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VAR500: 20 Titans Of Transformation

VAR500 companies over the last year have made astronomical investments to transform themselves into cloud powers. Here's an in-depth look at how 20 of them did it.

The 2011 VAR500 Class has its head in the clouds.

With cloud computing solutions being adopted by businesses of all sizes at a record-clip, VAR500 companies over the last year have made astronomical investments to transform themselves into cloud solution provider powers.

Sirius Computer Solutions, No. 34 on the VAR500 list, acquired MSI Systems Integrators, a $350 million, highly respected technology power based in Omaha, Neb., to get cloud strong. The deal between the two companies created a $1.3 billion solution provider behemoth with what may well be the broadest and deepest technical talent to take enterprise customers to the cloud.

Logicalis, No. 24 on the VAR500 list, made a $10 million investment to beef up its cloud computing services and funded more than 150 man-hours of sales training per week for the company's 100-person sales force.

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2011 VAR500 Home

Ahead, No. 143 on the VAR500 list, made a monstrous investment in building its own private cloud in its lab, where it can show customers what a true private cloud deployment looks like, what it takes and how it works.

And Champion Solutions Group, No. 168 on the VAR500 list, is practicing what it preaches. The 32-year-old Boca Raton, Fla. headquartered company is using the same cloud technology to power its business that it is selling to customers. That has made Champion a customer cloud favorite.

Those are just four examples of the cloud computing transformation that reshaped the VAR500 solution provider landscape. Here are a look at 20 VAR500 titans of transformation:

NEXT: Profiles of the VAR500


Ahead

Ahead didn't waste any time. It dove headfirst into cloud computing, virtualization and the entire stack. And it all started with a realization: The infrastructure just isn't that important anymore.

"The infrastructure--it's becoming less and less pertinent and the way something is presented and managed and how it's billed are becoming more important," said Dan Adamany, president of Chicago-based Ahead.

But as Ahead prepped for this massive transformation, customers were at a standstill, uncertain where to move in a time of rapid innovation, shrinking budgets and dwindling resources.

"Most customers right now are 100 percent overwhelmed with what's happening," Adamany said, adding they're bombarded with new technologies and offerings but are sinking in an IT quicksand.

Ahead saw that as an opportunity. When the company launched four and a half years ago, it was with the mission to bring customers aboard with these emerging and transformational technologies. As Adamany said, Ahead was purpose-built for the shift.

To bring customers up to speed with the cloud, Ahead made a monstrous investment in building its own private cloud in its lab, where it can show customers what a true private cloud deployment looks like, what it takes and how it works.

"We're trying to understand and show customers what's real and what's not," he said. "It opens their eyes and their minds. Our goal as a company is to become an adviser to our customers."

Elsewhere, Ahead invested heavily in VMware and ramped up its sales force and technical teams to grow as VMware moves up the stack; and in Cisco's Unified Computing System, where it was one of the first partners to offer Cisco's virtualization play.

Ahead also makes sure all engineers are cross-trained on its entire product set. "As an organization, we want each of our engineers to understand the entire stack," he said.

By Andrew R. Hickey

NEXT: Axispoint


Axispoint

Axispoint has built a healthy services business that includes practices in cloud, virtualization, mobility, application development and unified communications.

But the solution provider decided a few years ago to carve out differentiation in the market not just through technological focus, but with a sales model that departs from conventional IT channel norms. While many VARs focus on hiring account managers and cold calling to land accounts, Axispoint uses a named account strategy that encompasses direct and indirect sales methods.

"As a technology solution firm, you can differentiate yourself not just in delivery, but also in your sales model," said Daniel DiSano, president and CEO of New York-based Axispoint. "The named account strategy is transforming our business. It allows us to do more targeted selling and put together a team effort around those named accounts."

Founded in 1994, Axispoint has built in-house technology expertise in application, infrastructure and systems integration and advises customers on what moves to make--or not make--in these areas. However, Axispoint's growth today has more to do with the investments it has made in internal and external business processes, according to DiSano.

Creating processes for cloud competency is no simple matter because cloud deployments touch applications and infrastructure. Axispoint has put together several representative cloud offerings to help clients decide if it's right for them.

DiSano sees Axispoint's role not as a promoter of bleeding-edge technology, but as a guide to help companies solve business issues with the careful, targeted application of technology. The trust it has built up over the years with clients is just as important as its technology investments, DiSano said.

"Customer satisfaction and care is so important to the business. You can continually land clients, but if you're not keeping them on the back end, you'll never grow," said DiSano.

By Kevin McLaughlin

NEXT: Business Communications Inc.


Business Communications Inc.

