The CRN Test Center Lays Out Less-Hyped Areas That Can Bring Big Opportunity
In less than four years -- the same amount of time
as a typical corporate IT refresh cycle -- we’ve seen more
new software platforms, hardware platforms, device
models and changes to use models than we’ve seen
during any span in the industry’s history.
And while some new markets, like cloud computing,
have gotten their share of attention and growth, others
have been flying under the radar for many solution providers.
The CRN Test Center has had an opportunity to track a number
of these emerging and growing areas, particularly those that have
not gotten the same amount of ink or hype.
As the economy continues its slow turnaround from recession,
and enterprises invest in real technology upgrades for the first
time in several years, the opportunities for value that haven’t
been considered are endless. Based on products and technologies
we’ve actually reviewed in our lab, here is a list of
10 different segments that many VARs and enterprises have
not yet considered as great areas of investment:
When Cisco first rolled out its Telepresence technology in 2006,
it opened up to a greater market the possibility of high-definition
videoconferencing. The astonishing clarity of the video and audio
is breathtaking and so utterly cool that it has been a focal
point of Hollywood productions and television programs
like “24.” But with bandwidth requirements that are
150 times greater than voice calling, and significant
infrastructure commitment, it’s clearly out of reach of
most small and midsize businesses.
Two major developments have begun to occur,
though, over the past six months that will put
high-definition videoconferencing into more SMB
enterprises. First, some vendors -- such as LifeSize, a
division of peripheral maker Logitech -- have begun to ship
HD-quality videoconferencing solutions that can be built into
existing network infrastructures, even at small or midsize enterprises.
Second, Apple and Skype have launched bold, aggressive
videoconferencing solutions for smartphones -- including Apple’s
FaceTime for iPhone and Skype for iPhone.
The CRN Test Center has examined LifeSize Passport, a solution
with a street price ranging from $2,300 to $3,000. While a
fraction of the cost of Telepresence, it’s still an investment. So
we wanted to know: Does it eliminate cost and complexity and
unleash the power of video communication? The answers: Kind
of, yes and yes.
Passport is easy to install: It’s a matter of connecting the
14-ounce console to the network, the included
camera to the console and the LCD to the
console. Passport supports Skype, which
cuts through even more complexity.
Because it’s so light and compact, it’s
easy to take when traveling as well -- not just on road trips but
even from conference room
to conference room.
The video is crisp and
clear, and it supports audio
devices that provide HDlevels
of quality as well. For
small or midsize businesses
to find ROI in the LifeSize
Passport solution, concerns
including travel budgets, the
importance of collaboration
and a business’ culture are
all important to consider.
As for Apple’s FaceTime
and Skype for iPhone, it’s
clear that mobile video calling
and conferencing are here to stay. After taking a good look at
both, there’s very little not to like with each.
Having video-anywhere capability will change expectations and
use patterns; count on that sparking (for lack of a better phrase)
a video revolution.
With what we’ve seen in just the past few months alone, this is
an avenue that’s ripe for opportunity in the channel.
NEXT: Virtual Appliances
After years of examining both hardware-based and software-based
appliances in the CRN Test Center lab, we’ve come to this conclusion:
In the lion’s share of cases, software-based virtual appliances
should simply be the default choice for a number of reasons.
For starters, a reduction of hardware infrastructure can mean an
important reduction in overhead for any enterprise. That overhead
includes power consumption, management, cooling costs and
architecture. Then there’s simply the fact that industry-standard
servers based on Intel’s or Advanced Micro Devices’ technology
can now support servers that host anywhere from a half-dozen
virtual appliances or more.
We’ve had the opportunity to examine a number of valuedriven,
virtual appliances over the past several months.
Melville, N.Y.-based FalconStor has come to the fore with a
number of virtual solutions in storage management, including its
Network Storage Server Appliance. It is built on a Red Hat Linux
5 platform and supports VMware ESX.
