The Smarter Way to Provide Cloud Education

Any IT cloud3service provider (ITSPs) who’s been selling cloud services longer than a week can attest to the fact that there’s a lot of confusion and wrong information about the cloud that has to be dealt with before one can discuss specific cloud services and costs. Some ITSPs think that the only way to educate clients is to do it all themselves. If you look at many of  the “free” educational resources available, which are loaded with self-promotional marketing collateral, it’s easy to understand why many resellers feel this way.

Ingram Micro is taking action to help ITSPs resolve this issue. Earlier this month, the value-added distributor and cloud services provider produced its first in a series of webcasts that contained no vendor endorsements. Even the moderator of the webcast, Jason Lambert, Field Technical Consultant – Microsoft Azure, Ingram Micro is introduced as “a field technical consultant for a leading cloud service provider.”

In Lambert’s 51-minute “Cloud 101″ presentation, titled “What the Cloud can do for your Business!” there’s no mention of Ingram hosted services or any of the myriad of cloud services on Ingram’s line card. What the presentation does contain is a detailed explanation of the cloud in laymen’s terms. For example, when explaining private, hybrid, and public cloud offerings, Lambert uses the analogy of a home (private cloud), condo (hybrid), and hotel (public) to illustrate the differences.

The webcasts can be viewed via a web browser or downloaded and viewed offline using the free WebEx ARF Player (which also has the ability to covert files to WMV or Flash SWF formats).

For Ingram partners, there are a couple of additional benefits worth noting. First, you can sign up for Ingram’s Partner Enablement program (free) and invite customers and prospects to attend the live webcast presentations. Those watching the event live can submit questions to the presenter to clarify/address anything they didn’t understand or that wasn’t covered during the event. Plus, Ingram shares the registration details with the partner who referred the attendee to the event for follow-up afterwards.

The webcasts are happening a couple of times a month and topics include: business continuity and disaster recovery (today at 10 am PST) , cloud-based business phone systems (Nov. 12), security, virtualization, RMM, and more.

Check out and discover for yourself all the free resources available that can simplify your job of educating customers and prospects about the cloud, so you can shorten your sales cycles and close more deals.

Posted in Platform

Embrace the Growing Demand for Hybrid Mobile Solutions

Integrated Solutions International (ISI) has been in business since 1992 and since its inception has specialized in mobile communication solutions ranging from field sales and field serISI Logovice to route accounting and transportation & logistics. If there’s one conversation VP of Sales Mike Sweeney has gotten comfortable with over the years it’s explaining the long-term value (i.e. TCO) of rugged devices over consumer-grade technology.

“But after years of quoting those stats like scripture and seeing that clients were becoming less and less convinced, we had to admit the inevitable — the world was changing. “Five years ago, the UPS and FedEx delivery people had the coolest technology, but today consumers are using the coolest technology, and they’re demanding to use that technology at work. Service providers have to continuously embrace new technology, adapt, and innovate.”

ISI spent several months talking to a few of its closest customers to get a deeper understanding of the products and offerings they were most interested in and to determine how it could adapt consumer products to its business model.

After gathering enough feedback, ISI developed a turnkey, hybrid solution that’s platform-agnostic and device-aware. ISI accomplishes this by adding a software layer to its mobile solutions that delivers capabilities such as “self-healing” and “intelligence.” For example, ISI’s customization enables mobile devices to recognize installation problems (e.g., unintentionally downloaded file, corrupt file, wrong version of the software). “Do you think a delivery driver is going to be able to deal with a SQL error or a bad index error on a handheld?” says Sweeney. “The software should be smart enough to deal with those issues in the background. And it should be designed so a user can be trained in 5 minutes.”

This intelligence layer is especially important when it comes to implementing consumer devices (i.e. BYOD), which lack some of the features built into rugged devices. For example, one of ISI’s recent installations entailed developing a solution to enable smart phone cameras to capture and decode driver’s license bar codes. “A rugged Motorola device would have already had this functionality built-in, but iOS and Android devices do not,” says Sweeney.

With 30% revenue growth in 2013 and 50% revenue growth projected this year, it’s clear Sweeney’s paradigm shift from “rugged only” to selling solutions that support rugged, hybrid, and consumer mobile devices is in line with customers’ needs. You can read more about ISI’s recipe for success by checking out “The New Mobile Sales Mantra: It’s Not One Or The Other — It’s All Of The Above.”

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Identify Your Most Profitable Customers, Business Practices

After years of helping customers solve various IT and business problems, it’s easy to become an IT “jack of all trades.” This was the situation break-fix VAR turned MSP Onsupport found itself in 2008 when the recession hit. As new business opportunities became harder to come by, the service provider knew it had to make some difficult choices.

risk_profitDespite the loss of some large clients during the recession, many of Onsupport’s SMB clients still needed its consulting expertise. “Unlike the 1,000-plus employee companies that occasionally needed outside IT support for specific projects, the 25-to-250-employee SMBs needed ongoing IT and consulting support,” says Randy Steinle, voice president of Onsupport. “Also, with SMB clients we worked directly with the business owners and other top executives, which made it possible to develop closer relationships and have higher-level business discussions, which is what we do best.”