Early in the fourth quarter of 2010, managers from Business Communications Inc. got together for a day of strategic thinking. BCI, Ridgefield, Miss., had already seen several quarters of strong growth and was firing on all cylinders to hit its annual growth target of 30 percent.

Many ideas came up, but according to Blake

Webber, BCI's director of sales, recent attendance at industry conferences and discussions with vendor partners and customers had pointed to a golden opportunity: branded cloud services. Almost immediately, BCI was breaking ground on a new data center, which after many millions in investment, is set to go live on July 1, 2011.

"We looked at our business plan and had gotten a lot of positive feedback from our partner community along the lines of us being cutting edge with what we're doing," Webber said. "People today do managed services, do co-location, and we're going to offer that, too, but that's ultimately not what we're about. We're about extending compute, and being able to offer compute in a way where customers don't have to make a sizable investment."

Consider the data center and the branded services to come out of it as BCI looking at cloud computing and pushing its chips, so to speak, to the center of the poker table. "We're all in," Webber said. "This is where the industry is going. It's a gut check moment. We chose to put the hammer down and go with our gut on this."

BCI grew its business in bundled infrastructure sales, with virtualization leading the way, Webber said. That's meant a lot of growth in traditional VMware-led server virtualization sales with particular emphasis on networking, storage, disaster recovery and services. Cloud computing and services, Webber contends, are the next evolution of that.

BCI's growth strategies and technology bets are key to keeping its 30 percent target firmly in sight. "We believe data center services make that a lot easier to obtain," Webber said.

By Chad Berndtson

NEXT: Carousel Industries


Carousel Industries

In an era when many solution providers have lost a little (or a lot) of their mojo or are still feeling the effects of a poor economy, Carousel Industries is a powerhouse: strong and getting stronger. The Exeter, R.I., solution provider is perhaps best known as an Avaya-centric UC, collaboration and voice player, but through a series of acquisitions and strategic growth decisions, it is continuing to expand its footprint into security, virtualization, video, wireless networking and managed services.

Another growth area for Carousel is carrier services--traditionally a tough nut to crack for IT solution providers but, to Carousel, a multifaceted opportunity. The company provides a wide range of services and has 30-plus carrier partnerships, including with AT&T, Verizon, Qwest and Paetec.

"We have had success by acting as a carrier-agnostic consulting adviser to our clients," said

Stephen Forest, Carousel's director of carrier solutions. "They know that we have a vested interest in the success of all of their communications technologies and are not simply pushing a carrier agency."

Carousel's carrier services business has doubled over the past year, according to Forest. MPLS and SIP services are selling best, he said, because they let clients lower total cost of ownership by using a single network for their voice, video and data needs.

"Our biggest growth is going to come from guiding our clients from traditional TDM network architecture to a fully converged SIP-enabled architecture," he said. "We are uniquely positioned to deliver all of the elements required to realize the TCO benefits of the next generation of networking technologies."

With all the talk about the convergence of the telco agent and IT reseller channels, Forest said the biggest thing Carousel has seen is carriers acquiring VARs to build their services capabilities--a move fraught with difficulty because it means carriers end up competing with their VAR agents, Forest said.

"There is still significant divide between channel and direct carrier sales teams," said Forest.

By Chad Berndtson

NEXT: Champion Solutions Group


Champion Solutions Group

Chris Pyle knows transformation. How can he not? As the CEO of a company founded in 1979, he's seen the countless shifts needed to stay ahead of the curve. But the era of cloud computing, mobility and tablets has gotten Champion Solutions Group's transformational juices flowing again, maybe more so than ever before, Pyle said.

"Champion had to focus on our business transformation," he said. "It's a journey, not a destination."

For Pyle, the transformation journey is to always keep a keen eye turned to "the next practice." Where many companies, including some of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Champion's competitors, are content following the "best practice," Pyle and his crew are constantly chasing the next one.

That has led to the launch of a full-on cloud computing practice well before many others. And now Champion is hot on the virtual desktop, a practice that has spun from its virtualization play. All told, Champion has brought 75 clients to some section of the public cloud, Pyle said, and probably the same number to the private cloud. For Champion, delving into the cloud meant total immersion. It used the very cloud offerings it planned to sell in a what's-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander move.

"We need to learn that it's changing right in front of our eyes. And quickly," he said. "The best way to learn is to do it ourselves. This business transformation has to come from within."

Overall, he said, the key to transformation is to maintain a strong services focus. "You have to provide a certain level of service and support," he said. "Just moving customers to the cloud isn't going to make you a lot of money."

Pyle estimated that Champion's own move to the cloud has saved it as much as $10,000 per month, an incredibly powerful metric he can show potential clients. "A lot of our clients are looking to us," he said. "You have to start the conversation with the clients, and it really has to start from within."