More recently, in the past several weeks, we’ve had a chance to
examine the Sophos Virtual Email Appliance e-mail security and
data protection solution, which is optimized for VMware. Previous
Sophos solutions have come into our lab as hardware-based
appliances and, while we’ve often recommended them in the past,
Sophos executives say their partners and customers have been
calling for virtual solutions.
The installation of the Sophos Virtual Email Appliance took a
few minutes, although configuration -- as with hardware-based
appliances -- varies depending on the needs and size of an enterprise.
However, licensing of $41.75 per year, per seat is the same
as the hardware appliance without the hardware cost. We find it to
be just as effective as Sophos
For VARs that have experienced
to embark on server consolidation
because of the need
to maintain these appliances,
what we see is an elimination
of that excuse. Virtual
e-mail, security, storage and
management appliances can
cut down on hardware costs
and expand opportunities to
unlock even more IT value
for enterprises of all sizes.
If an organization is running
hardware appliances in its data center, the smart bet is that
migrating them to virtual appliances will benefit just about all.
Global positioning systems aren’t just for car dashboards anymore.
Over the past two years, we’ve seen tremendous innovation with
From package-tracking systems that allow customers to track
freight from one end of the U.S. to another to Facebook applications,
geo-location is showing greater potential every day.
Two solutions we’ve seen in recent months typify the potential
of this segment. TomTom’s iPhone
app now incorporates geo-tagged
photos into its arsenal of providing
turn-by-turn directions. From
the app, users can now select a
previously taken photograph with
geo-tagged information and Tom-
Tom will just use that information
to provide Point A-to-Point-B
directions. It’s as simple as that.
We’ve also seen an enterprise
VoIP solution from Digium --
Switchvox -- that mashes Google
Maps with caller ID information
to let an organization geo-locate
caller information with no muss
or fuss. Taking it a step further,
by integrating a caller’s Facebook
information into caller ID features, it’s possible to import satellite
GPS information from a Facebook status update a caller publishes
into the operator’s console.
And AT&T shows what is possible for the smallest of enterprises.
Its FamilyMap service can find a cell phone’s location information,
either via satellite through a GPS function or by triangulation,
to allow monitoring of someone’s whereabouts on a Web-based
mapping application any time a phone is simply switched on and
in a service area.
Personal and consumer uses
of geo-location are now entering
commercial solutions, and
the potential to drive value is
almost limitless. If you haven’t
considered this segment in providing
solutions, we think now
is the time to start working it in.
NEXT: Social Networking/Data Mining
Social Networking/Data Mining
We’ve already mentioned the
capacity of one enterprise solution --
Digium’s Switchvox -- to
dive into social networking
information and provide real
value to an organization.
The ability to mine through
tens of millions of public tweets,
blurbs, status updates and more
to isolate trends, spot public
discussions of interest to an
organization, and work to not just catch up but to get ahead of
the curve in various markets can provide extensive ROI.
A best-in-breed solution, from our perspective, is PeopleBrowsr’s
viral and social networking line card of solutions. One solution in
particular, Research.ly, allows an enterprise to track mentions of
a specific topic over 1,000 days to see spikes in conversation and
discussion. For example, a search of social networking mentions of
“NBC” for the past 1,000 days finds a massive spike in attention
for the TV network during the period when Jay Leno and Conan
O’Brien were caught in their hosting controversy.
Taking it to other places, it would be possible to track mentions
of a brand of sneakers, for example, and spikes in conversation
about that brand and determine the day of the week most people
mention it in social networking interaction. That could let the
sneaker maker find out that most mentions come on Sundays
over a period of time and, then, it could target marketing efforts
on that day of the week.
VARs that deliver data mining and analytics solutions now need
to keep social networking in mind, as the explosion in data in this
segment is met only by the explosion in opportunity.
Over the past two years, since the advent of unlimited text messaging
from companies such as Verizon and AT&T, the explosion
in usage of SMS for everything from casual to urgent communications
has been historic.
That makes it all the more mind-boggling that technology
providers have not been more forthcoming with SMS-based solutions --
either to provide security for enterprises or to extend the
reach of enterprise communication. But we’ve seen evidence that
this is an area where solution providers can drive immense value
in the right circumstances, and drive their influence deeper into
the enterprise as a result.
