MSP, IT, Telecom, Channel: Convergence and the Cloud

Small and growing businesses have always relied upon various service providers and vendors to deliver the solutions required which support the business operation. Often viewed as the critical infrastructure of the business, phone and computer systems are among the first acquisitions a new business makes.  Phones and voice service, wired and wireless networks and all forms of communications infrastructure are part of IT and represent a large portion of the business information systems.

Small businesses used to have a phone guy they could call for phone stuff. The phone guy was a person or company who got phone lines installed, ran cabling for phones, installed phone systems and set up voicemail. The phone guy could help get cheaper long distance calling rates and train users on how to use the paging system and transfer calls.  The phone guy interacted mostly with the office manager or receptionist – the person in the office most likely to be “in charge” of the phone system, influencing these purchasing decisions greatly.

The computer guy, on the other hand, made sure the workstations and server were working, defragged hard drives, installed software and set up printers. The computer guy was the person or company that sold and supported the IT in the business, and often consulted with the business owner or line manager when it came to addressing information system requirements.

Telephony and networking is now clearly in the realm of IT, which changes how services are selected and purchasing is influenced. Computing and communications infrastructure, networking and mobile is all part of business IT. The separation of services – voice versus data – is gone.  The phone vendors and the IT suppliers are now the same company, providing the critical infrastructure, the platforms and the application services that businesses are buying. These service providers understand that the foundations for delivering voice and data services are the same; the skills of their techs and the tools they use have converged to the point where there is little separation of duties.

Cloud services and outsourced solution providers offering hosted PBX and virtual applications infrastructure have revealed to business owners that there is often little difference in what the phone guy and the computer guy can provide. Business owners want converged solutions: voice and data when and where they need it to support business operations. Just a little research reveals that these anytime/anywhere models are widely available and that the cloud is the key.

IT services are critical to the business, but the server doesn’t have to be under the front desk or in a back closet in order to function.  There is simply too much evidence in the market for these business owners to ignore;  shooting the server is now a viable option.

Every day more business owners are being inspired to [shoot their servers] seek out the services that will allow them to continue to benefit from innovations in technology while relieving them of the direct responsibilities of equipment purchasing, implementation, administration and lifecycle management.

Cloud services deliver this capability, and channel partners and Value Added Resellers should recognize their opportunity to get inspired as well, and to start offering cloud-based and hosted services to their customers and capture the “buying decision” opportunity that has [been] created.

Ready. Aim. Fire.

Source: Go Ahead and Shoot the Server: End of Microsoft Small Business Server Inspires Cloud Adoption with Small Businesses « Cooper Mann Consulting

Recognition of the convergence of voice and data services and channels hasn’t really hit home for a lot of resellers and channel partners, and this has rightfully positioned providers on both sides of the equation as viewing the others as direct competitors.  The phone guy thinks he is his customer’s “trusted advisor”, and that the loyal customer will certainly come to him if there is ever a need.  As well does the computer guy believe that he is the trusted advisor, having the ear of the business owner and wielding enough influence to ensure a continued revenue-earning relationship.

In truth, both the phone guy and the computer guy probably have earned their business customer’s trust and were the go-to people when there was a new business need. The problem is that the customer may no longer call one or the other of their “go-to” guys because the forward-thinking guys are offering one-stop service that delivers everything the business needs.  The lines between phone and computer stuff are not so clearly drawn any longer; it is all cloud IT and full service providers are winning the customer business.

Channel resellers, agents and MSPs are all telling their SMB/SME customers the same things, and at a base level they’re selling the same things, too.  Everyone is talking about lower up front investments and improved business productivity… and what they’re all selling is cloud and virtual. “Businesses need cloud in order to compete; move CapX to OpX; mobile is the new office” and “remote workers and devices need a secure quality network”.

Whether it relates to telephone systems with voicemail, automated attendants and a little intelligent voice response thrown in, or if the deal is for servers and workstations, software and network cabling, it is all business information technology and the trusted advisor is the guy who can provide it all. Convergence has clearly arrived.

