Stories by Maxine Cheung

802.11n means more channel opportunities

With the 802.11n wireless networking standard ratified this fall, channel partners have an opportunity to increase their sales by helping customers refresh their wireless networking equipment, says an Info-Tech Research Group analyst.

Hawkeye online multi-vendor platform launches for partners

Hawkeye Channel Practice last week launched a beta version of its branded PartnerConduit Network (PCN), an online multi-vendor platform that encourages partners to find each other, work together and be rewarded for doing so. Initially, the beta launch of PCN is only being offered to channel partners in the US and Canada. However, Shari Marion-Hoff, CEO and chief channel strategist at Hawkeye Channel Practice, says PCN will go global in 2010. Currently, the beta offering of PCN is free to any partner from now through to October, provided that the partner signs up before the end of this month, Marion-Hoff said. A major launch of PCN will be conducted shortly after the beta's complete in October, she added. "We found through our research and through discussions with partners that (partners) are collaborating today, but they're doing so informally," says Marion-Hoff. "We, as the third party, are enabling partners from other vendors to go across boundaries to work together to better meet the needs of their customers. This is something that may have been a bit more difficult for partners to do on their own." PCN is designed for partners and vendors of all sizes, Marion-Hoff explains. The cost of participating in PCN is dependent upon the type of tier the partner chooses. PCN offers a free level, however this gives users limited access into the network. To gain access to the Premier level will cost users $99 per month, with an annual subscription commitment. The free beta offering which is now available allows partners to engage in the Premier level, Marion-Hoff said. When a partner first joins PCN, he or she is asked to fill out a profile about themselves and information about their respective company. The reason for this is to make partner selection easier for the partners who are searching for a specific type of partner. "Based on the criteria they're looking for, partners can register an opportunity across multiple vendors to select which partners they'd like to work with and conduct business together with online from a collaboration standpoint," Marion-Hoff said. "Once business is completed, partners go back into the system to provide proof of performance so they can be rewarded through incentives, promotions or marketing funds that are available from the multiple vendors who are part of PCN." Marion-Hoff says these incentives are paid out to partners as a pay-for-performance reward, better known as Collaboration Currency. These earned rewards can be used to pay for subscription fees, other PCN services, or can also be redeemed for cash. These rewards are meant to be an enhancement to things vendors may already have in place with their own branded programmes, Marion-Hoff said. "Collaboration Currency is designed to enhance instead of replace these vendor programs," she added. In some ways it seems PCN is similar to Partnerpedia, an online partner portal community, which is managed by Vancouver-based Constructive, however, Marion-Hoff says PCN does have its differentiating features. "Partnerpedia has a portion of what we offer," says Marion-Hoff. "And there are other different mechanisms out there to find partners. But we've taken it to the next level to not only find a partner, but partners are bringing opportunities into the system, so when partners find partners, there's an opportunity to also be rewarded for it. It's a complete, end to end solution that encourages partners to continue to expand their services offering through collaboration with other partners." Right now, Marion-Hoff says she can not disclose how many partners are currently enrolled with PCN because partners are "being added as we speak," she explained. As a short term goal though, she said she'd like to see partner participation rates with PCN reach the "thousands" range before the end of this year.

Cisco provider helps out Apple reseller

When Mac Station, a Vancouver-based independent Apple reseller retail store, discovered its customer calls were being dropped mid-conversation and employee mailboxes were being corrupted, its IT director, Aaron Attwaters realised the company needed a more reliable and efficient phone and communications system. With help from Boardwalk Communications, a local value-added reseller and also Cisco Premier Certified Partner, Mac Station was able to quickly remedy these issues. Mac Station has three locations in the Vancouver, Burnaby and Abbotsford areas, so the ability to make, receive, transfer and retrieve phone calls and messages was important for business across all locations, Attwaters added. Attwaters said the company was initially using an Asterisk, open-source PBX telephone engine and toolkit solution before it switched to its current Cisco-based unified communications solution from Boardwalk. During this time, calls were being lost, there was lag on the network, customers weren't able to leave messages, nor could employees even access their voice mailboxes. "There were a lot of problems with user mailboxes that would randomly corrupt," says Attwaters. "Asterisk was hard to work with and a lot of users couldn't access their voicemails and people couldn't leave voicemails. We were looking for a flexible solution that worked reliably that would also have a minimal amount of network usage." Mac Station eventually enlisted the help of Vancouver-based Boardwalk to deploy and implement a complete communications solution, based on Cisco technology. Kelly Irvin, a senior account manager at Boardwalk, said Mac Station was looking for a solution that would also be expandable, as employees move around and new satellite store locations open. "We proposed Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition that allowed (Mac Station) to have people potentially move from branch to branch," says Irvin. "It's a single unified dial plan that has the ability to tie these branches together." Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition is a voice, messaging, mobility and video solution that's integrated into an all-in-one system, using a single server. The solution that Boardwalk deployed for Mac Station is a combination of Cisco-based hardware and software, which includes routers, gateways and hard phones. The solution was implemented last October and took about a month. Attwaters says during the implementation process, there was no downtime since Mac Station had its previous communications system and the new one running simultaneously. Employees and customers were therefore able to easily make and receive calls, and stores could also transfer calls as well, without risking any downtime, he added. "The new solution has been very reliable and we're using about four times less bandwidth across all three locations," he explained. "There was no need to rip anything out of our infrastructures because we were replacing one VoIP solution with another and were replacing old phones with the new ones." The new solution has an easy-to-use interface and Attwaters says the offering is working out so well that the company has plans to do additional work with it and Boardwalk. "The system also supports a feature called single number reach," he says. "This allows for a single point of contact because the system will push out a call to a mobile phone or any other device the employee is using. We'll also be using a built-in feature that allows the system to save and record voicemails so it can be e-mailed to users." Irvin says Boardwalk is in the process of working with Mac Station right now and notes that the capabilities that the company will soon be using are features the system already had. "There will be a tighter integration with e-mail and voicemail and single number reach," he says. "This provides a significant amount of flexibility because they can now manage everything on a single system. These benefits help (Mac Station) keep their communications infrastructure simple and also lets them focus on getting their employees out on the floor to help their customers."

Symantec's cloud strategy may pose more challenges

Symantec Corp. announced last week the availability of its Norton Online Backup Web service for consumers. According to one analyst, this means the Symantec channel will now have to find more innovative ways to bring Symantec solutions to market.

Acer to release Gemstone

In May Acer is planning to release its new Aspire 8920 and 6920 series of Gemstone blue notebooks targeting multimedia enthusiasts to help the company expand its overall market reach.