By Andrew R. Hickey

NEXT: Datalink


Datalink

Datalink broke away from the pack when it decided to branch out from its siloed storage to a more "well-rounded data center infrastructure," said President and CEO Paul Lidsky.

Rallying around Cisco, VMware and others has helped Datalink become a services superstar that has seen massive growth in part due to its capture of technology transformations, namely virtualization and cloud computing. Datalink offers a triple threat of professional services, customer support and managed services, Lidsky said, and has augmented that with a pure consulting practice that helps clients through major transitions, such as moving data centers or preparing for the cloud.

Datalink's diversification and its move away from solely offering storage was in response to customers who wanted a one-stop data center shop.

"Our data center strategy is a direct result of our customers asking us to take a more forward position," Lidsky said. "We're fulfilling more needs for the customers."

To fill those needs, Datalink, based in Chanhassen, Minn., launched dedicated virtualization and cloud readiness practices. It was ahead of the curve on virtualization.

Going forward, Lidsky said desktop virtualization, cloud, virtualization and the concept of unified computing will be major drivers. It also will stick with the tried-and-true data center operations offerings such as backup, archiving, disaster recovery and continuity, which become more critical as virtualization and cloud computing take hold.

Datalink is also turning to certifications from its key vendors to prove its prowess and hone its skills, Lidsky said. It has brought certifications from Cisco, VMware, NetApp, Hitachi and others on board and prides itself on capturing certifications early in the process to sharpen its expertise, he added.

"Demand doesn't create training; training comes first and that creates demand," he said.

By Andrew R. Hickey

NEXT: Denali Advanced Integration


Denali Advanced Integration

Majdi "Mike" Daher was a 20 year old premed college student planning on becoming a doctor when the Gulf War broke out in 1990, cutting him and his brothers off from his family in Kuwait.

It was a time of intense pain and uncertainy during which Daher and his two brothers in the US lost touch for some six months with their Mom,Dad, and siblings caught up in the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

"As brothers we came together determined to overcome and over-achieve, to figure out what we could do to build a business, to give back to our family that needed us now," says Daher, who put aside his dream of becoming a doctor. "We were determined to not let the situation define us. We needed to define the situation."

That's just what Daher did dropping out of College and teaming with his two brothers with cash made selling personal belongings to start Denali Advanced Integration in Redmond,Washington in June 1992.

"Failure was not an option," recalls Daher of the 17 hour work days and 13 members of his family living in a one bedroom apartment in Redmond, Washington after his family was reunited in the US. "Our family was depending on us."

Today, Denali, born out of that turbulent time, is one of the most highly respected and decorated solution providers in the country ranking number 152 on the 2011 CRN VAR500 list with a 25 percent increase in sales to 2010 to $110 million. The company's slogan, "Above the Rest", refers to Daher's promise as cofounder and CEO to bring every Denali customer "world class innovation, top tier support and trusted advisors who transform information technology into what he calls "unparalleled business advantages."

It's not only Denali's trusted and innovative technical advisors that are "Above The Rest," but its charitable efforts. Daher is the winner of the VAR500 2011 Community Service Award. His philanthropic pledge is to give community members fighting for a better life a "hand up" rather than a "hand out." It is that philosophy that has made Daher a widely recognized philanthropic leader focusing on healthcare, eduction and technology in the Redmond, Washington community. Denali and Daher have also been singled out by computer giant HP with the prestigious "Power of Technology In Community Innovation" "for giving back to the community.

Daher, who returned to Portland State University graduating magna cum laude with a bachelors degree in biology, has forged a different path to save and change lives than that of a doctor. He says his giving back is a direct result of the hands that reached out to help him during his own difficult times. "What matters is what we do with that hand that reached out to us," says Daher. "At Denali, we don't do hand outs. We do hand ups."

When Denali President Chris Gerhardt met Todd Stablefeldt, a quadriplegic while riding on a commuter ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle Washington, the Denali team stepped up and supplied the technical expertise and technology muscle to make sure that Stablefeldt could survive during a power outage through the use of computer backup technology. Not only that the company teamed with technology partners on specially designed disability interfaces. That has led to a role promoting technology for quadriplegics with the support of the Todd Stabelfeldt foundation. Daher and his wife Dana have also been honored by the Evergreen Hospital in Redmond with the 2009 Spirit of Giving award.

But those charitable efforts are only a small part of Daher's determination to step up and support the community,customers, employees and vendors alike. "He won't share with you how many people he has helped," says John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations for Denali. "I love the man. He is such a fine person deep down in his soul."