The next step in Onsupport’s evolution entailed identifying its most profitable technology solutions and services. “When we began this exercise six years ago, we had 30 IT specialties, and today we have five,” says Steinle. “It’s been a gradual process, but consistent profit growth has followed every decision.”

The litmus test Onsupport uses to determine which technologies/ specialties to keep includes three criteria:“We look for IT solutions and services that require proactive management, fixed contracts, and recurring revenue,” says Steinle. In other words, Onsupport made a firm decision to turn away from one-off IT projects and to focus instead on building a managed services and IT consulting practice. For existing lines of business that were deemed to be not part of the MSP’s core business, it figured out a successful strategy for discontinuing those services and practices, too.

The result of Onsupport’s business decision has been year-over-year profitability growth of 100%. You can read more about this MSP’s business transformation by reading “Create Stability, Profitability With Managed Services” in this month’s issue of Business Solutions magazine.

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Why Data Recovery, Not Backup, Is Where Your Focus Should Be

HDD Disk Error Message

Notice there’s no mention of calling your freemium cloud service company for help mentioned in this Windows message.

Even if I didn’t cover the BDR space, I think the message of backing up my data would be ingrained in my mind. After all, advertisements from backup vendors appear everywhere – mostly due to the prevalence of freemium cloud offers. A hard drive crash two weeks ago, however, reminded me of another important truth that more VARs and MSPs  should be using to their advantage: data backups lose their value if they can’t be recovered in a timely manner.

Here’s a quick synopsis of my situation: My hard drive started acting as if it was running a data backup, Adobe PhotoShop, and InDesign all at the same time — lots of freezing up, lots of noise, and extremely frustrating. A “helpful” Windows message informed me I had a hard drive problem and should back up my computer right away. It was too late — there were too many bad sectors, and restarts and AV scans offered no relief. It was time to implement the recovery plan. And, that’s when I was reminded of an important IT truth: free cloud services offer no help when it comes to the recovery plan, and that’s where a VAR/MSP can differentiate itself and justify its more expensive service.

I had to wait two days for a replacement hard drive. Fortunately I have a second computer that I can use to access my business email and all my data, but not every customer would have that same luxury at their place of employment.

After the hard drive arrived, there were big decisions to make:

1. Do I attempt an image recovery from my latest good backup, or should I pull out the system recovery disk, do a fresh install, and then do a file recovery from the cloud?

2. Despite using image backup software and a cloud backup, I ran into several glitches along the way, including a corrupted user account (caused by stopping a slow data recovery and moving to plan ‘B’) and problems transferring my EFS certificate.

The bottom line is that I lost a good 8 hours of time getting everything set up and working properly. Even though I didn’t lose any data, it would have been way more cost-effective — even for a one-man shop like myself — to be on a managed services plan rather than attempting this feat on my own. I can only imagine the economies of scale for a 10-person shop that suffered a server failure.

Keep that in mind the next time a prospect tries to pit you against the latest free cloud backup service. When you move the topic away from backup — and onto recovery where it belongs — paying for your services is really a no-brainer.


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Take a Firm Stance on Selling Bundled IT Solutions and Services

One of the biggest sales challenges VARs and MSPs face is walking the fine line between being flexible and being firm. The former entails being accommodating, whereas the latter usually entails telling a customer ‘No.’

During one of my interviews at a recent trade show, the topic of saying ‘No’ to customers came up with Ben Barber, the healthcare account manager at ProTech, and IT service provider that’s been honored by Ingram Micro for its industry leadership and cloud services success. Like other MSPs, ProTech wrestles with the issue of when to be flexible and when to be firm.

Barber shared with me a new strategy that ProTech put in place a while ago that’s yielding positive results. “Like many MSPs, we offer various bundled solutions, which typically include BDR, email archiving, spam filtering, and AV,” he says. “Sometimes a customer will try to get us to itemize our offering, so they can pick and choose certain components they want. For example, a customer may say, ‘I’ll go with your email archiving and filtering, but I just want the local backup part of your BDR, and we want to use our own AV solution.’” In the past, ProTech would often give in to such requests, but over time it came to regret those exceptions. “What typically happens is that the customer forgets to renew the AV licenses that it wanted to manage itself and it picks up a virus that causes all sorts of problems that the customer then expects us to resolve at no extra charge,” says Barber.

When ProTech decided to put a stop to itemized selling, Barber recalls that some customers were initially taken aback. “They would say things like, ‘Are you saying that you don’t want our business?’” says Barber. “I’d say, ‘Yes, we want your business, but if you don’t purchase our complete solution, you’re not going to get what you need, and we won’t be able to monitor and service you as effectively.’” Barber admits that the decision not to itemize did cause ProTech to walk away from some business opportunities. However, more than half of those who walked away came back within three months – usually after experiencing an IT problem that caused several hours of downtime.