One example: Netsize, a unit
of Gemalto, provides Netsize
SMS as an add-on app for Salesforce.
com’s cloud-based CRM
application. Installation is as
close to instant as you can get
(involving a simple sign-up and
a couple of installation clicks
from the Salesforce.com AppExchange).
a few moments. Netsize SMS
provides from-the-console text
messaging of open case numbers
to Salesforce.com users -- a
particularly useful application
that allows for a great extension
of a cloud-based app to all
manner of smartphones (and
even some semi-smart phones).
With a market that’s almost
too large to count (more than
a trillion text messages are sent
every year in just the U.S.), this is not a segment of IT that is going
away any time soon -- count on just the opposite.
PC-Based CADPC-Based CAD
In the early days of the industry, Computer Assisted Design was
the province of massive, honking workstation machines put out
by companies like Silicon Graphics and Sun Microsystems.
These were pieces of proprietary software. They required proprietary
hardware. They were expensive and they required extensive
training to even use.
Now, CAD is a free smartphone app.
It’s also a tremendous application for industry-standard PCs.
The CRN Test Center has continued to recommend releases from
Autodesk, including Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD 2010. Both
are applications that are fantastic for industry-standard, Windows
7-based PCs and both allow for low-overhead but high-intensity
We’ve also liked Google SketchUp, a free, hosted and browserbased
(and thus, cross-platform) design and sketch creation app.
But the opportunity isn’t just in the applications themselves.
It comes from delivering these newer CAD solutions as part of a
new model of creating, sharing and collaboration.
High-definition sketches created on a PC can be shared on any
platform from Facebook to iPhone to other PCs. And the reverse
is true, as well: With Autodesk SketchBook Mobile, AutoCAD WS
and Inventor Publisher, designs can be created on an iPhone, for
example, and shared through other collaboration applications and
examined on PCs as well.
The enterprise has become more visual -- well beyond Power-
Point -- and sketch and design creation, sharing and editing can
drive collaboration and creativity to a higher level. The fact that
PC-based CAD and smartphone-based CAD has expanded the
total addressable market by tens of millions in just two years indicates a tremendous market is sitting before value-added resellers
and solution providers. The investment -- by both enterprises and
VARs -- is also minimal compared to other eras in the PC industry.
CAD can be a differentiator for any enterprise steeped in
creativity and collaboration, and now the opportunity is greater
than it has ever been.
NEXT: Personal HealthPersonal Health
There are many reasons to believe that digital health solutions, as
a segment, have stalled. Powerhouse companies including Google,
Intel and Microsoft, had rolled out major initiatives in this space
over the past seven years, but bureaucracies in the medical vertical
market -- among other reasons -- have seemed to act as roadblocks
to expansion and growth.
We think that’s about to change for several reasons and because
of several new enabling technologies.
On the front end, iOS and Android platforms have enabled a
new generation of health and fitness apps. It’s now possible, in a
given morning, to:
• Wake up refreshed, thanks to startup Perfect Third’s WakeMate
device. WakeMate is worn on the wrist and, via Bluetooth, connects
to the iPhone. By monitoring sleep cycles, it will allow you
to set an alarm and, within the vicinity of that exact time, will
use analytics that include pulse rate and sleep cycle to find the
optimum time to wake you up -- via iPhone alarm -- so you feel
refreshed. It will also assist in monitoring sleep patterns. Among
the investors in this solution is the venture firm of Lotus founder
• Track your weight gain, maintenance or loss digitally thanks
to a solution developed by Withings. By using a WiFi-supporting,
digital scale you can check your weight and, wirelessly,
transmit the result to a Withings account which, in turn,
supports tracking by Google Health online (which can be
shared with your physician). Withings is financed, in part,
by Polaris Ventures, which counts Ethernet inventor Robert
Metcalfe in its senior ranks. Withings has also developed
an iPhone-supporting blood pressure monitor, which was
slated to be released later this year.
