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In-Depth

RCP Editor's Choice Awards: Top Products for Microsoft Partners

In this first of-its-kind award list for the magazine, Redmond Channel Partner's editors pick the hottest, most interesting, most game-changing technologies and programs for the Microsoft channel in the last year.

Microsoft partners have a dizzying array of products, services and programs to choose from when building out their businesses. Enter the first-of-its-kind RCP Editor's Choice Awards, 2016 edition, to help sort it out. Our editors have scoured the Microsoft-related technology landscape for the hottest products, the most interesting partner programs and the most game-changing technologies and trends that have emerged in the last year.

What follows is nothing short of the best stuff going on in the Microsoft partner ecosystem right now.


General Channel Product of the Year
Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 is inarguably a great product in the sense of the word that means monumental. In many ways, Office 365 is the face of the whole cloud phenomenon that's disrupting business models throughout the industry. The disruption is most apparent in the Microsoft channel. As one partner put it to RCP, upgrading Exchange servers has been a great partner business for 15 years, and now that's over.

Yet the traction of Office 365 in the market comes from the more common meaning of the word great, too. Office 365 is easy for customers to understand, easy for them to use, relatively straightforward in its pricing and packed full of incredible features. While partners struggle with Microsoft's ever-changing decisions on margins and what kinds of migration services that the FastTrack Onboarding Center will deliver for free next, the opportunities to sell, bundle, create IP around and offer services on top of Office 365 are enormous and expanding daily.

Around for years, Office 365 really hit its stride in 2015. Feature additions to Office 365 have been coming fast throughout the last year -- with the E5 bundle, Meeting Broadcast, data loss prevention, encryption, analytics and PBX capabilities among the many enhancements that give Microsoft partners new reasons to engage with new and existing customers.

Disruptive to the market with clear business value, solid functionality and an ever-expanding feature set -- Office 365 was clearly the product that set the agenda for the Microsoft channel and is our choice for overall channel product of the year. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Partner Program
Axcient

Vendor companies update their channel programs all the time. Most of the adjustments involve the usual levers -- adjusting margins, calibrating partner tiers, modernizing partner training, fine-tuning partner specialization areas, expanding the capabilities of the portal or changing partner management ratios.

In the last year, Recovery-as-a-Service (RaaS) vendor Axcient did something truly noteworthy. For years with cloud, vendors have been telling their partners to make painful changes to their business models with the promise of profitability boosts and revenue growth in the future. Axcient actually put its money where its mouth was.

Rather than telling partners to forego the up-front payment model they're used to and make the painful changes on spec that are needed to support a recurring revenue model, Axcient introduced SaaS:FLO, which stands for Software as a Service: Front Loaded Option. Under SaaS:FLO, Axcient will cut a check equal to the first five months of revenue from its RaaS. By the company's math, that's equivalent to two years worth of normal partner margin, but all up front. The partner will also get a renewal margin at the beginning of each year that the customer stays with Axcient.

It's a risky strategy, which is why Axcient mostly piloted the program in 2015 and needed to secure millions in investor funding and a debt facility. It's a testament to Axcient's confidence in the stickiness of its product, and it's the boldest partner-facing move we've seen in the channel in years. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best CSP Offering
Ingram Micro Inc.

Accompanying the maturing of the Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program this year was a flourishing of companies standing themselves up as 2-Tier distributors in Microsoft's program.

The 2-Tier distributors are the heavy-lifting partners of the Microsoft CSP system. They transact with Microsoft for cloud licenses on one side of the transaction and interact with hundreds or thousands of 2-Tier resellers on the other side.

Many of the three dozen or so 2-Tier distributors have set up robust programs to help their reseller partners bill and provision their customers, and many distributors offer white-label options, as well.

Ingram Micro stood out in 2015, not just for the quality of its program, but also for the investment the company made in the future. At the end of the year, Ingram acquired the Odin Service Automation platform from Parallels Holdings Ltd.