Not every client comes back after you tell them ‘No’ to their request. But, if you help them realize that you’re making a decision that’s in their best interest – not just yours – it will work out in your favor more often than not. And, for those that still don’t want to work with you, chances are that they are the same ones that would have been the neediest and least profitable anyway.

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Why Healthcare Customers Need A Private Cloud Education Right Away

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the healthcare industry experienced more data breaches in 2013 than it ever had before, accounting for 44% of all breaches, and surpassing all other industries, including the business sector.

Criminal attacks on healthcare systems have risen 100% over the past four years, also, according to a recent benchmark study on patient privacy and data security conducted by the Ponemon Institute.  The same study revealed that 90% of respondents had experienced a data breach in the previous two years and 38% had had more than five incidents! Topping the list of breaches was the usual suspect: a lost or stolen computing device.

Naturally, I was curious to find out what the study had to say about the cloud and its role in data theft and security breaches. Surprisingly, 52% of those surveyed admitted that they’re storing patient medical records in public cloud data centers. Even more baffling was this: One of the questions asked of participants was, “How confident are you that information in a public cloud environment is secure?” Only 12% responded “very confident” and another 46% admitted to being “not confident.”

The only thing I can make of these seemingly contradictory findings is that healthcare organizations believe they must adopt cloud services to fulfill HIPAA HITECH requirements, but a large percentage of them seem to believe that public cloud services are their only option.

I wonder what would happen if more IT service providers could educate healthcare IT decision makers about the vast differences in security and other features that are available with private and hybrid cloud offerings? I think they’d have a better chance of experiencing the level of success that Pact-One, a 55-employee managed services provider focused on the dental industry, is enjoying.

Last year, Dan Edwards, CEO of Pact-One, shared with me that the acceptance of cloud’s use in business owes a lot to the prevalence of consumer-based cloud services ranging from Internet banking to Dropbox. Edwards finds that this openness to cloud services sometimes leads to objections when Pact-One pitches one of its business-cloud offerings, such as cloud backup and recovery.

“Some customers mistakenly think that what we’re trying to sell them is just a more expensive version of Dropbox,” he says. “This usually leads to a discussion about how our offering uses encryption to protect their data and how we’re able to provide them with a quick recovery time in the event their local backup and server would ever fail — two claims consumer-based [i.e. public] cloud offerings lack.”

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Why a Cloud Management Platform is a Hybrid Cloud Must-Have

Although a hybrid cloud offering is the clear preference for the majority of businesses looking to leverage cloud services, this move often brings its own complexity, volatility, and other potential obstacles.

As IT service providers and end users become more accepting of the cloud’s growing role in business, another trend within cloud is emerging, based on the idea that it rarely makes sense for businesses to put all their storage and compute “eggs” in the same cloud basket. The reality is that some IT is better served in a public cloud environment and others are better suited for a private cloud environment. And, now within the cloud explosion is a trend within the trend, which is the hybrid cloud phenomenon. A recent survey by InformationWeek revealed that nearly 47% of companies are developing hybrid cloud systems. Research from Gartner corroborates this finding, predicting that nearly half of all enterprises will adopt hybrid cloud offerings by 2017.

The trend appears to be extending through all industries, too, which makes sense because having the “best of both worlds” is something everybody wants. On the one hand, private cloud promises better security, control, predictability and easy access to large legacy data sets. Public cloud’s appeal, on the other hand, is that it’s convenient, scalable, less expensive, mobile, collaboration friendly, and incorporates multitenant services.

The Search for Hybrid Utopia Comes With Serious Challenges, New Solutions
While it makes good business sense why businesses need to keep some IT local, some in a private cloud, and the rest in a public cloud, implementing and managing this environment can quickly turn into an IT nightmare, requiring multiple tools from multiple vendors to monitor and manage each environment (read: silo), plus multiple calls to multiple parties must be made when problems occur in order to get to the root cause. This, of course, leads to lots of finger-pointing and could easily nullify the benefits of a hybrid computing initiative.

Fortunately, vendors are paying attention to implementation problems, and companies including Cisco, Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, and VMware have made substantial progress simplifying the implementation process and working with cloud service providers to integrate private and public infrastructure.

Most recently, Cisco announced significant momentum around its Intercloud, which is its platform for interoperable cloud services designed to offset or even eliminate the potential pitfalls hybrid cloud deployments face.

Intercloud is based on the OpenStack architecture and can accommodate any workload on any hypervisor and works with any public or private cloud. Cisco also announced that 20 additional partners have joined its Intercloud initiative, dramatically expanding its reach with 250 additional data centers across 50 countries.

What IT service providers selling cloud services will find most important is that Cisco is now offering the Cisco Intercloud Services bundle, a hybrid cloud service that enables customers currently using only public or private cloud services to expand seamlessly to both services.

Cisco is further backing up its claims by earmarking $1 billion in financial aid to Cisco customers and partners involved in deploying Cisco technologies needed to transition to hybrid clouds.

As the hybrid cloud model continues to become the new standard in cloud computing, cloud management platforms will play an increasingly important role in enabling end customers and IT service providers alike to realize the benefits of hybrid cloud without having to relive the data silo nightmares of the past.

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