Solution Provider Clear Technologies Refocuses Standalone SaaS Business

Clear Technologies, an IT solution provider which some time ago started a storage-as-a-service business, has now expanded it to provide SaaS across the data center ecosystem and renamed the offering as Vision One Intelligence, and is now out looking for other solution providers who want to offer it to their customers.

Solution Provider Helping Other Solution Providers

Clear Technologies a couple years ago had a great idea: take advantage of its years of experience to build a storage-centric software-as-a-service offering it could take to other solution providers.

As it was building up that service, Clear Technologies, ranked No. 389 on CRN’s 2023 Solution Provider 500, realized that by focusing on storage, it was limiting the appeal of its SaaS offering. So it grew that business to include a wide range of SaaS capabilities covering much of the rest of the data center ecosystem, and is now ready to formally launch it to a wider range of fellow channel partners, making it one of the few solution providers to start acting like a vendor.

Phil Godwin, president of Addison, Texas-based Clear Technologies, told CRN that his company’s new business, which this week is being renamed Vision One Intelligence, now offers reporting, analytics, monitoring, capacity planning for IT infrastructure across storage, compute, and virtual and cloud environments.

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“We found we were getting shut down a lot because people were like, ‘Hey, storage only, is it important to me? We do more than that.’ People heard ‘storage’ in the name, and it became a hindrance to us,” Godwin said. “Not to mention, I get on calls with [analyst firm] Gartner, and it would take me 10 minutes to explain to a Gartner analyst why they should care about what we did since they didn’t care about storage.”

Vision One Intelligence is being offered through other solution providers, including those who may normally compete with Clear Technologies. However, Godwin said, those who partner with Clear Technologies show know that they will not be competing with his company for the Vision One Intelligence offerings.

“We live in a small world,” he said. “This IT world is small. You make one bad decision, and it’s gonna affect you much more than that one decision. So we put things in writing. We put it in contracts. We shake hands. We commit to it. And what I found is, probably 90 percent of people I talked to are OK with that.”

First of all, how do you define Clear Technologies?

So Clear Technologies is a reseller, solution provider, whatever the current term is. We do a little bit of managed services, but we’re still doing a lot more of the traditional infrastructure resale, implementation, and services around more project-based services. We didn’t really go all-in on the managed service business.

What’s new with Clear Technologies?

We have a separate business for software as a service. Reporting, analytics, monitoring, capacity planning for IT infrastructure, a kind of hybrid model. The name of the company right now is Visual Storage Intelligence. When we launched, all we did was storage reporting. Basically, our value prop was a single pane of glass for all your multi-vendor heterogeneous storage environments. As we grew and evolved, we added VMware, hyperconverged infrastructure, SAN switch environments backups, basically all your on-prem infrastructure. And then more recently we added cloud with AWS and Azure public cloud models. So now we’re doing reporting, analytics, monitoring, capacity planning for multi-vendor, multi-platform, multi-cloud infrastructures. We’re changing the name to Visual One Intelligence [and looking to offer it to other solution providers].

Why the change?

We found we were getting shut down a lot because people were like, ‘Hey, storage only, is it important to me? We do more than that.’ People heard ‘storage’ in the name, and it became a hindrance to us. Not to mention, I get on calls with [analyst firm] Gartner, and it would take me 10 minutes to explain to a Gartner analyst why they should care about what we did since they didn’t care about storage.

So we’re launching it this week. We originally said we were going to make it a channel-first organization. And then I realized that no resellers wanted to sell a brand new startup company. So we took a step back. We built out all the marketing materials, all the reference customers, those kind of things. And so at this time, this name change, we’re really looking at building out a channel. Today, our channel has been fairly opportunistic. A customer says, ‘Hey, we have to buy from a partner.’ We say, ‘Great.’ They give us a list, and we choose one and try to form a relationship with that partner. That’s gotten us to a couple of good partners, but now we’ve got to start getting a little more strategic about approaching that market. So my marketing guys are putting the playbook together on the launch.

So Visual One Intelligence is looking to partner with a wide range of partners?

Yes, absolutely.

What’s the value proposition Visual One Intelligence offers to solution providers who might be interested in this?

I’d say there’s three things that they’re gonna see value in. Probably the least of the value is they’re going to resell the SaaS. So they’ll make a little bit of margin on that. But our average client size is about $150,000 a year annual contract, the smallest being in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, the largest being in the upper six figures. So a 20 percent margin on that isn’t really that attractive to a lot of these guys.

But more importantly, I think there are two other values. One is, as part of the SaaS offering, we have an AI engine that on a weekly basis pulls out the interesting statistics and sends a weekly email to the customer. It’s going to be things around changes in the environment, that kind of stuff. The partner gets copied on that, with the customer’s approval, and it becomes for the reseller almost a built-in sales pitch. It might be they can go sell remediation services to fix something that has changed, or they can go sell upgrades, whatever the case may be. So I think there’s some pretty significant upside for a reseller there.