When a Denali employee was killed in a tragic car accident in 2007, Daher established an educational fund for the children and launched a community excellence award given to a charity chosen by an employee each year who personally volunteers and supports local charities. And when a Denali employee passed away from cancer last year, Daher stepped up once again to assist the family financially.

Daher himself won't talk about those deeds. But he does say that he views actions during such difficult times as another measure of "defining those situations rather than letting those situations define you."

"Somebody gave me the torch to light my pathway in the darkness of those challenging times," he says, recalling his Dad fleeing Kuwait with $20 in his pocket. "It is now my time as I came out of those dark times to hand that torch to other people."

By Steven Burke

NEXT: Entisys


Entisys

Entisys is busy keeping up with the business and organizational changes that virtualization and cloud computing necessitate. What's different about Entisys is that it already has well-developed businesses there. The challenge it faces is keeping the engine humming while maintaining its technology leadership role with customers.

Eighteen months ago, Entisys started working with Hewlett-Packard's Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking division and has since increased internal staff by 20 percent to work with HP, said Mike Strohl, president of Entisys. "We decided we needed a server infrastructure business to support what we're doing in virtualization," he said.

Entisys also has a thriving Microsoft partnership that includes expertise in server virtualization and System Center. The Concord, Calif.-based solution provider recently started a Cisco practice as well and is "investing aggressively" in personnel and resources around Cisco's Unified Computing System.

"I believe if you're going to lead in the cloud and data center, you need UCS and you need to offer partner consulting with customers," Strohl said. "We're a virtualization and cloud company, and UCS provides the computing fabric for both."

Entisys is in the midst of a dramatic expansion: The company had 52 employees at the start of 2010 and now has 78. By year's end, Entisys will surpass the 100-employee mark, Strohl said. In addition, the company's revenue has doubled in the past year.

To keep pace with this growth, Strohl is restructuring Entisys' leadership, but he's aiming to achieve this in a way that doesn't disrupt the company's chemistry or focus. "Ramping up new technology partnerships is always a challenge. The biggest obstacle when you're growing is maintaining the spirit and core of who you are," he said. "The more you add layers of management and support in your business, the tougher it gets."

By Kevin McLaughlin

NEXT: ePlus


ePlus

Eplus has seen its share of evolutions. Founded in 1990, the company started out like many VARs, making most of its money simply reselling and leasing computer hardware. After the '90s ended and the Internet

exploded, ePlus ventured beyond hardware and into software solutions and professional IT services.

And when the industry went through another upheaval with the advent of virtualization and cloud computing, ePlus transformed itself yet again. In fact, ePlus has adapted to market changes and new technologies so quickly that it's hard to identify the nearly $700 million company year to year--beyond its successful track record, of course.

"We've changed a lot. We've moved from being a box pusher to a service integrator," said Mark Melvin, chief technology officer at ePlus. "The data center has become a huge focus for us."

Melvin said ePlus' numerous transformations were vital to the company's success. "It's getting tougher and tougher to be a server-only, storage-only or networking-only VAR," he said. "You can get away with it for a while, but not for very long because these days all the technology is tied together and there are fewer vendors."

In that respect, ePlus made big investments in data center and virtualization-related competencies and certifications. The solution provider today boasts many of the top partner levels and certifications in the industry with many leading vendors, including Cisco, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and VMware. "I think we've chosen our partners and certifications pretty well when you look at our competencies," he said.

Today, ePlus' conversations with clients have been elevated from RFP-level discussions to strategy discussions with high-level executives, Melvin said. "We're having business transformation discussions now, not product-level discussions. We don't want to just solve one problem. We want to transform our clients' businesses for the next 20 years."

By Rob Wright

NEXT: The Ergonomic Group


The Ergonomic Group

The ergonomic group is a solution provider in a state of transition as it gets ready for the new world of mobility and cloud services. The Westbury, N.Y., company is now going about hiring the right people and developing the skills needed to deploy private clouds for customers, said John Bacci, vice president of engineering.

However, getting ready for the cloud is not an overnight affair. The biggest issue is developing the right people, Bacci said.

"The people are out there," he said. "But they're very expensive. And overworked. So we're training our own, and working with staffing companies to find others. These people know their skill sets are in short supply now."

Ergonomic is also transitioning from a hardware focus to a combined hardware and software focus, Bacci said.

"A good solution provider has both a hardware and software focus," he said. "You need to understand the hardware. That will never go away. But you also need a software focus to transition to cloud services."

Ergonomic's customers are for the most part still in the cloud assessment phase, Bacci said. They are talking about security and the cloud, about whether private or public clouds are better, and even about whether the cloud is right for their operations, he said.

