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VARs eyeing a cut of the cloud craze should take a closer look at Intermedia, Ingram Micro’s new partner in cloud-based email and collaboration tools. The two companies announced this week that they inked a deal to offer Intermedia’s hosted Microsoft email and collaboration solutions to Ingram Micro’s vast reseller community through Ingram Micro’s Seismic platform. The cloud solution is designed for midsize and small businesses and includes hosted SharePoint, Exchange 2007 and Microsoft CRM Dynamics solutions.

Adoption of cloud-based solutions presents opportunities and challenges for VARs. End-users are intrigued by how moving to the cloud can improve IT operations and cut costs in these trying economic times. At the same time, many businesses are leery to outsource critical business applications even though the cloud’s “better, faster, cheaper” value proposition is pretty clear.

Jason Beal, director of services for Ingram Micro Seismic said VARs are seeing customer demand for cloud computing solutions and want to give their end user customers choices.

“End users are asking about cloud, and we’ve turned a corner in adoption,” said Beal. “We’re going to help educate them and help our resellers do it in a cost-effective way so they don’t have to build out their own data centers and hire a bunch of people.”

VARs looking to get started in the cloud solution market may find a low-risk entry point with hosted email and collaboration solutions. When it comes to outsourcing business email and collaboration tools, Bob Leibholz, Intermedia’s vice president of sales and business development, believes end-user businesses have less anxiety about moving to the cloud than with other applications.

“We are familiar with outsourced email in our personal lives like Yahoo and Google,” said Leibholz. “Moving outsourced email into the workspace is more acceptable.”

Making the Intermedia solution more attractive to VARs and small businesses is the no-fee solution entry. Intermedia does not require partners to pay any up-front costs to become a private label partner.  Participating vendors use an online portal to sign up and then pay per user, per month when a sale is completed. Leibholz asserts that Intermedia’s channel and sales support is their key differentiator and one of the reasons for the company’s success in attracting more than 4,000 partners and currently hosting over 200,000 Exchange mailboxes.

Intermedia expects its relationship with Ingram Micro will help fuel additional growth for the company. A close technology reseller partnership with behemoth Ingram Micro is a score for any company, even one that claims to be “the global leader in Microsoft Exchange hosting.” 

At this week’s Ingram Micro VentureTech Network conference (VTN), Leibholz said he has been able to meet and speak with several of Ingram Micro’s top resellers who focus on the SMB market. Leibholz said he’s “impressed” with the Ingram Micro partner community, whom he describes as “tech-savvy and extremely loyal.”  Intermedia plans to win over Ingram VARs by building trust.

“They love Ingram, and they trust Ingram,” said Leibholz.  “We want them to trust us in the same way. The revenue will follow after the trust.”

Leibholz relayed that his conversations with VARs indicate the majority are looking for more cloud-based solutions.

“Without a doubt, all of them (VARs) know the cloud is coming and some are already engaged and some are trying to figure it out, said Leibholz. “Few are trying to pretend that it doesn’t exist.”

Intermedia’s business model incorporates direct and indirect channels. The company has over 4000 partners, including a group of private label partners and Managed Service Providers like Dell’s Hosted Service for Exchange. The company also has a variety of telecommunication carrier partnerships including one with Alltel, now Verizon Wireless. Other partners include web hosting companies and small web developers.
Dominant markets for the Intermedia cloud solution include industries that require rapid configuration and fluid environments for mailboxes and collaboration tools as well as markets that have a need for mobile access on BlackBerrys and Windows Mobile devices. Among the top industries cited by Intermedia are financial services, insurance, real estate, construction and professional services.

Ingram Micro’s Seismic platform is a managed services portfolio that incorporates hosted applications and a Network Operation Center and aims to help VARs rapidly enter the managed services and cloud computing markets and build recurring revenue streams. Over twelve hundred solution providers in North America use Seismic today. The Seismic solution portfolio includes a variety of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions like the Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint solutions from Intermedia and competitor groupSPARK as well as professional Services Automation (PSA) tools among others.