.

As Foley points out, Huddleston came to Microsoft last June from Salesforce.com, where he was instrumental in creating the AppExchange marketplace and the rest of Salesforce.com's channel. Microsoft has long sought to match the power of Salesforce.com's AppExchange and Huddleston's arrival is seen as a renewed effort by Microsoft to bring that engine to Azure and its other cloud products.

In summary, Althoff has put the Microsoft WPG inside a business unit run by a new executive with a channel title who also has experience building a vibrant ISV partner community.

Altogether, partners who can help utilize more of Azure's built-out capacity can expect to be showered with the most love from Microsoft in 2017.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 23, 2017 at 9:22 AM0 comments

Buying Exablox, StorageCraft Gets into 'Intelligent Business Continuity'

With an eye on the innovation that's happening among the HPE, Nutanix and Dell-EMCs of the world in converged storage, StorageCraft Technology Corp. on Thursday announced the acquisition of Exablox Corp.

"There's a lot of innovation happening in storage. What we think is there has to be a lot of innovation in the business continuity and backup and recovery side of that. What we're getting into is intelligent business continuity," said Marvin Blough, vice president of worldwide sales at StorageCraft, in a telephone interview.

StorageCraft has become focused on aggressive growth since getting a new chairman and CEO in Matt Medeiros, who arrived a year ago alongside a $187 million private equity investment in the Draper, Utah-based company. Medeiros has said he wants to take the company from the $100 million revenue range to the $500 million revenue range over the next few years.

The acquisition of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Exablox for an undisclosed sum follows the purchase of Gillware Online Backup, a data backup company specializing in prioritizing backups. Unlike Gillware, the Exablox acquisition moves the SMB-focused StorageCraft upmarket into the midmarket space.

Exablox offers integrated hardware and software for inline deduplication, continuous data protection and disaster recovery. The company's vertical strengths include higher education, insurance and legal.

According to a StorageCraft statement describing Exablox, the company brings together "a new approach that recognizes the disappearing lines between primary and secondary storage as well as between data availability and data protection."

Although the acquisition brings StorageCraft into the hardware business, Blough said StorageCraft won't be coming into competition with its many hardware partners on SMB-focused disaster recovery and business continuity packages.

"We don't want to go compete with guys that are taking our product and combining it with their product [to make an] end-user, on-premise unit. This is going to be an intelligent solution that's aimed at midsize customers or datacenter offerings for partners. The intent is not to build a small inexpensive unit that we go compete with our partners with," Blough said.

StorageCraft has about 3,000 partners transacting each quarter, while Exablox has a few hundred, Blough said. For now, the plan is for both Exablox and StorageCraft to continue to function independently, with a product integration roadmap that the companies describe as "aggressive" to be shared later. Douglas Brockett will continue as Exablox president, reporting to Medeiros.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 19, 2017 at 12:29 PM0 comments