The move gives Ingram vertical integration with the cloud product marketplace technology infrastructure to provide APIs and storefronts for hundreds of cloud products that their CSP partners can bundle in. That makes Ingram, which was recently acquired by a Chinese investment company, the key player to watch in the CSP arena. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Hosting Partner
Rackspace Inc.

For Microsoft partners looking for a hosting partner with deep Microsoft expertise, Rackspace extended its value proposition throughout 2015 and into 2016. The hoster is already a five-time Microsoft Hosting Partner of the Year, an award it was recognized for again by Microsoft at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in 2015, and the company employs hundreds of Microsoft certified professionals.

In the last several months, Rackspace extended its expertise with the launch of Fanatical Support for Microsoft Azure. Through the offering, Rackspace supports customers on Azure in two ways. In one scenario the hoster sells an Azure bundle in which customers buy Azure infrastructure and support directly from Rackspace. In the other scenario, customers buy Azure themselves and get Rackspace managed services to support it.

Rackspace is positioning itself right where Microsoft is heading. Partners can always set up their customers or their offerings directly on the Azure or Amazon Web Services public clouds without the expense of an intermediary. But for partners looking for expert help while focusing their energies on their core businesses, Rackspace is establishing itself as the go-to player. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]


Software/Services Best Office 365 Partner Tool
SkyKick

A pioneer in the Office 365 migration tools category, Seattle-based SkyKick ratcheted up its solution set in the last year with the expansion of its tools to a complete cloud management suite. Landing a strategic financing round, SkyKick expanded its toolset to include cloud backup and management of multiple cloud applications for multiple customers in addition to the ability to speed up and smooth the migration process to Office 365. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Storage Software
StorageCraft Technology Corp.

StorageCraft has been a staple of the storage, backup and business continuity market for years, inking strategic alliances with all the major vendors in the managed services provider (MSP) market and the small to midsize business (SMB) channel.

But the company took huge strides beyond its traditional playground in the past year. For one thing, the Draper, Utah-based company stopped partnering for its cloud backups and architected and released a new, more robust and flexible business continuity cloud offering from scratch. For another, StorageCraft moved beyond its Windows-backup origins to release a client for Linux, greatly expanding the solution's appeal for companies with mixed environments.

With new investors and a new chairman and CEO in Matt Medeiros, familiar to the channel for his role with SonicWall, expect more aggressive moves from StorageCraft in the year ahead. But already the company is fielding more robust and flexible solutions that its partners can use to reach far more advanced customer scenarios than in the past. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Security Product
Kaspersky Lab Endpoint Security for Business

For a while, protecting end users took relatively low priority. The virus threat seemed handled by existing technologies and many organizations had gotten spam under control. The emergence of sophisticated attacks, such as encrypting ransomware, have raised the stakes on end-user security and made it a top priority again.

This year, Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business is our choice for the top security product of 2016. Among the dozens of anti-malware solutions, Kaspersky earns high marks for stopping viruses and other malware. The well-rounded security suite provides a solid foundation for many things, including protecting end users from clicking or linking their way into serious trouble. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best CSP Enablement Tool
BitTitan Inc.

Partners are adding cloud to their practices in massive numbers, but stumbling blocks abound. Seattle-based vendor BitTitan introduced offerings that gave partners a big hand up in the transition in the last year.

The offerings are called MSPComplete and a specialized version called CSPComplete, which is for the elite new group of Microsoft Cloud Service Provider (CSP) 1-Tier resellers.

BitTitan is building on its existing business of Office 365 migration automation tools, such as MigrationWiz and DesktopWiz, with new business process-related tools. The migration tools are part of an "onboard" pillar, augmented by a "sell" pillar and a "service" pillar.

On the sell side, BitTitan has an internally developed SalesAutomation platform that consists of leads and scripts and an Estimator tool for up-selling/cross-selling, quotes, statements of work, and incentives and promotions. On the service side, BitTitan is creating a HealthCheck tool with up-sell/cross-sell opportunities and is rolling out complementary products, such as e-mail archiving, data encryption and cloud management.