For instance, Bacci said, Ergonomic in late May was talking to one customer about deploying a private cloud and saw the customer's software offering as a first step in the cloud development process. However, the customer said it didn't see the need to provision a new environment, as its software development community was sufficient.

"They said there's no need to move faster," he said. "We need to help them expand on what they're doing, educate them, and help them understand what private clouds can and can't do to solve their problems."

By Joseph F. Kovar

NEXT: FishNet Security


FishNet Security

Last year's explosion of mobility, virtualization and cloud technology led to a new year of expansion and growth for some solution providers. Among them was Gary Fish, founder and CEO of Kansas City, Mo.-based FishNet Security, who said that his company is hitting all three of these areas hard.

FishNet, which specializes in security products, managed services and PCI forensic audits, is now leaping into mobile security with both feet, Fish said.

"Mobility was No. 1 for us," he said. "Mobility for us has been an incredibly successful practice. We can't walk into a customer without talking about mobility. They're all facing the same issues."

The company already had pieces of a mobile security portfolio in place, Fish said, but this year he started to "bring the competencies together" and build out his team. What differentiates the mobility space, according to Fish, is that it is primarily customer-driven. Even within FishNet, Fish said that he and his employees had to overcome security and management challenges when they brought iPhones and iPads to use in the corporate environment. It wasn't a big stretch to assume that those same issues would be plaguing his customers, he said.

"We find on the mobility side, it's an easy conversation. Every CISO is facing the same challenges," said Fish.

FishNet is also building practices that aim to secure the cloud, expanding its portfolio of authentication and single sign-on cloud offerings, Fish said.

Meanwhile, the company is also charging full speed ahead into virtualization, building out consulting practices around VMware with auditing services that assess the security posture of virtual environments, while putting assessment tools together to determine risk in a business environment, he said.

"They're interesting spaces," Fish said. "We can't do everything possible. You've got to pick your battles, and take on the ones where you're going to be most successful."

By Stefanie Hoffman

NEXT: Gotham Technology Group


Gotham Technology Group

Gotham technology group was launched in 2001 after its parent company, an application service provider, failed in the dot-com crash. The ASP model, something of a precursor to today's cloud computing, just didn't work because virtualization and multitenant technology "wasn't really there for the cloud at the time," said Gotham CEO Ira Silverman.

Montvale, N.J.-based Gotham became a leading supplier of desktop virtualization services, particularly to financial services companies, banks and insurance firms in the New York area. Gotham transformed itself into a provider of services encompassing IT infrastructure, data storage, disaster recovery, security and application development. "Desktop virtualization is a huge driver for IT infrastructure," Silverman said.

"What we always did well was this remote access part. We had to develop these other data center practices," he said. The secret? "It's hiring the right people and it's picking the right vendors to work with." While Gotham works with many IT vendors, Silverman lists Check Point, Cisco, Citrix, EMC, Microsoft and VMware as major partners. Gotham was the Citrix U.S. Partner of the Year in 2009.

"All of our customers, large or small, know that they need to do something with the cloud. But they don't know how," Silverman said. "There's a huge opportunity for us over the next five years to make money developing cloud strategies for our customers and helping them get into cloud computing. For them it's a huge challenge."

As Gotham expanded into bigger deals, it found itself running into major systems integration competitors such as CSC and IBM Global Services. In a bold move last year Gotham and six other IT consulting companies of similar size established a consortium called M7 Global Partners (M7GP.com) to bid for global virtual desktop and application delivery contracts. "That's working out exceptionally well for us," Silverman said.

By Rick Whiting

NEXT: Intelligent Decisions


Intelligent Decisions

Intelligent decisions has been around for more than two decades, and the appropriately named solution provider has made more than a few smart bets to stay on top of the rapidly changing IT industry.

The Ashburn, Va.-based company began as a hardware-focused reseller specializing in the federal government, and even built its own white-box systems for clients. Over the past 10 years, the solution provider has expanded its offerings from PCs and servers to storage arrays and security appliances. Intelligent Decisions today has a 44,000-square-foot manufacturing and integration facility and, according to the company, is Intel's largest system builder partner in the Mid-Atlantic region.

But the company's services business is what has truly elevated Intelligent Decisions to a new level.

We've become increasingly solutions-oriented. If you look at our business over the years, we're still selling about the same dollar amount of hardware," said Roy Stephan, vice president of technology solutions. "But professional services and systems integration are a larger percentage of our business today."

Intelligent Decisions has found growing opportunities in data center consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing. Stephan said the federal government has put an emphasis on lowering costs through data center consolidation and virtualization and is even looking at moving less sensitive data to public clouds.

