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Q&A with ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini

Days after its professional services automation rival Autotask announced its acquisition by a private equity firm, ConnectWise came out swinging with a statement to the market that it intends to remain a significant player.

The big question is whether privately held ConnectWise will be able to keep up. The investment by Vista Equity Partners in Autotask is aimed, according to Autotask CEO Mark Cattini, at investing in innovation and growth. Serious money has also recently been flowing into the adjacent remote monitoring and management market -- with new owners promising or demonstrating investments in product development at Kaseya, Continuum, N-Able Technologies and Level Platforms Inc.

ConnectWise had been picking up the pace already, with an investment in December in BizDox, a tool for documenting business IT systems, and a quicker release cycle announced in March. Last week, however, ConnectWise seemed to feel the need to respond more directly.

In a statement with the headline, "ConnectWise Reaches 90,000 Users, Continues Innovation," CEO Arnie Bellini of Tampa, Fla.-based ConnectWise declared, "While many other companies are exiting the market, ConnectWise is more committed to the technology solution provider space than ever before."

We caught up with Bellini by e-mail with some follow-up questions.

Arnie Bellini

Is ConnectWise looking for investors of its own? 
ConnectWise is debt-free and has no venture capital. Because we remain focused on the technology provider space, we have grown organically, consistently and significantly over the past several years. We are extremely profitable and want to control our own destiny, focus on the market we love: technology and IT solution providers. In fact we continue looking for investment opportunities, such as our recent investment in BizDox.

Many of the longtime vendors in the MSP industry have taken infusions of cash via private equity investments or through acquisitions by larger tech companies. They say they are using it to invest in their platforms. Will ConnectWise be able to keep up as the industry's R&D pockets get deeper? 
As I stated above, we have enough capital to continue to be the investor [emphasis Bellini's] in the channel, building or acquiring solutions that benefit our partners. We are consistent in that. We like to say we continue on a 20-mile march (see Great by Choice by Jim Collins), which means keep your head down and continue on the path you have established, be aware of what's happening but don't get distracted, either. In other words, we don't want to continuously pivot or change our plan -- that's not a path to long-term success. We invest, we innovate and we always focus on our partners' success -- and that's the big difference in our business philosophy.

Does ConnectWise see any downsides for the competition, especially Autotask, as they take on private equity?
If I were the Autotask CEO, I would be concerned about losing control and losing focus on my customers, all while trying to hold on to my key employees. At ConnectWise we enable technology providers to make the most of their investment through peer networking, education, consulting and a ton of other best-practice tools, including our events, which bring together more than 5,000 business owners annually. Our model of bringing partners together is atypical of what you learn in business school which is really where private equity comes from. That would be my concern.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 16, 2014 at 9:47 AM0 comments

Broader Channel Availability for Cloud-to-Cloud Backup

Cloud-to-cloud backup of major SaaS services will soon be available to a broader base of MSPs due to the acquisition this week of Swedish startup Cloudfinder by Atlanta-based eFolder.

Founded in 2012, Cloudfinder identifies itself among only a handful of companies working on the problem of backing up data from online SaaS platforms like Google Apps, making it possible for customers to restore their data if something happens to it, either at the provider level or through inadvertent problems like users accidentally deleting e-mail. Beyond backup and restoration, Cloudfinder allows full-text search and includes reporting functionality.

The product now joins eFolder's business continuity products and the business-grade cloud file synch services eFolder got nine months ago with the acquisition of Anchor Box LLC. Terms of the Cloudfinder deal weren't disclosed, but the entire seven-person Cloudfinder team, including CEO Marcus Nyman, is joining eFolder, which now has about 120 employees.

Marcus Nyman

Nyman said in an interview that his company's technology stands out due to its platform-agnostic approach. The company launched in 2012 with a beta product focused on Google Apps, then added support for Salesforce.com and most recently Office 365.

