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Your Turn: What Are You Doing with IoT?

For our next print issue, we're working on a story about Microsoft partners and the Internet of Things. Are you already making money in IoT? Or do you have an idea where there's a pretty good Microsoft partner opportunity in IoT? Let's talk. E-mail me at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 24, 2016 at 10:30 AM0 comments

Annotating Microsoft's Trusted Cloud Principles

Microsoft's statements about its philosophy around the data held in its cloud matter.

As one of the two or three largest hyperscale cloud operators in the world, and one that is always angling to store more of its customers' data in Azure and its other services, Microsoft has an outsized influence on global perceptions of the cloud and on how closely technology companies and governments should work together.

For partners trying to sell their business customers on moving data to the cloud, those statements are important as a resource to present to concerned customers and as a key piece of evidence to weigh as partners evaluate whether the cloud is the right solution for a particular customer.

In a Monday blog post attributed to the Cyber Trust Blog Staff, Microsoft published an important list of its six "Trusted Cloud principles." Below are Microsoft's verbatim principles, with my comments following each:

You own your data, not us. When you use a Microsoft cloud service, you keep the ability to take your data with you when you terminate an agreement. When a subscription expires or you terminate your contract, Microsoft follows a 90-day retention policy and strict standards for overwriting storage before reuse.

The 90-day policy is key here for two reasons. One, it's important to understand that data is irretrievable, by policy at least, after 90 days. The other is that a constant standard makes for a de facto statute of limitations on government requests for data. If this works as advertised, government agencies can't go fishing through Microsoft data stores for evidence on old cases.

Your data is not used for marketing. Our enterprise business model is not based on exploiting customer data. We do not use your data for purposes such as advertising that are unrelated to providing the cloud service.

I read this as a dig at Google.

We don't use standing access. We've engineered our cloud services so that the majority of operations are fully automated. Only a small set of activities require human involvement; access to your data by Microsoft personnel is granted only when necessary for support or operations, then revoked when no longer needed.

This could reduce, but won't eliminate, concerns about rogue administrators inside Microsoft accessing customer data. At least the attention to the issue suggests vigilance on Microsoft's part, which may extend to steps like checking employees' backgrounds and monitoring access logs.

You can choose your datacenter location. Depending on which Microsoft cloud services you have, you may have flexibility in choosing where your data physically resides. Your data may be replicated for redundancy within the geographic area, but not transmitted outside it.

The intended audience for many of these policies, especially this one, are companies based in countries other than the United States, where concerns about U.S. government access to the data of a U.S.-based company run very high.

We protect data from government surveillance. Over several years, we've expanded encryption across all our services and reinforced legal protections for customer data. And we've enhanced transparency so that you can be assured that Microsoft does not build "back doors" into our products and services, nor do we provide any government with direct or unfettered access to customer data.

Microsoft's backbone about fighting government requests seems to be getting stiffer with each passing month.

Law enforcement requests must go through you. Microsoft will not disclose your data to a third party except as you direct or as required by law. We'll attempt to redirect third parties to request customer data directly from the data owner.

This is an important principle. However, the "required by law" caveat is big enough to drive a truck through. As long as governments require Microsoft to provide them the data, Microsoft will have to comply and is sometimes prevented by law from reporting that fact to the data owner. This is what makes using third-party encryption tools, in which the customer controls the keys, especially important for certain types of data and customers.

Microsoft is setting strong privacy and customer control principles here for customers of its cloud. The list is a slight evolution of what Microsoft has been saying publicly over the last few months. In all, the principles lay significant groundwork for the future of the cloud. How strictly Microsoft can adhere to these principles depends on legislation, court orders and executive orders in thousands of jurisdictions, but at least we know what Microsoft says it will try to do.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 21, 2016 at 12:55 PM0 comments

Google Doubles Bug Bounty on Chromebook

Google is doubling its bug bounty for Google Chromebook.

Once controversial, bounty programs reward security researchers for reporting the vulnerabilities they find to the vendor rather than publishing the flaws publicly, exploiting the vulnerabilities themselves or selling them on the black market.

Google has been offering bounties since 2010, and currently calls its overall program the Google Security Reward Program. In total, the program has paid out more than $6 million since 2010, and Google disbursed $2 million last year.

However, the sub-program targeted at Google Chromebook, the Chrome Reward Program, hasn't turned up much yet in its top category, so Google is ratcheting that bounty up from $50,000 to $100,000.