And the other thing we’ve really been having conversations with some of the resellers about is capacity planning as a service. We have capacity planners. It’s a consulting engagement. So they use VOI (Visual One Intelligence) for the empirical data collection to get the data and the trends and build out the forecasts. And there’s a level of consulting on top of that. Basically, we outsource the capacity planning function for storage and compute for end users. In doing so, either the reseller can deliver that themselves—we can we can teach them how the process works and they can have their guys do that—or we can deliver for them. Either way, if you look at it from a sales approach, there’s a couple partners where we’re doing it with today. We send them the results. We typically do a quarterly report, and send it to the partner a couple of days before the renewal. Let’s say we recommend adding a couple hundred terabytes to a customer’s Pure Storage environment, bring in four new hosts for VMware, make this change, do that one, they’re gonna see those recommendations, put quotes together, attach to the back of the presentation, and they have a ready made proposal to deliver to the client. So to a reseller, the value is much more than making a margin on the product sale. It’s more in how it helps them expand their footprint and drive additional sales with their clients.

Channel trends today

Channel trends today

Is Visual One Intelligence vendor agnostic? Or do you have specific vendors that you give preference for?

Vendor agnostic.

What is the business relationship between Clear Technologies and Visual One Intelligence?

It’s a wholly owned subsidiary. The senior management team is still the same. Underneath that, everything’s separate. So separate sales team, separate marketing, separate development, technical teams, all that.

What kind of investment did Clear Technologies have to make to bring Visual One Intelligence to market like this?

For us, it was pretty significant. I don’t have the numbers. But from the day we started with development to where it is now, probably over $10 million. We brought in new people. Only the senior executives, myself and my two business partners, are involved in both. Honestly, we’ve been at it for 13 years. The first couple of years were probably lost because we brought on the wrong developers and had to swap them out. We had to bring on a whole new development team, a whole new sales organization, a whole new marketing approach, I mean, everything separate. And we found it was very difficult for somebody with a reseller mindset to go build out a standalone offering. It’s just a different go-to-market approach

Is Clear Technologies private equity backed or not?

No. Clear Technologies is a privately-owned organization.

So you didn’t have to go outside for funding to rebuild Visual One.

It’s all funded in house.

Any plans to spin Visual One Intelligence out as a separate company?

Yeah, it will be at some point. Quite honestly, we just haven’t found the need to do it yet. The partners we talk to are OK with it because with our reseller agreement, I tell them, we make it as one-sided as possible. And if you want to make it tighter, make it tighter. And we understand the complexities there. So it will be spun off at some point. It’ll probably be at least a couple of years out.

Given that the kind of solution providers you may be looking to partner with may also be competitors of Clear Technologies, how do you market Visual One Intelligence?

It hasn’t been an issue to this point. We have the conversation. We’re completely transparent and upfront about it. We handle it through contractual agreements. And, in my opinion, we live in a small world. This IT world is small. You make one bad decision, and it’s gonna affect you much more than that one decision. So we put things in writing. We put it in contracts. We shake hands. We commit to it. And what I found is, probably 90 percent of people I talked to are OK with that. OK, there’s gonna be those couple that aren’t. And until we get to that point, so be it.

We’ve recently signed up with TD Synnex. We did that specifically because there were some groups within Dell that really wanted to be able to resell it. And the simplest way for them to resell seemed to be to do it through a distributor. So that was really the main reason and going down that approach. Other than that, the partners that we’ve worked with at this point have been regionalized partners. Partners like Mark III Systems in Houston. They’ve resold a number of deals.

2024 is coming up soon. What strategies you are looking at either for Clear Technologies or Visual One next year?

For visual one, we’re launching the name change, and our strategy behind that is really to get it to a different customer set. You know, when we were just storage-centric and storage-focused, it seemed like the only real users were going to be larger enterprises, guys that had significant storage footprints like 20 petabytes-plus, with Visual One taking the storage, the compute, the virtual environments, hyperconverged cloud, and putting that all into a single pane of glass. We believe we can get to the next level down customer, not really the small side of the SMB, but the midmarket. Find that 500 to 1,000-employee kind of company. We’ve partnered with the University of Delaware who’s done some research for us. And some of the some of the things that they found is that our new messaging that we’re getting ready to launch has resonated very well with that 500 to 1,000-employee company size.

OK, how about Clear Technologies? What’s on your calendar for 2024 in terms of things you want to do with the company?

So from a Clear standpoint, we’re staying pretty focused. In a perfect world, we’d like to see some acquisition activity if we can find the right companies to help strengthen our business. I think we’ve got to continue to be focused on growth. From a Visual One standpoint, continuing to bring in more AI kind of things I think will make a difference. From a Clear standpoint, how do we provide a broader experience for our customers? How do we help in broader areas, making sure we’re continuing to evolve our services bench or services offerings to make a difference for our clients.