His team suspected going platform-agnostic was a good approach, but even they were taken aback by how quickly the decision proved out. "Microsoft is really biting into that market faster than we had expected. In certain segments, already last year, we saw how Google Apps resellers started looking really pained. We were super happy that we had built Cloudfinder as a SaaS-agnostic platform rather than specifically for Google Apps or 365," Nyman said.

Nor does Nyman believe the market is stabilizing. "When the third and fourth service may enter into the battle, we'll be there, as well. It's hugely important to us and for customers and partners to avoid vendor lock-in," he said.

With that in mind, eFolder's Cloudfinder unit has a roadmap to start backing up other SaaS solutions. "We're coming for Dropbox, Box and Evernote before the end of the year, plus an additional number of services that we haven't disclosed yet," Nyman said.

While Cloudfinder brings new capabilities to eFolder, the company gets a lot of benefits from joining the eFolder organization.

On the technical side, the plan is to move Cloudfinder's backup from an Amazon Web Services back end into eFolder's petabyte-scale cloud. On the business side, Cloudfinder, which has been focused on technology rather than sales and marketing, will plug into eFolder's much more mature channel-focused sales engine.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 12, 2014 at 10:03 AM0 comments

Vista Equity Partners Acquires Autotask

Autotask Corp., one of the most significant vendors for managed services providers, is being acquired by a private equity firm.

Vista Equity Partners is buying Autotask for an undisclosed sum. Vista's $11.5-billion portfolio includes Aptean, Websense and at least 20 vertically focused technology companies. The announcement came Monday during Autotask's Community Live! show in Miami.

Mark Cattini, president and CEO of Autotask, says the investment will allow the company to more aggressively improve Autotask's solutions for customers. "We are devoted to our clients' ongoing success and are confident that our partnership with Vista will drive innovation and growth and delivery dynamic solutions as the traditional IT landscape evolves," Cattini said in a statement.

The statement seems to leave room for Autotask to branch out from its origins in professional services automation (PSA) to a potentially broader mission as management of IT solutions increasingly moves to the cloud and other boundary lines blur.

At the same time, the firm's new private equity ownership indicated that Autotask's focus on IT service providers as core customers would continue. Alan Cline, principal at Vista Equity Partners, vowed in a statement to "work with the Autotask team to expand and enhance the company's solutions to help IT service providers more efficiently and effectively meet their clients' changing needs."

The private equity move on the PSA side comes after a wave of investment and consolidation in the adjacent market space of remote monitoring and management (RMM). Changes on that side got rolling with a growth equity firm backing the 2011 spinoff of what eventually became Continuum from Zenith Infotech, followed by 2013's private equity-funded acquisition and internal development spree at Kaseya, along with new owners for N-Able Technologies (SolarWinds) and Level Platforms Inc. (AVG Technologies).

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 09, 2014 at 9:48 AM0 comments

Kaseya Goes for Speed in 7.0

Kaseya launched the 7.0 version of its IT management software portfolio this week, with an emphasis on faster and more reliable remote control.

The version 7.0 products -- Virtual System Administrator, Traverse, Enterprise Mobility Management and 365 Command -- became available May 31, although Kaseya formally announced them on Tuesday. The end-of-May availability met Kaseya's previous release promise and fits with the company's newly predictable cadence of releases every four months.

In a telephone interview, Tom Hayes, vice president of product marketing at Kaseya, said a key design goal of the new release was to improve the core capabilities, particularly speed. The company's MSP customers require quick connections to clients via the Remote Control module. "We use a persistent connection between the Kaseya server and the client, and we parallel process a lot of the activities in setting up the connection," Hayes said.

Kaseya's Remote Control was completely redesigned under the codename "Project Palantir" in a nod to the seeing stones of The Lord of the Rings. Design goals for the 7.0 release included connections in under six seconds, 99 percent reliability, performance over high-latency connections and support for copy and paste between admin and remote sessions, among other features.

Other features of the 7.0 suite release are the addition of SharePoint Online management and administration via 365 Command, the cloud application management solution Kaseya acquired last summer; improvements in enterprise mobile device management; and tighter integration with the most recent release of Intuit QuickBooks.