"Last year we introduced a $50,000 reward for the persistent compromise of a Chromebook in guest mode. Since we introduced the $50,000 reward, we haven't had a successful submission. That said, great research deserves great awards, so we're putting up a standing six-figure sum, available all year round with no quotas and no maximum reward pool," Google said in a blog post credited to "Chrome Defender" Nathan Parker and "Hacker Philanthropist" Tim Willis.

Google Chromebook has relatively low market share, which historically has lulled vendors into a false sense of confidence about the security of the product. Like app developers who ignore Windows Phone to chase the much bigger addressable markets of the Apple App Store and Google Play, black-hat and white-hat security researchers have traditionally invested most of their time in the dominant Windows desktop OS platform.

With Chromebooks accounting for just 2.8 percent of all PCs shipped worldwide through the first three-quarters of 2015, according to IDC, Google could be enjoying that security-through-obscurity cloak.

That share is way up from Google's 2014 mark of 1.9 percent of all PCs shipped, and Google is starting to take over a vital vertical sector in the U.S. market -- K-12 education. According to a December report by Futuresource Consulting, Google Chromebooks, with their low prices, manageability and perceived security, accounted for 51 percent market share in that education market. That's a similar route to the one Apple used to achieve much wider relevance in the PC market.

Google is smart to use a small part of its cash hoard to give security researchers a much stronger incentive to really kick the tires on Google Chromebook just in case it breaks out to a much wider market share. Better to deal with major flaws when the market share is relatively tiny than to discover them later when millions or tens of millions of users are at risk.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 16, 2016 at 1:14 PM0 comments

Channel Analyst Bova Leaves Gartner for Salesforce

Tiffani Bova, an influential channel analyst who had the ear of senior Microsoft channel executives, has left Gartner for a newly created evangelism position at Salesforce.com.

Bova's sessions have been a staple of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) for years, and she was a regularly featured speaker at more intimate Microsoft partner gatherings. Microsoft was only one of her many clients, and she presented at dozens of other companies' partner gatherings.

She spent 10 years at Gartner, where she was a vice president, distinguished analyst and research fellow. She joined Gartner from a senior channel role at Gateway.

Her title at Salesforce.com is Global, Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist. In a Q&A blog announcing Bova's hiring, she said, "Salesforce offered me a great opportunity to evangelize sales and innovation to the market and their customers -- and it was something I just couldn't pass up. When you're in the fourth or fifth chapter of your career, it's important to make sure you're going somewhere for all the right reasons. I wanted to go to an organization that is making a difference from both a business standpoint and, more importantly, from a social standpoint."

Bova said part of her new role will involve working closely with the Salesforce Partner and Alliance organization.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 08, 2016 at 8:47 AM0 comments

Workspace-as-a-Service Startup Looking for Beta Partners

Channel entrepreneur and Workspace-as-a-Service expert Michael Fraser is looking for beta partners for a new cloud workspace platform.

The startup is called Infinite Ops Inc., based in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., a suburb of Seattle.

The Infinite Ops Console Cloud is designed to simplify the process for partners and IT departments to deliver virtual workspaces powered by virtual machine-based servers in the Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine and Amazon Web Services public clouds. The platform includes an API for integrating with other cloud providers, and the company is working directly on a VMware integration with vSphere and vCloud.

"Infinite Ops was founded to provide IT service providers a very simple platform to add the whole stack around cloud workspaces to their business. I look at the cloud workspace as the main focal point of where service providers are going with their customers," Fraser said in an interview with RCP.

Fraser's design goal is to turn deployment of virtual workspaces for one user to thousands of users into a three-step wizard-based process that takes less than an hour.

The console supports mobile and desktop browsers, includes dashboards for monitoring multiple cloud deployments and will have an app store in a later version, Fraser said. A selection of cloud deployment templates allows for quick deployment for both Microsoft Remote Desktop Services and Teradici PCoIP protocol.

General availability is scheduled for the beginning of April, Fraser said, but interested partners can sign up for early access on the Infinite Ops homepage. He said the platform is geared for the service provider channel with multi-tenancy built into the product.

"Ideal partners are IT service providers, MSPs and CSPs who have clients they are already bringing to the cloud and who are looking to get to market with a platform that can simplify and speed up their ability to get workspaces in the cloud with no cloud engineering or development required," Fraser said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 07, 2016 at 7:40 AM0 comments

With Acquisition, LogicNow Puts Dollar Figure on Security Risks

Opening what could be a new market opportunity for managed service providers, LogicNow recently acquired iScan Online Inc.