What BitTitan understands is that partners need way more than a technology tool to successfully transition to the cloud. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Workflow Tool
Nintex Global Ltd.

Nintex knows where its partner base lives -- in the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). There's so much overlap between the workflow automation company and Microsoft's SharePoint partner community that Nintex last year embedded its partner conference inside the Microsoft WPC.

Meanwhile, with the high-profile acquisition last year of Salesforce-focused Drawloop Technologies Inc., Nintex showed its commitment to taking its technology into the workflows that customers are demanding. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best MDM Tool
VMware AirWatch

The AirWatch product from VMware Inc. remains the gold standard in enterprise mobility management, and the company is driving forward in functionality in its next release. AirWatch 8.3, which was nearing availability at press time, adds a unified app catalog to bring single sign-on to native mobile applications, brings in new workflow capabilities for apps and adds privacy improvements. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Online File Storage
Dropbox for Business

When it comes to file sharing, the number of options are staggering. Many have specialized use cases. But when it comes to sheer ubiquity, user familiarity and usability, one of the pioneers is still on top. And Dropbox Inc. has been furthering its utility for Microsoft customers this year with a Windows 10 app for tablets and real-time collaboration for Office Online documents. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best VDI Software
Citrix XenDesktop

Citrix Systems Inc. keeps improving on its virtual desktop infrastructure products, and the relationship with Microsoft could be getting tighter.

The latest close collaboration between the companies resulted in XenApp 7.7 and XenDesktop 7.7 releases, which featured, among other things, comprehensive Skype for Business functionality within a virtual app or desktop and more rapid provisioning of desktops in Azure. More collaboration is on the way in the 7.8 version shipping soon.

And with former longtime Microsoft Senior Executive Kirill Tatarinov at the helm of Citrix, would it be any surprise to see the Microsoft focus at Citrix get deeper in the future? [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Open Source Solution
Red Hat Inc.

The message to Microsoft partners for years was that open source was a rat's nest they should stay away from. As has been well-documented everywhere, that's no longer the view from HQ in Redmond.

When it comes to open source, Microsoft is becoming, well, open, and partners are working with Microsoft technologies and open source technology to deliver solutions for customers. Microsoft's highest-profile, and most established partner in open source is Red Hat, with joint announcements following one on top of the other over the past few months. From supporting Red Hat Linux in the Azure cloud to strategic collaboration to roadmap promises, the two companies are getting tight.

If you need to bet on an open source technology vendor to play well with Microsoft technologies, Red Hat is emerging as the key player. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best SharePoint Tool
Metalogix

The IT world has been undergoing a massive, justified and rolling freak-out about security over the last two years. Which is why one of the most interesting product releases of 2015 in the Microsoft SharePoint tools space is security-focused.

Metalogix in November delivered ControlPoint 7.0 with a new machine learning-based feature set called Metalogix Sensitive Content Manager, which provides real-time monitoring and alerting of suspicious SharePoint user activity. The idea is to prevent breaches, leaks or thefts of personally identifiable information and other sensitive content within SharePoint stores.

It's a timely solution for a serious problem. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Business App
Microsoft Outlook

When it comes to business productivity apps for smartphones, it's hard to argue there's been a more important player in the Apple App Store or in Google Play than Microsoft. Starting with the port of the core Office applications to the iPad a few years ago, Microsoft has been aggressively flooding its smartphone platform rivals' stores with high-quality business productivity apps -- proving that for the new Microsoft, owning productivity is more important than owning the OS.

The best of the bunch so far is Outlook, which has a surprising backstory of its own. Even though Microsoft's own Outlook is the keystone of desktop productivity for hundreds of millions of users, the company wasn't too proud to look elsewhere for a mobile version. Microsoft acquired Acompli, put the Outlook logo on the app and has been tweaking it ever since.