Kaseya's roadmap for the September 2014 and January 2015 releases are available here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 05, 2014 at 12:42 PM0 comments

Salesforce Deal: Is Microsoft Turning the Tide on the 'Tactical Tax'?

Earlier in Microsoft's history, a well-known internal issue was the "strategy tax." The idea, as I understand it as an outside observer, was that if a product or idea didn't advance the Windows-first, Windows-everywhere agenda, forces inside Microsoft would kill it.

The phenomenon is sometimes credited with Microsoft's failure to innovate in the 2000s as it missed first the smartphone boom and then the tablet boom.

Recently, I think Microsoft has also hobbled itself with what I'll call a "tactical tax." What I mean is that Microsoft would fail to acknowledge or adequately support competitors' products, not because they directly competed with Windows-everywhere. Instead, the opposition came because Microsoft had a minor product or was even thinking of possibly launching a product in the competitor's space someday.

Examples include the iPhone, which Microsoft pooh-poohed and then mostly ignored as it prepared the release of Windows Phone. Another example is the iPad, whose customers would have benefited years ago from a version of Office (see the monstrous recent sales of Office on iPad within days of its release). Microsoft presumably dithered in order to see if it could launch its own tablet ecosystem, and its own device, that could challenge the iPad for tablet platform dominance. So far, the "pretend it doesn't exist then launch your own" strategy hasn't worked for either tablets or phones.

Both of those cases, though, have elements of "strategy tax" involved. Putting Office on iPad and iPhone and developing other software for the devices presumably could have solidified Apple's lead and ended the game before Microsoft had a Windows-based product on the field.

The clearest example of a "tactical tax" is Dynamics CRM Online. Despite improvement after improvement with each version, and a loyal partner base, the product failed to make notable progress against Salesforce.com's cloud CRM platform. Meanwhile, it's always been an open question as to how the Dynamics business of ERP and CRM products fit into Microsoft's overall strategy. Trying to protect Dynamics CRM Online by failing to acknowledge other opportunities to make revenues from a Salesforce.com partnership involving Office and Windows was a clear case of protecting a tactical product at the expense of strategic ones.

Now, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff have put the years of their companies trading insults behind them and declared a deep technical partnership.

Nadella and other Microsoft executives in no way closed the door on Microsoft's continued efforts in the CRM cloud space. But the tactical product will have to earn its way in the future against a market leader that also will benefit from partnership-enhanced integration with Microsoft's strategic productivity tools.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 30, 2014 at 12:49 PM0 comments

Microsoft Names 2014 Partner of the Year Winners

Microsoft acknowledged hundreds of its highest-performing partners Tuesday with the announcement of the Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards. Winners included Alliance Partners Accenture/Avanade for systems integration and Sitecore on the ISV side.

The two categories for individuals went to Geno Cenci of ePlus Technology Inc. for Sales Specialist Partner of the Year, and to Graham Quinn of Auxilion for Pre-Sales Technical Specialist Partner of the Year.

The winners and finalists in 46 categories and the 93 country winners will receive their awards at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), which runs July 13-17 in Washington, D.C. In a statement, Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, said the winners and finalists "represent the best technology professionals our partner ecosystem has to offer" and are "top partners that solve complex business challenges by providing innovative solutions to our mutual customers."

Country award winners in some of the Microsoft Partner Network's most partner-dense geographies included New Signature in the United States, Dot Net Solutions in the United Kingdom, EXAKIS in France, proMX GmbH in Germany, Sonata Information Technology Ltd. in India, Fujitsu Ltd. in Japan, Wortell in the Netherlands, Softjam spa in Italy, Cloud-IT in Canada, TOPS Consulting in Russia, Allen in Brazil, Ensyst in Australia and ODM in Spain.

Of the 46 category awards, several were lumped into larger groupings. Partners winning in the cloud grouping were Caase.com, Ensyst, Cloudamour Ltd. and Object Consulting. For application developers, Dell won in the Windows 8 app category and DocuSign claimed the Office and SharePoint app category. A public sector grouping recognized ITWORX, HP Enterprise Services UK Ltd., Winvision, AvePoint and ICONICS as winners. Top honors for Dynamics went to Edgewater Fullscope for the industry category and Zero2Ten for cloud.

