Toshiba Makes Cloud Play With Virtual Desktop Service

Toshiba is a household name when it comes to personal computers, but it’s certainly not the first company that pops into mind when people think of cloud computing.

But earlier this year, the Japanese consumer electronics giant launched a new cloud service, one targeting the virtual desktop market and focusing on distribution exclusively through the channel.

Today, Toshiba Cloud Services and Solutions, a division of Toshiba America Information Systems, announced a new partner program that reaffirms this commitment to the channel.

[Related: Citrix Unveils Cloud Platform For Rapid Desktop Deployment ]

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The Toshiba Solutions Partner Program offers managed service providers recurring monthly revenue, extensive marketing support, custom product configurations, and the ability to fully white-label the entire product that they offer their customers.

"We are focused on the MSP and making the MSP successful,’ Tim Miller, Toshiba’s Cloud Solutions product manager, told CRN.

Miller said Toshiba thinks of itself as a resource for its partners, providing them a fully customizable service that they can brand as their own, and working with them to develop marketing programs tailored for specific industries.

"That commitment to the MSP model, and acting as a resource for the MSP instead of a vendor, is unique," Miller told CRN.

Grant Nadell is managing director of technology at DynTek Services, an IT consultant based in Newport Beach, Calif. DynTek was one of the first solution providers to partner with Toshiba's cloud program just over a month ago, and Nadell told CRN the experience "so far has been amazing."

"The flexibility in quickly addressing customer problems has been off the charts," Nadell told CRN.

The Toshiba Desktop-as-a-Service program is "great for partners and great for customers," he said.

To use an analogy appropriate to his industry, Nadell said Toshiba can be thought of as the bottom layer of a stack, with the partner providing the thin layer on top that customizes it.

Toshiba’s entrance into the burgeoning cloud market wasn't a willy-nilly decision -- the consumer electronics behemoth carefully studied the market, according to Miller.

"We wanted to make sure we weren't just going off and launching a business that didn't leverage any of our existing strengths and relationships in the marketplace," Miller told CRN.

Because Toshiba's B2B business was driven by laptop sales, many of its existing customers in the PC market provided a knowledge base. The results of that market evaluation led Toshiba executives to conclude, that in the crowded world of virtualized computing services, DaaS had the most potential in fulfilling the needs of enterprise customers, Miller said.

"Toshiba is primarily a channel company in the U.S., so we talked to a number of channel partners and asked them what is it that they’re hearing from their clients that they need. Cloud is a big industry buzz term. You hear cloud in general a lot, but when we got down to it, VDI is something that has become popular, and a lot of people are interested in it," Miller told CRN.

"One use case that popped up with everyone we talked to is they are being told they need to support Bring Your Own Device, and they really struggled with how to do it,’ he added.

Toshiba's early cloud partners tell CRN the company isn’t just paying lip service to the notion of being a partner-focused company.

"It's really that they are channel-friendly, partner-friendly. It’s always been a good experience working with Toshiba," said Steve Churchill, CEO of PreferredPartner, a software reseller based in Carmel, Ind.

PreferredPartner originally partnered with Toshiba to distribute laptop management software.

NEXT: Customers Express Interest In Virtualized Desktops

"The reason we teamed to begin with was because we were starting to see that interest in virtual desktops from our customers. It's a nice natural progression because applications have been virtualized, servers have been virtualized, so virtualizing the desktop is the next step,’ Churchill told CRN.

’It really helps customers save a lot of money with IT management,’ Churchill added.

Churchill told CRN that he sees companies warming up to virtual desktops because they’ve already gotten comfortable using other cloud products.

"If you introduced this five years ago, very few people would've had interest in it. But now, almost every customer has some sort of application in the cloud," Churchill said.

Miller said after studying the market, Toshiba invested heavily in building its infrastructure, including data centers in San Jose, Calif., and Virginia. The company's cloud offering features a proprietary layer of desktop management software above Citrix XenDesktop, or Horizon for customers who prefer VMware powering their machines.

The virtual desktop market, Miller said, has the advantage of not having prices constantly undercut as part of the commodity cloud price wars. It’s a market where the value proposition that service providers can offer still trumps price.

Nadell told CRN that unlike the Infrastructure-as-a-Service market, virtual desktops involve an extraordinary amount of complexity because the cloud provider is often responsible for running an extremely large number of applications reliably on its system.

"That's where all of the ugliness begins, and that's really where the enterprise IT space is," Nadell said.

A Toshiba partner like DynTek stands to profit from "the ugliness’ of managing virtual desktops by selling customers a comprehensive product that yields far more than a one-time referral fee.

And that’s exactly what Toshiba prefers.

"One of the things we heard from all the MSPs we spoke with when doing the research is they wanted the flexibility to be able to co-brand or just brand it as their own product," Miller said.

"Everything can be white-labeled, all aspects of the service, even the marketing materials," he told CRN.