"We're much more proactive now instead of being reactive," Stephan said. "With the budget cuts that have come down in the government, we can offer solutions that actually reduce the costs of existing legacy systems."

Intelligent Decisions also maintains strong partnerships with a number of leading vendors, such as Dell, IBM and EMC and recently was named Cisco's Intelligence Community Partner of the Year for its work in the U.S. public sector, particularly around Cisco's security and data center products.

By Rob Wright

NEXT: Logicalis


Logicalis

Logicalis president and CEO Terry Flood, a CPA and onetime chief financial officer of the company, didn't blink when the economic downturn walloped the solution provider business.

Instead, Flood saw opportunity in crisis and doubled down on the technology business, making a $10 million investment in cloud computing and funding more than 150 man-hours of sales training per week for the company's 100-person sales force. It's that kind of cool-headed leadership that has made Flood, the VAR500 2011 Executive of the Year, one of the most admired and respected CEOs in the technology solutions business.

Under Flood's steady hand, Logicalis has remained one of only a handful of independent solution provider behemoths to see dramatic growth during the downturn. The Farmington Hills, Mich., company ended 2010 with an impressive 29 percent increase in sales to $1.1 billion.

"While competitors were pulling back, we were investing," said Flood. "No one likes an economic downturn. But I was very comfortable compared to others in the industry. I knew what I was looking at. At Logicalis, we approached the downturn with confidence."

Confidence indeed.

Flood, who joined Logicalis seven years ago as its chief financial officer, made sure that the company stayed focus on what it has done well for 14 years: providing best-in-class technology solutions that result in competitive advantages for customers.

Flood credits the entire team at Logicalis from sales to marketing and support staff for the "thought leadership" that allowed the company to thrive during the downturn. But it helped that as the technology decisions moved up to the CFO and CEO level Flood was in the sales trenches using his economic acumen to help close deals. "We literally got stronger as a company it seemed the tougher things got," he says. "It's great to look at a tough economic time and say that you grew through it."

One of the keys to Logicalis' success has been its ability to work closely with enterprise IT organizations to build detailed return on investment (ROI) financial models that helped win over CEOs and CFOs. That has also been critical in consulting engagements aimed at determining what IT functions should be outsourced or kept in house.

A comprehensive multi-year IT strategy/business plan allowed one Logicalis client to outsource 90 percent of its IT operations to the company. "The real driver was the thought process the customer went through deciding where to make investments focused more on their business working closely with Logicalis as a trusted, reliable, high-quality IT partner," Flood said.

The kinds of discussions that Logicalis had with that customer are examples of the "thought leadership" that has resulted in the company playing a pivotal role guiding customers as they make cloud computing decisions.

"We are helping our clients decide what (IT functions) should be kept in house or outside the IT house as they look at cloud, public, private and hybrid," Flood says. "The hardware decision of the past was a point decision. This is a decision about having a financially-sound, technically competent partner to go into business with on a daily basis for a number of years."

It's not surprising then that Logicalis is quickly gaining traction in the cloud computing market."The results we are seeing are great from our cloud offering combined with our managed services approach," says Flood. "If there has been a benefit to the economic downturn it is that it has created one of the most dynamic IT environments in the last 20 years. I am very optimistic about the future. The economy is going to go wherever it goes; the measure of whether we are good businesspeople is how we make our way through the economy--no matter what it happens to be."

By Steven Burke

NEXT: Long View Systems


Long View Systems

It's difficult to pinpoint the period in time in which Long View Systems started to transform its business to adjust to new market realities. After all, the Denver-based VAR always seems to be on the move.

Flexibility has been a key to Long View's success and has helped it to grow into an 850-employee company that has many times doubled its revenue from the previous year, said Alastair Woolcock, director of strategic sourcing.

Of course, the big push now is around cloud, but it's Long View's belief that most VARs and vendors aren't being as flexible as they need to be or taking a holistic approach when it comes to selling cloud solutions, Woolcock said.

Think of cloud computing as the engine block of a car, a vital part that won't get you far without the rest of the car, he said. "Everyone is trying to figure out how to sell the next vBlock to the world or whatever the case may be. Those are enabling infrastructures. You need to apply services above that to make [the solution] as flexible and nimble as possible," Woolcock said. "A successful VAR enables you to drive off the lot to get where you need to be."

Dan Sottile, Long View's chief marketing officer, added that Long View pays more attention to the actual IT users of its customers, not just the CIO or IT purchaser.

"IT has not focused on that world very well for the last 10 to 15 years," said Sottile. "Productivity is really being driven by the worker. IT infrastructure has always been focused on financial info for the business or HR requirements. Today, it's moving more toward moments of engagement. Actual end users creating actual revenue streams. That's an important part of engagement where they're making a business difference. That's where we focus our technology. Whether it's mobility, data center or cloud, we're all focused on trying to drive engagement."