Twenty-six partners won in their Microsoft Competency categories: Infusion, Breeze, nFocus Software Testing, OSIsoft, Webzavod, Orange Business Services, Hitachi Solutions America Ltd., CSK WinTechnology Corp., Wortell, Advance Digital, Tech Data Europe, HSO Group, Triple C Cloud Computing Ltd./Team Netcom Ltd., Oxford Computer Group, CGI IT UK Ltd., Algebra, Convergent Computing, Binary Tree Inc., CompING, Accenture/Avanade, COMPAX, Sensei Project Solutions Inc., CommVault, Bitscape Infotech, Softcat Ltd., Brasoftware.

Citizenship categories included humanitarian response, won by SELA Canada; innovative technology for good citizenship, won by NV Interactive; and YouthSpark, won by Teleios Systems.

Winners and finalists were selected from among 2,800 entries from 117 countries. Click here for the full list of category winners and finalists and country winners.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 27, 2014 at 4:22 PM0 comments

Schuster Taking on Major Role in Microsoft Partner Program

Gavriella Schuster, an 18-year Microsoft veteran, will join the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group (WPG) on June 1 in a new position that combines the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) role of Julie Bennani and the partner marketing duties of Karl Noakes, a company spokesperson confirmed Friday.

Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president for the WPG, selected Schuster for the new role in May. Bennani and Noakes continue to report to Sorgen in unspecified roles, including ensuring a smooth transition of their former responsibilities to Schuster, the spokesperson said. The move is designed to gain efficiencies by bringing the MPN and partner marketing teams together, he said.

Schuster's LinkedIn profile describes her as general manager of Worldwide Partner Programs, a new title in the WPG. Her profile describes the role as "Global management of Microsoft's partner recruitment, enablement, marketing and engagement. Responsibilities include Microsoft Partner Network Programs, WPC, Marketing and recruitment programs for ISVs, IP Partners, SIs, and Reselling partners of all types across all Commercial products and customers."

According to her LinkedIn profile, Schuster has been a general manager at Microsoft since 2006 in both the U.S. Server and Tools Business and in the Windows Product Management Group. Her career at Microsoft started in 1995 and has spanned licensing, enterprise services and training. Previous employers included Adobe Systems and Aldus Corp.

Bennani joined Microsoft in 2007 from Accenture, where Microsoft had been one of her major client responsibilities. She started as general manager of the Microsoft Partner Program and was a major architect of the overhaul that resulted in the MPN. Bennani was hired by WPG Corporate Vice President Allison Watson and kept the role through Jon Roskill's tenure as channel chief.

Noakes joined Microsoft in 2006 and held various partner-focused roles in the United Kingdom and at the headquarters in Redmond, Wash., since 2003. Watson promoted him to her be one of her direct reports in July 2009.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 23, 2014 at 1:51 PM0 comments

One Week to the RCP Rocket Award Deadline!

There's one week left to get your submissions in for the RCP Rocket Award contest.

Tell us your growth story -- just a one- to two-page description of the innovative business strategies you've used that have resulted in sustained growth over a three-year period.

The 2014 award is open to all U.S.-based IT services companies with annual revenues between $5 million and $75 million. Click here for more contest details or e-mail me with your questions.

For an example of the kind of growth strategies that led to a win in the inaugural contest last year, here's our profile from October 2013 of one of the three winners:

2013 RCP Rocket Award Winner Profile: Axis Group
Albert Hughes felt a little skittish when SAP AG announced it was buying Business Objects in 2007.

Axis Group LLC, which Hughes had founded 11 years earlier, was a heavy Business Objects partner. The signals Hughes was receiving as the deal steamed toward completion in early 2008 made him wonder if partner companies like his might be less important to SAP than they had been to Business Objects.

