Itopia's Channel Strategy Is Bringing Managed Cloud Workspaces To Small Businesses

A little more than a year ago, Itopia, a "Workspace-as-a-Service" startup out of Miami, decided it was time to pursue a channel strategy and allow managed services providers to white-label its technology.

The cloud vendor now goes to market exclusively through some 150 partners, all either established MSPs or VARs looking to ramp up their managed services practices.

Those partners self-brand Itopia's migration tools and hosted workspaces, essentially "SaaS-ifying" their customers' legacy business apps, be they licensed or custom-built, and augmenting them with a curated library of cloud-based software, said Mark Golden, Itopia's director of sales and strategic alliances.

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Hosted workspaces is an IT model that's been widely adopted by large enterprises, but is still catching on among small businesses, who are only of late starting to realize they can ditch legacy infrastructure and reap the benefits of flexibility and portability the cloud enables.

"The client could care less if the apps are hosted on the moon," Golden said. "They just want to be able to access them all the time and have high performance. And for their employees to become productive."

Customers that are a good fit for Workspace-as-a-Service typically have multiple locations, or employees that either work remotely or are frequently on the road. Some are looking to expand their workforce or implement a bring-your-own-device policy, or are staring an upgrade cycle in the face, Golden said.

For companies with a high user-to-server ratio, or with stringent compliance demands, transitioning those key line-of-business apps to the cloud and managing them remotely also usually makes economic sense, he added.

Itopia has found a niche with small and midsize businesses with those kinds of challenges -- be they lawyers, doctors, accountants, insurance agents or manufacturers.

But for many solution providers happy to offer such managed services, transitioning complex customer environments is often "where their nightmare starts," Golden said.

The migration process usually involves expensive technicians that need to go on site, eating into the MSP's margins.

To ease that process, Itopia recently released a new product called Cielo, which the company describes as a cloud migration engine.

Cielo completely automates the process of discovery, provisioning desktops, migrations and ongoing management of the environment. It also has a new customer portal that gives the end users the ability to add users, change passwords and create new files, Golden said.

Once an MSP partner signs a new client, all the partner has to do is send the client a link. By clicking on that link, the client reveals its entire infrastructure -- every PC, network card, device and file.

"They can decide what they move to the cloud and keep on-premises what they want," Golden said.

For custom workloads, Itopia will do back-end testing for a few days to determine if those applications are a good fit for a cloud environment.

Michael Price, founder and CEO of MPA Networks, an IT services provider based in Belmont, Calif., told CRN that Workspace-as-a-Service solutions make a lot of sense for a certain set of customers.

"It’s a nice arrow in the quiver," Price said. "You're unifying your whole IT environment in one place."

Price said Itopia's product works very similarly to Citrix's XenApp platform, but in a price range that's accessible to small businesses. And the delivery is so seamless that customers sometimes can't tell the difference between local and hosted desktops.

The market is still somewhat in its infancy, Price said, and he expects more SMBs to realize going forward that hosted cloud workspaces satisfy their business needs.

MPA has implemented Itopia's product for clients as diverse as financial services firms, medical offices and a dance studio.

"In general, it's less expensive to do compliance in this kind of environment than in the office. As more compliance comes down the pipe, that's going to be a bigger driver," Price added.

Golden told CRN that Itopia's partner MSPs looking to drive business should focus on identifying appropriate potential customers.

"The real key for our partners is finding the right clients for our solution, because it's definitely not right for every client. But for the ones it is right for, it's very right for," he said.