The result is one of the cleanest, best-performing messaging apps on the market, and an ideal place for Microsoft Office-based workers to keep track of company e-mail while on the go. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best RMM Product
LogicNow MAX RemoteManagement

There's no question that Big Data and predictive analytics are important technologies right now, but it often seems like there isn't a way into them for SMBs or for smaller partners.

LogicNow Ltd. is leading the way into that Big Data future for MSPs with a new capability in its remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool MAX RemoteManagement. Using data from all of the endpoints managed worldwide by its product, the company is running data analysis and predictive analytics on behalf of its MSP customers.

The end result is a technology called LOGICcards, toast-like notifications that appear in an MSP's dashboard providing warnings of misconfigurations, security issues and other potential problems. LogicNow has an aggressive roadmap for the cards, but the initial set gives MSPs a taste of the capabilities of predictive analytics without the need to hire data scientists. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best PSA Product
Autotask Corp.

Autotask inserted some life into the mature category of professional services automation (PSA) tools with a complete UI overhaul in 2015.

The new release sports a modern dashboard with a dozen persona-based templates and an initial library of 180 widgets, making it extremely customizable for each MSP's unique needs. Autotask also made the dashboards intuitive with drilldown capabilities and the ability to drag and drop so each user can configure the UI to their liking.

There's a lot going on under the hood in the MSP industry, with PSA and RMM vendors becoming less distinguishable and all MSP vendors branching out to cloud and other areas. But the basics still matter, and Autotask's interface makes it worth another look. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Virtualization Software
DataCore SANsymphony-V

DataCore SANsymphony-V10 is a mature platform for storage virtualization with a big customer base and a strong partner community. What's more, the company has a long-standing, strategic relationship with Microsoft to collaborate on technologies covering storage virtualization capabilities, security, business continuity and management. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best MSP Platform
Kaseya Ltd.

Kaseya is the biggest mover in the MSP market in the last year. With a new CEO in Fred Voccola, who joined in July 2015, the company made an even bigger shift at the beginning of 2016. The longtime RMM vendor has been branching out into cloud, mobility and other areas, but with the acquisition of Vorex, it's now a PSA purveyor, as well.

The release of the Kaseya Business Management Solution, based on Vorex technology, means Kaseya is coming to market with a much broader set of the tools that many MSPs use to do business. With a disruptive pricing model to boot, Kaseya has put itself at the center of the MSP conversation. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Hardware Best Business Laptop
Dell XPS 13

Credit Dell Inc. with delivering a beautiful laptop in 2015.

The most striking element of the Dell XPS 13 is the InfinityEdge screen, an extremely thin-bezel display with extremely high resolution -- up to 3200x1800 in high-end configurations.

Launched in early 2015 and updated with Windows 10 and Intel 6th Generation Core processors later in the year, the laptop is relatively light at 2.7 pounds for non-touch to 2.9 pounds for the touchscreen version.

The Dell XPS 13 line doesn't come cheap, with a starting price of $799 and easily ranges greater than $2,000 with premium options.

But for customers who value aesthetics along with productivity, Dell has the Windows laptop of the year. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best Business Tablet
Microsoft Surface Pro 4

When it comes to detachable tablets, Microsoft created its own category with the Microsoft Surface. The core technology of a PC-class tablet with an attachable keyboard/cover running a Windows desktop OS is catching on. A half-dozen vendors have come out with look-alikes, and analysts at IDC find the detachable category to be a major growth driver for tablets overall.

Microsoft came out with the Surface Pro 4 in late 2015 and it improves on all the best things about the device. The magnetically attached, angled keyboard now has keys that are spaced wider apart in a chiclet arrangement. The trackpad is now made of glass rather than plastic. The screen is bigger, partly because the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 10 means there's no need for a Windows button to take up real estate. The built-in pen now registers four times as many pressure levels as the previous version, making it much more sensitive.

Even as the market gets crowded with detachable Windows-based tablets, the original is still the best. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best NAS Device
Netgear ReadyNAS 3138

SMB-focused partners got a strong new network-attached storage (NAS) option recently with the Netgear ReadyNAS 3138.