For now, LogicNow is primarily positioning the acquisition as a play for its IT professional customers. While many technologies perform automated vulnerability scanning, what's interesting about the iScan approach is that it focuses on quantifying the dollar value of at-risk data.

As an example, the tool hunts for personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and credit card numbers within data-at-rest stores on servers and workstations.

Assigning a monetary risk to having such data exposed would make it far easier to build a business case to senior management for securing that data. Even though such monetary values must be arbitrary, an estimate that's based in real-world breaches would at least provide a legitimate starting point for setting appropriate priorities around properly securing the data. "Our mission is to help customers understand their risk to a data breach," explained former iScan CEO Carl Banzhof in the acquisition announcement.

Banzhof joins LogicNow as vice president of engineering, and will be part of the effort to build a new LogicNow product called MAX Risk Intelligence around the iScan product. For now, LogicNow customers who visit the MAX Risk Intelligence page are directed to download the existing iScan product.

LogicNow plans to integrate the forthcoming MAX Risk Intelligence product with its RMM tool -- MAX Remote Management.

It's easy to imagine how a product originally designed to help security officers protect their own corporate data and present budget requirements effectively to C-level executives would present a strong opportunity for MSPs to do security assessments with their clients and build slick business cases for new security-related projects.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 03, 2016 at 12:06 PM0 comments

Buffalo Americas, StorageCraft Team on SMB DR Appliance

Managed service providers serving small-business customers got a new backup and disaster recovery appliance option this month through a partnership between Buffalo Americas and StorageCraft Technology Corp.

The TeraStation StorageCraft Recovery Center 25 is a new joint offering aimed at end-user companies with about 25 employees.

StorageCraft and Buffalo have partnered at a technology level previously to make sure that StorageCraft's business continuity software worked with Buffalo's network attached storage devices. A jointly marketed appliance is a first for the two companies, though. The companies say their collaboration transforms a general-purpose NAS into a disaster recovery device.

The 11-1/4-inch by 7-1/4-inch by 8-1/4-inch appliance weighs just under 17 pounds and sports 12TB of storage on four SATA 3.0 internal hard drives. The processor is an Intel Core i3 3.3GHz Dual-Core and the machine runs on 8GB of DDR3 RAM.

While it's a small device for small businesses, StorageCraft CTO Scott Barnes says the appliance will have a lot of flexibility for various use cases.

"If a small business wants local recovery only, great. If they want to replicate between two offices, no problem. If they want full cloud-base recovery, easily done," Barnes said in a statement. Out-of-the-box replication and recovery options include local-only, site-to-site and site-to-IT solution providers' colocation/datacenter with replication from any of those options to public cloud or to StorageCraft Cloud Services.

Bill Rhodes, director of channel sales at Buffalo Americas, positioned the appliance as an opportunity for Buffalo TeraStation resellers to generate service revenues and for StorageCraft software resellers to go to market with a more competitively priced configuration than they could build themselves.

Because of the small-business focus of the appliance, Buffalo is working exclusively through D&H Distributing. Estimated retail price for the appliance is $3,500.

Software in the package includes StorageCraft ShadowProtect SPX, StorageCraft ImageManager, StorageCraft Recovery Environment, Oracle VirtualBox and Windows Storage Server 2012 R2. Some software licenses must be purchased separately.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 25, 2016 at 1:56 PM0 comments

SHI Acquires N.C. Microsoft Partner Eastridge

Microsoft's massive licensing partner, SHI International Corp., has acquired the professional services piece of a much smaller Microsoft partner this week to bolster SHI's post-sales services capabilities, especially around Office 365 and other Microsoft cloud products.

The deal for the 18-person professional services division of Winston-Salem, N.C. area-based Eastridge closed on Monday and was announced midweek. The amount that the global technology provider paid for Eastridge wasn't disclosed.

Travis Hargett, Eastridge's co-founder and president, joins SHI as managing director of services sales, reporting to Hal Jagger, SHI's vice president and general manager of corporate sales. The corporate division in SHI covers SMB and midsize customers.

Eastridge had been part of the SHI Elite Partner Program, performing deployment work and other projects for SHI customers that had bought Microsoft licensing for Office 365, Azure, SharePoint, SharePoint Online and Dynamics CRM.