The situation wasn't critical because Axis Group used a broad portfolio of business intelligence vendors and could make up for any drops in Business Objects-related work with other projects. But it definitely got Hughes, the principal, CEO and CTO of Axis Group, looking around. "We've typically had a vendor that was a lead one," Hughes said in an interview at the Axis Group headquarters in Berkeley Heights, N.J.

Starting to disengage from SAP/Business Objects turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Axis Group, because it started a process of weaning the business intelligence solution provider off almost all but one vendor solution. That focus, in turn, helped catapult Axis Group to growth.

RCP Editor in Chief Scott Bekker (right) presents an RCP Rocket Award to Axis Group principals Al Hughes (left) and Ranjan Sinha (center). Axis Group focused tightly on one business intelligence vendor and a small number of verticals to maximize business growth.

Hughes and others at Axis Group had been keeping an eye on QlikView, a product that combined extract, transform, load (ETL), data warehousing and a visual-analytic front-end. A few years earlier, the product seemed promising but unready for Axis Group's customers. As the SAP situation developed, Hughes and company took another look.

"We were pretty amazed at what it could do. Applying the technical capabilities and the business acumen of our people, we could [build solutions] in a very fast fashion," said Hughes. "We decided to start focusing on that."

By then, the economic downturn was upon the industry, and it further spurred Axis Group to simplify, said Hughes' fellow principal Ranjan Sinha, who has responsibility for strategy, product development, sales and marketing.

"This was our first time that we said everybody's going to have to go through the same boot camp for QlikView; everybody's going to have to know the same thing," Sinha said. "We actually eliminated other technologies. It was the first time in our careers we actually said, "No, we don't want to be your partner anymore.' We got rid of the contract [for other vendors]."

At the same time, Axis Group also focused its sales efforts into specific verticals rather than selling to any company with business intelligence needs. It was another way of being more targeted and less opportunistic. The company currently offers solutions for health care; manufacturing, retail, distribution (MRD); energy and utilities; and financial services. Having the vertical focus helps the company build repeatable (and therefore more efficient) sales and implementation processes.

The strategy has helped Axis Group more than double its revenues over the last three years while substantially increasing profits. Focus also brought Axis Group into a much more productive relationship on QlikView than it enjoyed with previous vendor partners. Axis Group earned the 2012 "Solution Provider of the Year" award from the product's parent company, QlikTech International AB.

Hughes sees a virtuous circle in the multi-year focus of Axis Group on one vendor's solution. "An important thing the focus brings is expertise. Everybody in the organization has to have expertise in that core component. We have ancillary technology for the complete solutions, but everything that we focus on is really three things -- the people, the process and the technology," Hughes said, adding with a chuckle: "It's a combination of good technology and good implementation and you can get really rocket-type results."

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 23, 2014 at 12:50 PM0 comments

Microsoft WPC Enemies List: Oracle Off, Amazon On

Every year, Microsoft bars employees of about four companies from attending the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC). The list for this year's gathering removes one perennial on the enemies list, Oracle, but adds a new strategic rival, Amazon.

From the WPC "terms and conditions" for the conference this July in Washington, D.C., Microsoft states, "The following companies and their employees and representatives are excluded from attending and participating in WPC 2014 and affiliated events: Amazon, Google, Salesforce.com, VMware."

For the last few years, the list was Google, Oracle, Salesforce.com and VMware. Cisco briefly appeared on the list in 2013, too, but came off, possibly when someone realized that Cisco's server division had been a Gold sponsor of WPC in 2012 and was sponsoring again in 2013.

The list usually provides an advance scorecard for the companies likely to come under fire in Microsoft COO Kevin Turner's annual WPC keynote.

Microsoft's precise reasons for adding or removing a company from the WPC banned list aren't typically shared, but the two changes in the enemies list seemingly stem from changes in the competitive relationships among the companies that began just before WPC in 2013.

Amazon Web Services sales often carry Windows or SQL licensing, making Amazon a partner of Microsoft's. However, Microsoft's IaaS version of Azure came online in April 2013 and has picked up speed since. Meanwhile, Microsoft will be pushing Azure more heavily to partners this year, as evidenced by the Azure direct billing option for partners that kicks in this August.

