The Few, The Proud: Microsoft Selects Partners To Bring Surface Hub To Channel

Microsoft has tapped only 15 solution providers and three distributors to bring the Surface Hub team-collaboration device to the channel.

Though margins on the device itself are not significant -- the 55-inch model retails for $6,999 and the 84-inch model retails for $19,999 -- solution providers will be able to boost profits and obtain some recurring revenue through design, installation and configuration support, Microsoft said.

"This is kind of the next evolution of how people meet and collaborate," said Dale Bottcher, senior vice president of sales for Tampa-based AVI-SPL, No. 46 on the CRN Solution Provider 500. "We're excited to be at the forefront of it."

[Related: 9 Ways Microsoft Is Transforming Its Channel]

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Channel sales partners began taking orders July 1 for the Surface Hub, but shipment has been delayed from the initially scheduled date of Sept. 1 because of stronger-than-expected demand. In fact, Bottcher said, a couple of inquiries have been coming into AVI-SPL each day asking to either pre-order the Surface Hub sight unseen or try a demo unit once it arrives in a couple of weeks.

Much of the demand for Surface Hub has come from Fortune 500 companies with multiple locations, Bottcher said, as well as the higher-education vertical because of the price point and capabilities of the device.

Likewise, Arrow has also seen more interest from enterprise customers than small and midsize businesses because of the price point, said Shaun Olsen, vice president of Microsoft solutions for Centennial, Colo.-based Arrow Electronics' system integration (SI) business.

The applications for Surface Hub span many verticals, Olsen said, ranging from rotating architectural models to flipping through virtual telemedicine charts to providing advanced routing and transportation support.

Though Arrow operates primarily as a distributor, the company will be functioning purely as a reseller when it comes to the Surface Hub. Microsoft -- which has no distribution relationship with Arrow -- will leverage Ingram Micro, Synnex and Tech Data to distribute the Surface Hub in North America.

Despite its selling the Surface Hub directly to end users, Olsen said Arrow isn't competing with its partners, as the VARs Arrow works with are more focused on data center solutions, while Arrow's SI business is oriented toward unified communication offerings. Specifically, Olsen said, none of the other 14 solution providers carrying the Surface Hub have distribution relationships with Arrow.

The other reseller partners for the Surface Hub are: SHI, No. 12 on the CRN SP 500; Insight Enterprises, No. 13 on the SP 500; PCM, No. 29 on the SP 500; Carousel Industries, No. 64 on the SP 500; Whitlock, No. 88 on the SP 500; Computer Services Inc. (CSI), No. 93 on the SP 500; Crestron; Mechdyne; Mesa Mundi; PCC; Red Thread; Sharps AV; and Viju Group.

The Surface Hub should stop enterprise customers from wasting up to 15 minutes attempting to set up a meeting, Olsen said. Plus, businesses would often have to install five or six custom solutions to get the functionality the Surface Hub offers in a single bundle, Bottcher said.

"Before, to get to all of those things, it was quite the undertaking and quite a few products to make that happen," Bottcher told CRN.

With the Surface Hub, though, people can use the application right away without having to log in, and collaborate with Microsoft OneNote for presentations and minutes. The Surface Hub will run Windows 10, Olsen said, meaning OneNote and Skype for Business will be able to operate natively.

"The Surface Hub wakes up when somebody walks into the room and turns the light on," Olsen told CRN.

Collaboration is one of the top perks of the Surface Hub, Olsen said, as the device has roughly 100 touch points and allows multiple users to write on the whiteboard or interact with the screen at the same time. Neither Arrow SI nor AVI-SPL carries the Microsoft Surface tablets.

AVI-SPL has invested heavily in services, Bottcher said, offering network assessments to clients considering the Surface Hub as well as implementation services and support ranging from white glove services to an around-the-clock help desk after their customers receive the Surface Hub. AVI-SPL Will also provide extensive training on the Surface Hub to maximize the return on investment, he said.

The assessment and implementation services offer only a one-time cash infusion, Bottcher said, but training, support and remote monitoring on the Surface Hub system provide a source of recurring revenue.

Arrow SI also offers installation services and support around Surface Hub, Olsen said, and is also developing applications that can run natively on Surface Hub.

"This is a further extension of our Microsoft collaboration initiative," Olsen said.