"We were definitely familiar with them. It was really a good match because they were really able to add in their services alongside our expertise on the program side," said Ed McNamara, director of communications and marketing at SHI, in an interview.

The acquisition comes as Microsoft is pushing its partners to increase customer usage, or consumption, of Office 365 and other cloud product licenses.

McNamara said SHI's revenues around Microsoft products increased in 2015 by 12 percent. "Microsoft is our No. 1 partner, and we're their largest channel partner," he said. With that kind of growth, he added, "there was really a sense that we needed reinforcements."

Eastridge was one of a few partners in the SHI partner program providing services around Microsoft cloud products, McNamara said. The SHI partner program covers many other types of partners, such as those doing asset reclamation, and other geographies.

It's not immediately clear if adding 18 employees in North Carolina to a $6 billion company will provide the type of capacity that SHI will need to support its growth in Microsoft cloud services, or if SHI will need to continue to work with other partners.

"This was a fast and efficient way for us to increase our capacity in post-sales support," McNamara said. "Eastridge is going to be able to help us [deliver] on behalf of the customer more quickly."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 25, 2016 at 3:52 PM0 comments

Your Turn: What Microsoft Mobile Apps Do You Use?

For the upcoming March issue of RCP, we tried to fill an entire iPhone screen with solid Microsoft business and productivity apps and found more than enough. (The same exercise probably would have worked with an Android phone and Google Play.)

Since putting Word, Excel and PowerPoint onto competitive stores, Microsoft has continued to load those stores with useful apps. To name a few, we found Outlook, Yammer, Skype for Business, Sway, Delver, Power BI, OneNote, Office 365 Admin, OME Viewer, Comp Portal, Dynamics CRM and Groups, among others.

[Click on image for larger view.]

For a future RCP and RCPmag.com article, we have some questions for you:

  • Which of Microsoft's apps for iOS and Android are key for you?

  • How are you using these free add-on apps in your partner business to mobile-enable solutions, ignite user adoption and, to use one of Microsoft's verbs, delight your customers?

  • Conversely, are there any Microsoft apps that aren't living up to their billing or their promise?

  • Are there third-party apps that you use instead because they outperform Microsoft in its own wheelhouse?

  • Are there key features that any of these apps need to add before they really become first-rate?

  • Is there an app that you wish Microsoft would make?

E-mail me and share the knowledge.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 22, 2016 at 11:34 AM0 comments

What the Ingram Micro Acquisition Means to the Channel

Distribution giant Ingram Micro shook up the channel space this week with the announcement that it was being acquired by a Chinese investment company and folded into the conglomerate HNA Group, based in Hainan.

What does the deal mean for Ingram's channel customers and vendor partners?

First, the numbers: The deal announced Wednesday by Tianjin Tianhai Investment Co. Ltd. values Ingram Micro at $6 billion, which is a 39 percent premium over the average closing share price of Ingram Micro for the last 30 trading days. HNA Group is Tianjin Tianhai's largest shareholder.

Things are unlikely to change for Ingram customers and partners in the near term, other than potential customer churn and employee turnover related to uncertainty. While the boards have approved the deal, it is not expected to close until the second half of 2016, and it faces some substantial regulatory hurdles before that happens.

Executives of the companies went out of their way to vow that things wouldn't change for Ingram Micro's customers and vendor partners after the deal closes, either.

"Ingram Micro is expected to remain headquartered in Irvine, California, and Ingram Micro's executive management team will remain in place, with Alain Monié continuing to lead as CEO. All Ingram Micro lines of business and all regional and country operations are expected to continue unaffected," the companies said in a statement.

Monié said being part of HNA Group would allow Ingram to accelerate strategic investment. "Additionally, Ingram Micro will now be part of a larger organization that has complementary logistics capabilities and a strong presence in China that can further support the growth and profitability objectives of our vendor and customer partners," he said.

There are good structural reasons to believe that Ingram Micro may continue as it is in the near future, as well. If the deal is approved, Ingram would be the biggest single component of HNA Group, which also holds aviation, tourism and logistics enterprises. Tianjin-HNA are also looking to Ingram to help broaden the acquiring group's global reach. "After the transaction, Ingram Micro would...facilitate the internationalization process of the group," said Adam Tan, vice chairman of the board of directors and CEO of HNA Group, in the statement. "With the help of Ingram Micro, HNA Group would have access to business opportunities in emerging markets, which have higher growth rates and better profitability."

