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VARs and IT professionals, with years of technical knowledge, software and hardware at their fingertips, are rarely stymied by something as simple as dirt.

But the staff at Farm Works Software, a division of CTN Data Service Inc., of Hamilton, Ind., found themselves in just that situation soon after they began deploying their data collection solutions to farmers in the field, where the Pocket PCs that carried the software often met an untimely end.

“A farmer’s field is a pretty wicked environment,” said Brian Stark, sales and marketing manager at Farm Works, whose software enables farmers chronicle and map crop performance.

“Things fall, they get run over, they get wet and there is dirt and dust everywhere. Farmers are rough on things and Pocket PCs are rather delicate.”

Farm Works found its answer in Otter Products LLC, the maker of the OtterBox, a hard plastic case. Otter Products just recently began producing coverings specifically for IT equipment—PDAs, iPods, tablet PCs and, come 2006, notebook PCs.

Click here to read a review of Thermaltake’s rugged PC case.

The cases are waterproof, airtight and crushproof, making them virtually indestructible, and the contents remain fully operable from inside the case, said Kristin Pribble, public relations and marketing manager at Otter Products. “Any device you put into it becomes a rugged device,” she said.

More than half of OtterBox sales now move through VARs that sought the company to complete more technical solutions, and the Fort Collins, Colo., Otter expects to triple channel output in 2006 by formalizing a channel program to manage the demand, Pribble said. The vendor is still in the early stages of formalizing margins and benefits, but she said it expects to launch a Web portal for resellers in early 2006.

Otter has no problem with channel conflict as its sales staff make no commission and are encouraged to collaborate with VARs whenever possible, she said.

While the chips and code are the heart of a solution, supporting equipment, such as OtterBox, is often a deal breaker, said Greg Ouzounia, owner of Alluviam LLC, a Castro Valley, Calif., software maker that deploys a hazardous materials response program on Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaqs and PDAs for government agencies and first responders.

“For us, if the solution can’t withstand the rigors of the disaster scene, then it’s worthless,” he said. “The solution is great on a desktop at an office, but our selling point is that it can be deployed in the field. OtterBox lets us do that.”