• After you check your weight, you can make sure you
keep it on the healthier side by hitting the gym or pavement
and taking a run -- using the Nike + iPod solution
(that also works with iPhones). With the Nike solution, a
transmitter that fits into the heel of a running shoe sends
workout data, including miles run and calories burned,
wirelessly to the iPod or iPhone and, then, a Nike +
account online. While running, the application lets you
sync your favorite iPod playlists to keep you energized.
• With health management solutions like Google Health
and Microsoft Health Vault, it’s now possible to aggregate
much personal health data and share it seamlessly with
health-care providers. The combination of patient-based
digital health technology now enabled on more personal
and easier-to-use platforms, and online health-care collaboration
enabled by Google and Microsoft, means a
new market with explosive potential.
NEXT: Virtualized Desktop Infrastructure
Virtualized Desktop Infrastructure
There are very few sure things in life, but odds certainly favor the
continued strong growth of the virtualized desktop infrastructure,
which in many cases is an offshoot of a company’s existing private
cloud. Already somewhat of a commodity, commercial VDI
solutions come in many shapes and sizes, including fat-, thin- and
zero-client solutions running a variety of protocols from familiar
providers. The trend shows no signs of slowing.
In a nutshell, the virtual desktop infrastructure is one that stores
one or more instances of Linux, Windows or another desktop operating
system on a hypervisor-equipped server such as one running
Microsoft’s Hyper-V or VMware’s ESX. Thin clients, computers or
smartphones running thin-client software connect to the hypervisor
and open one of the operating system images. Depending on the
implementation, the hypervisor delivers either pixel-level changes or
the entire desktop environment and applications to the client system.
A number of vendors pitch off-the-shelf solutions that can be
sold for a relatively small up-front cost plus monthly maintenance.
One example is Zenith Infotech and its SmartStyle Architecture, a
node-based private cloud that employs one or more server nodes
that virtualize the client operating system for IP-based delivery to
new or existing client nodes of any kind. Benefits include remote
control, centralized administration and realtime backup. Up-front
costs to the reseller total around $2,000; per-user recurring revenue
can be whatever the market will bear. Options include server
redundancy, remote administration and centralized data snapshot.
Also in the game is Hewlett-Packard, which sent the CRN Test
Center a VDI configuration that might be typical of one found in
a small office or department. It consisted of a ProLiant ML-350
dual-Xeon server running
Server 4.1 along with
a 64-bit Atom-based
t5740 thin-client device
(see the full review on page 26). With this
HP solution, resellers have the flexibility
to deploy one or a combination of sessionbroker
clients from Microsoft (RDP), Citrix
(XenDesktop), VMware (VMware View),
or HP’s own TeemTalk terminal emulation
client for accessing legacy platforms.
Server options include stand-alone, blade or
rack-mount hardware, each with the usual
complement of failover and backup options.
When considering a VDI solution, VARs
need to evaluate a customer’s infrastructure,
such as existing servers, networking, hypervisor,
remote office connections and the
speed of its Internet connection.
NEXT: Solid State DrivesSolid State Drives
Have you checked the price of SSDs lately?
If pricing has kept you and your customers
away from deploying SSDs in mainstream
client computing devices, it may be time to have another look. Thanks to a freefall in memory prices that’s
been going on essentially since 2007, SSDs have gone from specialty
products starting at $1,000 to a sub-$250 commodity now
offered as options by many PC makers and white-box providers.
An Intel 40-GB SATA SSD sells on the street for as little as $98.
On average, SSDs cost as much as $2 per GB compared with
around 20 cents per GB for low-end spinning hard drives.
The super-fast boot and access times of Flash-based drives,
coupled with their resistance to shock, vibration, electromagnetic
erasure and other harsh environmental factors, have made them
the drive of choice for builders of ruggedized mobile computers,
command and control systems of military and aerospace
departments, scientific research systems and for other specialized
applications. But pricing remained the primary obstacle to
the widespread adoption that normally would allow
economies of scale to bring about a price drop
(read: LCD panels).