Add to that the Chinese economic slowdown, which means the growth appeal in China is less for Ingram now than it might have been a year or two ago.

At first blush, it looks like the deal does more for HNA than for Ingram, meaning it seems unlikely that HNA will tinker with Ingram extensively in the next few years.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 18, 2016 at 1:14 PM0 comments

Alarm Bells Sound on IT Spending in 2016

Against a backdrop of general warnings about the global economy in the financial sector, IDC is ringing new alarm bells about IT spending for 2016.

In a news release Wednesday, IDC revised its 2016 forecast and projected that worldwide IT spending would post a "major slowdown" in 2016, thanks mostly to economic weakness in emerging markets and smartphone saturation. Overall, IDC expects global IT spending for hardware, software and services to reach $2.3 trillion this calendar year. That's about a 2 percent increase, which is about a third of the roughly 5-6 percent growth in IT spending every year since recovery from the financial crisis.

For IT companies doing business in the United States, though, 2016 could be OK. IDC is looking for stable spending, with an increase of about 4 percent. Breaking that figure down into its component parts, IDC is calling for a decline in the PC market, slower growth for servers and storage, and strong investments in big data, cloud, mobile and social.

Lest the U.S. tech industry get too comfortable, IDC warns that weakness in China and other fragile emerging markets could spark global problems. "The downside risks have now increased across all geographies, and the likelihood of a more widespread slowdown in IT spending is now higher than three months ago," said IDC analyst Stephen Minton.

A new feature of financial earnings calls for U.S.-based multinationals has been the caveat "constant currency." The strong U.S. dollar has led to revenue declines or slower growth even as products grow by other measures internationally for companies like Microsoft. That currency volatility seems set to continue for the duration of the calendar year, IDC says.

One bright spot in the IDC forecast for the rest of 2016: channel companies that have made the transition to acting as service providers. "IT buyers continue to prioritize software investments like data analytics and enterprise mobility, and have increasingly leveraged the service provider model in order to increase the effectiveness of their IT budgets," Minton said. "Underlying buyer sentiment is strong."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 17, 2016 at 10:36 AM0 comments

Kaseya Fires a Shot Across the PSA Market's Bow

Kaseya on Tuesday launched the Kaseya Business Management Solution (BMS), which it billed as a generation beyond the current professional services automation (PSA) tools offered by ConnectWise, Autotask and Tigerpaw.

As part of the launch, Kaseya also unveiled a competitive upgrade promotion of one year of free licenses for all ConnectWise, Autotask and Tigerpaw customers. Kaseya is one of the original vendors to managed services providers (MSPs) and comes from the remote monitoring and management (RMM) side of the market. RMM providers typically partner with PSA vendors to offer integrated solutions to MSPs.

Kaseya CEO Fred Voccola contends the all-inclusive price of $25 per seat per month for Kaseya BMS is a third of what the PSA vendors currently charge. "We're saying the value of a PSA is not what ConnectWise or Autotask say it is," Voccola said in a telephone interview. "Spending money on an internally facing PSA system is not as good as hiring another sales rep or technician."

"PSA-plus-RMM is so first-generation. The MSPs that do server and workstation management only will be dinosaurs very soon."

Fred Voccola, CEO, Kaseya

The technology for BMS comes from Vorex, a Dallas-based PSA vendor that Kaseya recently acquired in a deal first disclosed in the BMS announcement. Voccola said Kaseya and Vorex together invested more than $25 million over the last three years in joint development. It was not clear whether the purchase price of Vorex was included in that sum.

Aside from the price per seat, what marks Kaseya BMS as a second-generation platform, according to the company, are a cloud-based system with authorized access from Web-enabled devices, an open platform, automated staff scheduling, a streamlined process for rolling out new service offerings, and project management and billing advances.

In the interview, Voccola objected to a question about whether the Vorex purchase and BMS release were defensive moves against PSA-RMM vertical consolidation by competitors, such as ConnectWise, which acquired RMM vendor LabTech in 2010.

"PSA-plus-RMM is so first-generation. The MSPs that do server and workstation management only will be dinosaurs very soon. We have over 1,000 customers who are using our Office 365 migration and management solution [365 Command]," Voccola said. "Instead of fighting the current, they're going with the current. RMM-plus-PSA just limits what MSPs need to do to be competitive in the next five to six years."

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 09, 2016 at 5:02 PM0 comments