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Two VARs: We Dropped Microsoft And Never Looked Back

They looked ahead, however, and jointly created a new VAR business called OnePointSync, which specializes in Kerio e-mail solutions.

It's not an easy decision for a solution provider to give up a vendor well established in its clients' environments, but when that vendor is Microsoft and the application is their e-mail, the decision may be even harder.

Yet for Ray Lund and Nick Hoague, who each run solution provider businesses outside Denver, the time had come.

For Lund, owner of Lund Computer Services, Northglenn, Colo., the decision was made when he walked into a client's site for the fourth time in a month after its Exchange server had gone down again.

"Every time I'd go in, I'd feel these dirty looks from [employees]. It was one of our biggest customers and it was costing them a ton of money to maintain Exchange," he said.

Hoague, owner of Network Dynamix in Greenwood Village, Colo., was experiencing similar angst with clients. The two solution providers began to share their experiences. And then Lund stumbled across an alternative e-mail vendor, Kerio, on an Apple forum and decided he and Hoague needed to take a closer look.

"Within an hour, we had a full-blown server on Linux up and running. An hour. With mail, calendar, tasks. It blew us away," said Hoague.

The pair deployed Kerio in their own respective solution provider companies and liked it so much they decided to collaborate on a new joint venture focusing exclusively on Kerio solutions. Three years later, that venture, OnePointSync, is so successful that both are looking to wean themselves out of their respective solution provider businesses to focus full time on OnePointSync.

"We run them to put food on the table, but we've taken it slow [with OnePointSync]," Hoague said.

They took time to build OnePointSync, opening a small data center with their own money and each year putting a little more money and a little more effort into it. Now, OnePointSync has reached the point where it needs nearly all of their attention, they said.

They currently have more than 500 seats on Kerio and expect that to grow to more than 2,000 in just a couple of months.

"It's growing at a faster rate than we thought. We actually started using Kerio after getting tired of our network not working. We were using Exchange for ourselves. We struggled with it for years," Lund said.

Lund and Hoague said they were nervous that many customers would be reluctant to switch from a Microsoft-based solution, but that hasn't been the case.

"We were able to talk with [Kerio] engineers right away and they listened to input," Lund said.

Added Hoague: "Microsoft has a funny reputation. Our data center is Linux-based and when we tell people our back end is Linux, they're at least interested."

And that customer whose employees gave Lund dirty looks? Lund switched them from Exchange to Kerio and never looked back. "We save them $30,000 a year," he said.

NEXT: Not An Easy Decision

In that customer, one corrupt mailbox in Exchange required Lund to take down the whole server running Exchange 2003 for several hours to fix it, he said. With Kerio, that is not the case, he added. "You only have to get that one back up and running. From an admin point of view, it's a lot easier."

Astrid McClean, senior technical product manager for Microsoft Exchange, noted that isolating a corrupt mailbox is a standard feature starting with Exchange 2007 and that Lund's issue should not happen with current versions. "We've been doing a lot to make sure corruption doesn't affect anything else," she said.

But for Lund and Hoague is was too late. Although both said they struggled with the decision to radically change their businesses, they’re happy they did so.

"At first, I was a little gun-shy to go with a smaller company. But I kept an open mind. It's kind of nice to see a smaller vendor [work]," Lund said.

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