When compared with their
SSDs all have one
thing in common:
They deliver orders
of magnitude faster
reads and writes. They’re small, light and use the same interfaces
that magnetic hard drives do. Other benefits include instant spinup,
zero noise, less power usage and heat dissipation requirements,
low latencies and no moving parts to wear out.
But on the subject of wearing out, you should know that SSDs
are not all upside. Those made with Flash memory, the less expensive
alternative to DRAM, have a limited number of writes over
the life of the drive. How limited? That depends on the type of
Flash memory being used. Single-level cell (SLC) technology
offers the longest life at about 100,000 write cycles per cell, more
than enough to outlast a server or laptop. The usable life of multilevel
cell (MLC) technology, commonly used in thumb drives, can
vary from 1,000 to 10,000 write cycles before it begins to fail,
according to memory maker Fujitsu.
Then there’s free block availability, a problem that’s roughly
analogous to fragmentation. When data is erased from an SSD,
those previously used sectors are normally kicked back to the file
system for reallocation. An overabundance of these blank spaces
can degrade performance over time.
NEXT: Digital SignageDigital Signage
With the cost of flat-panel monitors falling like snow in the Northeast
this winter, the timing has never been better for considering a
move into the digital signage market. Aside from pitching them to
doctors, dentists and other professionals for their waiting rooms,
the screens are popping up in restaurants, retail stores, delis, diners,
and even on gas pumps. And like a Web page crowded with
banner ads, the human eye moves to the one that’s animated.
Dynamic billboards simply grab more attention at airports and in
storefronts than static signs do.
Staking one of the largest claims to the market in digital signage
real estate is NEC Display Solutions of America, which in
October began shipping what can only be called an LED video
wall. Available for indoor and outdoor settings, these professionalgrade,
made-to-order LED panels are a bezel-less design featuring
a refresh rate greater than 800Hz, and are driven by a standard
dual-link DVI-D interface and 14- and 16-bit color processing.
Both also include automatic brightness controls to ensure evenness
between panels. Setup software automatically calculates the
matrixing and dot-pitch corrections for optimal accuracy.
Indoor and outdoor models employ multicolor lamps with red,
green and blue LEDs that comprise each pixel. These lamps were
developed and supplied by Nicha Corp., credited with the invention
in 1993 of the blue LED, and are said to be the longest-lasting
lamps on the market today. Servicing can take place from the
front or rear of the panels, and NEC provides LED Wall Manager
Control software as well as mounting and video distribution
processors and cabling options.
The indoor model, the LED-06AF1, is brightness-rated at 2,000
NITs, which is about 10 times that of an ordinary LCD desktop
display with a rated contrast ratio of 3,500:1. We stood in front
of one of these units at a recent launch event and could not look
directly at it without squinting.
The indoor model also employs black LEDs and an improved
shader to boost contrast and reduce reflections. When viewed
from a distance of 15 to 20 feet or more, the 6mm pixel pitch
was barely noticeable. The LED-06AF1 is intended for “live sign”
applications in retail stores, shopping malls, broadcast studios and
other areas where large numbers of people will view the display
from varying moderate distances.
More impressive is the outdoor unit and its 7,500 NIT brightness
rating. With its 15mm pixel pitch, the outdoor LED-15BF1
boasts a 4,500:1 contrast ratio and a NEMA rating for dust and
moisture ingress protection of IP65. Explained briefly, the first
digit of the “ingress protection” rating indicates how much protection
is provided from solid objects, which usually means dust or
sand. The highest rating is 6, which means it’s totally impervious to
dust incursion. The second digit indicates protection from liquids.
A rating of 8 (the highest) means the unit can be totally submerged
in water and survive. NEC’s outdoor LED wall scores a 5
here, meaning that it can withstand water jets from any direction
and will not be damaged by a slight ingress of water. The LED-
15BF1 is intended to be used for billboards, sports arenas, concert
halls, airports and other public areas.
The indoor and outdoor LED products began shipping in October
2010 and are covered by a three-year parts and labor warranty.
Both modules will be built-to-order with a 120-day lead time.