By Scott Campbell

NEXT: Mainline Information Systems


Mainline Information Systems

It only seems like Mainline Information Systems has spent as much time receiving awards and accolades as selling IT solutions to customers.

Last year, Mainline, Tallahassee, Fla., received Red Hat's North American Partner of the Year, Novell's Data Center Partner of the Year and VMware's Global Desktop Virtualization Partner of the Year awards, as well as a whole shelf of awards from IBM.

The company has also been on CRN's Diverse 100 and most recently was named to the CRN Tech Elite 250, which honors VARs based on their deep technical expertise and premier certifications.

Yet, despite having to spend so much time shaking hands and holding trophies, Mainline executives have found time to transform the business to offer everything from virtualization to cloud computing.

The key, according to John McCarthy, executive vice president and COO, is continually investing in training and certifications around new technologies and utilizing that newly gained knowledge to help customers solve real-life business problems.

"For the past few years, Mainline has focused on adapting our business model to how our customers are buying and implementing technology solutions. We continue to invest in certifications, training and solutions core to our customers' needs such as business continuity, virtualization, cloud, security and business analytics," McCarthy said in a statement earlier this year after being named to the Tech Elite 250.

Proof of that commitment to achieving a broad and deep technical bench was evident last December when Mainline earned Virtualization Elite status from Hewlett-Packard. Mainline has long been associated with IBM--and still is--but recognized that it needed to expand its portfolio to adapt to changing business needs.

"By adding partners like HP, Mainline will be able to offer customers our well-renowned services on a broader set of hardware," McCarthy said at the time.

By Scott Campbell

NEXT: Sirius Computer Solutions


Sirius Computer Solutions

Sirius Computer Solutions President Joe Mertens thrives on the blinding pace of change in the solution provider business. In fact, he says it makes the business "a lot of fun."

Sirius is indeed having a lot of fun.

The 31-year-old perennial solution provider power has, in short order, undergone a radical transformation that has put it at the vanguard of the cloud computing revolution. Not many solution providers have come as far and as fast building a world-class cloud computing business than the San Antonio-based company. That transformation has made Sirius the VAR500 2011 Company of the Year.

The biggest bang came from Sirius' acquisition last November of MSI Systems Integrators, a $350 million, highly respected technology power based in Omaha, Neb. The deal between the two companies created a $1.3 billion solution provider behemoth with what may well be the broadest and deepest technical talent to take enterprise customers to the cloud.

Sirius already had the middleware software skills and the vertical industry expertise to take on any difficult cloud data center transformation project. MSI Systems Integrators brought to the table a robust network operations center with server/storage capacity on demand and managed services muscle that provided a gateway to the cloud.

Both companies had industry leading two to one technical talent to sales rep ratios. Put them together and you have a case of one plus one equals four.

"The momentum behind the deal is phenomenal," said Mertens, who is slated to formally take the CEO reins from Sirius founder and VARBusiness Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Harvey Najim. "It has exceeded all our expectations."

Sirius has seen a 25 percent increase in sales since the deal closed.

Sirius is picking up the cloud computing pace. The company recently became the first solution provider in the world to receive IBM's prestigious Cloud Builder Designation. And it already has built an HP Cloud Center of Excellence. That makes Sirius the only solution provider with cloud certifications from the two biggest computer companies in the world. And it has put Sirius in prime position as cloud computing becomes more pervasive to provide on premise, off premise, private, public or hybrid cloud solutions for customers, says Mertens

With Sirius' cloud consultants mapping out detailed cloud battle plans for customers, cloud solutions now make up the fastest growing business in Sirius. "What we're able to now do for a client is determine where they want their infrastructure, what part of it they want in house and what part do they want to rely on us to provide from a manufacturer or from our own data center," he said.

"We are able to play in all those stacks. We can provide power on demand for a variety of server platforms. And we can also manage customer's systems so they are completely lights out." That's no small statement of fact in an industry where many solution providers are struggling to meet the cloud challenge.

Mertens, who started out selling System 34 minicomputers, says cloud computing is happening much faster than anyone in the technology business anticipated. Sirius has already done more than 150 cloud briefings aimed at building cloud road maps for enterprise customers.. "We see clients moving larger and larger projects to cloud implementations," he says.

For Mertens, that just means Sirius is having more fun. "If it wasn't fun I wouldn't be doing it," he said.