Oracle's return to favorability follows a major cloud partnership announced just before WPC last year, on June 24, 2013. At that time, the companies announced that all of Oracle's key software offerings would be supported on Microsoft's Windows Server, Hyper-V and Windows Azure products. Oracle is a Silver sponsor of WPC this year.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 23, 2014 at 12:09 PM0 comments

Partners Getting Direct Billing Option for Microsoft Azure

Starting this summer, partners will be able to resell Microsoft's Azure cloud services to customers in a way that still allows partners to control their own margins while adjusting for monthly changes in demand.

"Microsoft Azure will be available for partners to resell in the Open Licensing programs on Aug. 1 of this year," said Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, in a video message Wednesday.

For as long as Microsoft has offered cloud services, many partners have lobbied for the ability to bill their customers directly, rather than selling the customer on the service and having them turn to Microsoft to order and renew them. After several years, Microsoft relented and made Office 365 available to partners to resell through the Microsoft Open Licensing program in the spring of 2013. In April of this year, Microsoft added Open Licensing as an option for the Windows Intune and Power BI for Office 365 cloud services.

Microsoft channel chief Phil Sorgen discusses the Microsoft Azure opportunity during a video message announcing that direct billing is coming for partners reselling the cloud service.

"Open allows you to purchase a Microsoft product or service from your preferred distributor and resell it to your customer. You control the direct relationship," Sorgen said.

With those other cloud services, partners can buy seats on behalf of customers, then bill the customers themselves. Azure's infrastructure-on-demand model requires a different approach. Microsoft's response is a token-based process, where partners buy Azure services in $100 increments and add those tokens of credit to the customer's Azure Portal.

"The credits can be used for any consumption-based service available in Azure," wrote Josh Waldo, Microsoft senior director of Cloud Partner Strategy, in a blog post. "This gives you the opportunity to manage your customer's portal, set up services and monitor consumption, all while maintaining a direct relationship."

The Open Licensing option adds to the previous options of purchasing Microsoft Azure directly on azure.microsoft.com or as part of an Enterprise Agreement.

The token approach with Azure skirts one of the thorniest remaining issues for Microsoft partners in reselling cloud services. Part of the appeal for customers of any cloud service is the ability to pay out of operational expenses on a monthly basis. However, Microsoft initially only made Office 365, Windows Intune and other services available through Open as a service that can be purchased with an upfront payment for the entire year.

That gap between customer expectation and Microsoft Licensing reality makes the initial sale harder or leaves the partner with the cash flow issue of buying the subscription up front but only receiving customer payments over the course of the year.

The ability with Azure to buy in $100 increments should give partners the ability to bill monthly in a way that adjusts for seasonal spikes and troughs in demand.

Expect to hear a lot more about Open Licensing for Microsoft Azure at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in July. Ahead of that, Microsoft also plans a virtual summit covering Open Licensing for Azure on June 4.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 21, 2014 at 12:12 PM0 comments

Partner: Tool Targets 3 Problems with Large Migrations to Office 365

A year after launching an Office 365 migration project automation tool for Microsoft partners, SkyKick this week released an enterprise version to help the channel move larger customers to Microsoft's cloud productivity suite.

The two-time Microsoft Partner of the Year Award-winning startup, launched by former Microsoft employees, released its SkyKick Application Suite in April 2013 with the idea of automating most of the tasks involved in migrating smaller customers from on-premises or other cloud e-mail systems onto Office 365. The original product design focused on the SMB customers that represent the sweet spot of Office 365 adoption, with SkyKick's business case scenarios centering on deployments with about 25 users.

During a year of use, however, co-CEOs Evan Richman and Todd Schwartz say SkyKick partners who move larger organizations to Microsoft's cloud provided feedback about some of the specialized requirements for those larger projects.