The 1U rackmount device with four bays stores up to 32TB of data, and is powered by quad-core Intel processors and 4GB of DRAM. The ports galore include four Gigabit Ethernet ports, three USB ports and two eSATA ports. Features of the Netgear ReadyNAS OS include five levels of data protection: RAID protection, real-time anti-virus, hourly snapshots, bit-rot protection and simplified setup for cloud-managed disaster recovery. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best BDR Appliance
Datto SIRIS 2 Enterprise

The Datto Inc. brand has been nearly synonymous with business continuity appliances in the SMB and MSP spaces for years now. But the company is making a concentrated move up in scale so its products will appeal to midsize and even enterprise customers, with partners moving up the scale along with them.

The Datto SIRIS 2 is a product that meets those requirements. With physical configurations ranging from 500GB to 60TB in capacity, the SIRIS 2 can meet a lot of needs. Meanwhile, its specialized engineering and packaging means it can offer instant local and off-site virtualization, among dozens of business continuity capabilities for a wide range of use cases. Among Business and Disaster Recovery (BDR) appliances, SIRIS 2 stands out for both its specialization and its flexibility. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Best SMB Server
HPE ProLiant ML30

The jury is out on how long small businesses are going to want to have servers on-premises. The pace of new server releases targeted at that SMB market has unmistakably slowed, and those that do come out are accompanied by much less fanfare than just a few years ago. Still a few new models are still making their debut for those who need them.

The best of the recent batch is the Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) ProLiant ML30 Gen9. It's a standalone unit for small businesses with expandable storage and a starting price of $599. As part of the November 2015 release, HPE also launched new financing options to allow partners selling to SMB customers to bundle hardware, software and support together and offer monthly payments to convert an up-front capital expense to the affordable operational expense that many customers now prefer. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]

Most Innovative Storage Device
Highly Reliable Amazon S3 Reverse Cloud Backup Device

The cloud is fundamentally changing the way backup and recovery is done. With those changes come all kinds of innovation from storage hardware vendors to try to accommodate fast-changing customer demands.

One of the most interesting releases of the past year is a purpose-built reverse-backup appliance from Highly Reliable Systems Inc., a small manufacturer in Reno, Nev., with a lot of very loyal channel partners.

The Highly Reliable Amazon S3 Reverse Cloud Backup Device is designed to grab data from multiple Amazon accounts and pull it down to local disk, automatically mirroring it to a second removable drive.

The company acknowledges that Amazon storage is reasonably safe, but when the corporate jewels are on the line, there's peace of mind in redundancy, and local redundancy at that. [BACK TO CATEGORY LIST]


RCP Editor's Choice Awards Winners: Full List

Category Winner
Best Business Laptop Dell XPS 13
Best Business Tablet Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Best Office 365 Partner Tool SkyKick
Best Storage Software

StorageCraft Technology Corp.
Best CSP Offering Ingram Micro Inc.
Channel Product of the Year Microsoft Office 365
Best Partner Program Axcient
Best Security Product Kaspersky Lab Endpoint Security for Business
Best CSP Enablement Tool BitTitan Inc.
Best Workflow Tool Nintex Global Ltd.
Best MDM Tool VMware AirWatch
Best Online File Storage Dropbox for Business
Best VDI Software Citrix XenDesktop
Best Open Source Solution Red Hat Inc.
Best SharePoint Tool Metalogix
Best Hosting Partner Rackspace Inc.
Best Business App Microsoft Outlook
Best RMM Product LogicNow MAX RemoteManagement
Best Product Autotask Corp.
Best NAS Device NETGEAR ReadyNAS 3138
Best BDR Appliance Datto SIRIS 2 Enterprise
Best SMB Server HP ProLiant ML30
Best Virtualization Software DataCore SANsymphony-V
Most Innovative Storage Device Highly Reliable Amazon S3 Reverse Cloud Backup Device
Best MSP Platform Kaseya Ltd.
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