By Steven Burke

NEXT: Slalom Consulting


Slalom Consulting

Over the past two years, the fast-moving new platforms of mobility and cloud computing have more often worked hand in glove to provide new methods of communication and data access throughout the enterprise.

It's often hard to keep up, especially when major platforms like Android and Azure are not even three years old. But Slalom Consulting, Seattle, has not only kept up but has thrived. Consider its key win with Coca-Cola Enterprises. Working with Microsoft Consulting Services, Slalom created an interactive site under SharePoint best practices that gave the Atlanta-based customer the ability to host shared assemblies, video on demand and social networking, among many features and capabilities.

Slalom helped guide Coca-Cola into a greater deployment of cloud services. It also developed an iPad app for the client that used multimedia and interactivity to show a unique timeline of its brand.

"A key driver of Slalom and its consultants is constantly being vigilant for the next process or technology that can be brought to bear in solving our clients' challenges," said David Uhler, national director of research and development and a managing director of Slalom Mobility. "Mobile and cloud both independently and increasingly together represent a growing area of interest for Slalom and our clients."

While maintaining skill sets in critical areas, Uhler said a "focus on the process of problem solving" is also key because it helps Slalom "avoid becoming too staid in a specific method or platform that would prevent us from understanding what the right solution is for our clients."

Slalom believes that high-performance computing, massive data sets and increasing numbers of devices for organizations will represent opportunities, according to Uhler. "Cloud and mobile have created a rich playground that still has yet to be fully leveraged to what these technologies can be in the ultimate form," he said.

By Edward F. Moltzen

NEXT: Technologent


Technologent

Technologent has found a niche tailoring its data center strategies to meet specific customers' needs, focusing on critical apps, critical hardware, critical software--anything that touches the data center, said Marco Mohajer, executive vice president of sales and marketing at the Lake Forest, Calif., solution provider.

"We try to take the technology that's out there, fine-tune it, and try to map it to what the client actually needs," he added.

In health care, for example, those needs include increasingly stringent and numerous compliance mandates and privacy laws, such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley.

As such, Technologent has found its place providing comprehensive services around the enterprise data center, "soup to nuts," Mohajer said. With this data center focus, Technologent's virtualization business is experiencing growth. However, Mohajer's biggest focus this year and in the foreseeable future will be in storage.

"The biggest success we have is storage, storage, storage," Mohajer said. "With the amount of data that's coming down the pike, the mandates that all hospitals have to obey, we see a major surge in the storage demand."

It's no surprise, then, that storage is one of the fastest-growing segments of Technologent's business, with more than 50 percent growth last quarter, he said.

Down the road, possibly in the next 12 to 18 months, Technologent likely will expand its

offerings to include endeavors into eDiscovery and business intelligence and analytics--tools that give the customer the ability to analyze and take action on their data, said Mohajer. But for now, Technologent plans to go deeper with its storage offerings.

"The amount of data that is required to be kept, from a standpoint of creation, it is unreal," he said. "It's just at its infancy. In terms of growth, we have a lot of room to grow."

By Stefanie Hoffman

NEXT: Trace3


Trace3

For Trace3, transformation begins not with technology but with people, said CEO Hayes Drumwright.

Irvine, Calif.-based Trace3's sales grew to $186 million in 2010 from $110 million in 2009 and Drumwright said he is expecting to reach $300 million this year. "We've done an exceptional job of hiring people, and did it all organically," he said. "Other companies grow by acquiring businesses. We focus on hiring people, and try to give them the right structure to build their business."

Trace3's growth spurt started in 2009 when customers pushed it to transform by building a services organization, Drumwright said. "Customers asked us to become like a mini Accenture," he said. "We help customers look across their company, eliminate silos, and let them run like an Amazon."

Real growth, however, will come from moving into cloud computing, especially for smaller companies not saddled with legacy applications, he said.

"The biggest problem with Fortune 1000 companies is their legacy apps," he said. "They have an average of 300 to 400 legacy apps. But smaller companies with fewer legacy apps are moving to the cloud, and new companies are starting in the cloud."

That outlook is reflected in Trace3's own infrastructure. "Our ERP and accounting is all done in the cloud," Drumwright said. "We only have three IT people. We don't want a lot of IT people. We're proof that smaller businesses are going that way."

Customers are also moving in that direction. Drumwright cited Kelley Blue Book as a company transforming for the cloud with help from Trace 3, which is providing NetApp's FlexPod cloud storage architecture in conjunction with Cisco's Unified Computing System.

"Internally, Kelley Blue Book is putting everything in a private cloud," he said. "We're helping them develop the infrastructure and deploy it, and helping them integrate with public clouds."

By Joseph F. Kovar

For more coverage of the 2011 VAR500, check out our VAR500 special report.

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