On Tuesday, SkyKick unveiled an Enterprise Migration Suite to meet some of those needs. In spite of the enterprise name, Richman and Schwartz say SkyKick remains committed to 100 percent channel sales of its suite. The name strictly refers to the user counts the suite is designed to support, which is in the range of 250 to 10,000 users.

We spoke with one partner who was an early adopter of the SkyKick Application Suite and beta tested the Enterprise Migration Suite. Chris Hertz, CEO of New Signature in Washington, D.C., used SkyKick for SMB customers but wasn't able to make the suite work for larger customers.

In an interview, Hertz detailed three things New Signature is now able to do with the SkyKick Enterprise Migration Suite:

1. Skip some hybrid infrastructures. To move an enterprise organization to Exchange Online, New Signature and many other partners commonly set up temporary hybrid Exchange environments. In those cases, the hybrid server is built as a bridge that helps maintain user information like free/busy calendar data and acts as a staging area for the three months to a year that larger organizations typically take to move completely from the old environment to the new.

"SkyKick is really a tool that allows you to do a cutover migration or a staged migration without doing a hybrid server," Hertz said. The SkyKick tool won't be able to replace the need for a hybrid environment in every case, but it will eliminate many of them, Hertz said. He contended that's the new tool's biggest value.

"If you thought about the complexity of an Exchange Online migration, the hybrid is one of the more complex pieces," he said, and added that it will reduce one of the biggest obstacles to Office 365 sales in midsize to enterprise organizations. "There are some instances where we walk into a customer and they say, 'I can't go through the hybrid environment that you're describing.'"

2. Improve migration planning. The original SkyKick toolset involved migration planning, but the new enterprise version offers much more detailed information gathering and more options, as befits larger environments. "For midmarket customers, it's super important to do planning," Hertz said. "The SkyKick tools can provide some intelligence around that."

Planning tools in the new SkyKick Enterprise Migration Suite include support for pilot deployments, mailbox and source information discovery, and e-mail architecture planning. A fair amount of planning information also emerges earlier in the "Sell" phase of SkyKick's end-to-end migration process for partners.

New elements of the enterprise tool include the ability to log in to a Microsoft Licensing account to assign Open or Enterprise Agreement licenses to Office 365 users, the ability to pull data from multiple Exchange servers in the case of an acquisition, and the ability to normalize e-mail addresses (for example, change all e-mail addresses in a company to first initial, last name during the migration).

3. Training is baked in. The white-labeled SkyKick e-mails at various stages of the process provide instructions for users on setting up accounts and using their new Office 365 functionality. "A lot of midmarket customers don't necessarily have a large training function," Hertz said. The canned e-mail messages from SkyKick do a good job of helping users along, he said. For a partner, Hertz noted, showing 30 users in one office how to use a new system is possible, but trying to teach the system to 1,000 users in five offices and two countries is very difficult.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 20, 2014 at 3:46 PM0 comments

Microsoft Surface: Third Time's the Charm?

Microsoft will hold a press event in New York City on Tuesday for a Surface announcement that is rumored to include the unveiling of a "Surface Mini" and a new Intel-based Surface Pro.

The limited-seating event begins at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, and those who want to follow along will be able to join a live webcast at the Microsoft News Center.

Microsoft's News Center preview shows an image of impassioned Surface advocate Panos Panay, who demonstrated the Surface features when former top Windows executive Steven Sinofsky rolled out the first Surface, and who also presided over the Surface 2 launches last year after Sinofsky's departure. At that second event, Panay said he had plans for several generations of future Surface releases.

Rumor has it, in the form of a Mary Jo Foley report, that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will be on hand to unveil the Surface news Tuesday. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer never actively took part in a Surface launch. For the initial Surface, Ballmer was in the venue for the formal launch earlier in the day of Windows 8, but Ballmer left the Surface duties to Sinofsky.

How big a deal is this launch? Pre-launch reports are calling for Microsoft to launch a 7- to 8-inch "Surface Mini" with a digital pen and a chipset switch from Nvidia Corp. to Qualcomm Inc. and a new Surface Pro based on new Intel chips.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 19, 2014 at 12:24 PM0 comments