Make Sense?



Licensing for Hosted Application Services: Why it costs what it costs

Licensing for Hosted Application Services:

Why it costs what it costs

Application hosting services are experiencing resurgence in popularity these days, due to the prevalence of messaging about the benefits of a “cloud” technology model.  While hosted application services aren’t really cloud (according to cloud technology purists, anyway), they can look and feel and be paid for just like cloud solutions, so the name fits OK.  Hosted applications are desktop or network applications you access via the web, where the software is implemented and managed by a 3rd party application service provider (the host) rather than being installed on your local PC or LAN.  Some software products may be rental-licensed by the ASP, and when combined with the hosting service, the entire subscription service is more like SaaS (software-as-a-service) than the old “purchase and install” approach.

An important supporting program for application hosting service providers is the Microsoft Service Provider License Agreement program. Under a formal agreement with Microsoft or via an SPLA reseller, service providers and independent software vendors are able to license the latest Microsoft software to provide software services and hosted applications to customers. With the SPLA, service providers and ISVs can lawfully license Microsoft products on a monthly basis to host software services and provide application access for their customers. The SPLA supports a variety of hosting scenarios to help providers deliver highly-customized and robust solutions to a wide range of subscribing customers, and it’s the only valid means for obtaining subscription-based provider licensing for these products.

Because the software products being hosted are essentially desktop or LAN-based products, the underlying technology to “deliver” those applications is generally of a similar foundation.  In cases where the provider is offering hosting of Windows-based QuickBooks desktop editions or Microsoft Office applications, for example, the platforms and servers used by the service provider are almost certainly Windows-based.  This operating system, as well as the rights to allow remote user connections to it, is licensed to the provider from Microsoft under the SPLA.  These elements are referred to as “user” licensing elements.

An aspect of Microsoft reporting and licensing which is not well recognized (or frequently complied with) is the difference between user and application licensing.

User licensing, which includes the Windows server access license as well as the remote desktop user license, is a named user access license. This means that the provider need only report and settle for the user license if the user actually accesses the system during the reporting period (usually each month).  Not quite like a concurrent user model, where only the high count of users is reported, the named user model requires that the license for each user be paid if that user logged in at any time and remained logged in for any length of time during the reporting period.

Application licensing applies to the application software license acquired through and governed by the use-rights provided for and granted under the Microsoft SPLA. Rental application licensing is assigned to a specific, named user, and is to be reported fully on a monthly basis regardless of whether or not the user accessed the software. This is in direct contrast to the named user access licensing described above. Providers are required to report and settle on a monthly basis the total number of subscribed application licenses available to users, including Microsoft Office applications, Exchange, SQL and others, regardless of whether or not the user actually logged in and used the products.  The license is assigned to the user and is therefore required to be paid.

Being an application hosting service provider is a complicated business, and there is a lot to consider when developing subscription services for broad customer delivery.  Pricing is one of the complaints customers voice relating to these services, but the reality is that it takes quite a bit in terms of system resources and licensing to provide an acceptable hosted application experience.  This is one of the areas where SaaS and true cloud solutions benefit from a scale economy – where the application is designed for the platform, and one instance of the solution and platform can serve a large number of customers more affordably.

When working with a hosting service provider, it is wise to recognize that the platform and software licensing costs are there to support the type of applications being hosted.  If you have an SQL-based application, you will need the SQL licensing to support it, just like you have to pay for licensing of an Exchange mailbox or a hosted copy of Word.  Enabling only a portion of the total business software requirement may make it difficult to cost justify hosting just one solution.  However, if the business utilizes the host to manage all the desktop applications and data, the cost-efficiency of the approach can increase dramatically.  Regardless of whether the business elects to continue to run software on local PCs, or if it decides to outsource IT to a host and run it there, the company will have to pay the price for software licensing.

Make sense?