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The impending cloud

For many VARs, cloud-based computing is a worrisome prospect.

The notion of functions served up direct to users from a vendor-owned-and-operated cloud poses a huge disintermediation threat to partners, as Richard Warren, of North Carolina Technologies told, earlier this week.

 But the cloud vendors still need to prove themselves able to fully compete in a world where 99.9% of users need remote or offline capabilities. They need to work on their data and apps even if they’re not (gasp) connected to the Web.

Google execs say they will prove their technology worthy of the enterprise, blazing the trail with the Google Appliance. Google Gears is starting to bring offline capability to the company’s consumer and business services — Google Reader is “Gears enabled” as is Google Docs. (The spreadsheet and presentations so far  support just view-only offline access.)

The whole “offline thing” is by far Google’s biggest gap when it comes to corporate users, says Michael Cizmar, president of MC+A, a Chicago based collaboration specialist who is otherwise a big fan of Google and its cloud.

“The biggest drawback of the cloud is not being able to work remotely. As much as you think you’re wired, the second you get on a plane, you’re not,” he explains.

Richard Newman, managing partner of Reliant Security, agrees that the so-called
“ubiquitous” fast Internet access Google talks about is not all that ubiquitous. “There’s some fast wireless bandwidth but the current best available is the 3G network. At about $60 a month, that’s affordable for most corporate users but the truth of the matter is you’re lucky if you get a meg downstream and 384 upstream. And, it’s not available everywhere. You go to conferences and the service is always over-subscribed.”

And that takes you back to most customers’ absolute requirement that they be able to work offline.

Cizmar thinks that value-added partners — those who integrate disparate services and applications, those who build applications, and those who support customers — will be more valuable than ever in a cloudy future. And that will be true whether the infrastructure provider of choice is,, Microsoft, NetSuite, add-your-own-favorite-company here.

“Solution providers provide [domain] and technology implementation expertise. That will still be needed. Look at or NetSuite. We are a tech company and we have a partner that implements our NetSuite solution,” he notes.

The cloud can provide VARs who do their own app development a potentially huge market. “If you have an application, and put it on the Google marketplace, you’re immediately exposed to 500,000 customers. He admits he hasn’t yet done so, however.

The model of support and high-end customer care is the same whether the app runs in house or in the much-hyped cloud. “If you did Lotus Notes consulting, those customers needed the infrastructure then you as a partner built apps for it. You built the workflow apps, the custom templates. In this new world you’ll do the same thing but are not necessarily responsible for the infrastructure.”

Newman says the cloud will be a force in business applications, but widespread adoption will take time.

“There’s great promise to make any resource available anywhere but it’ll be a long time before people will rely on a cloud-based Microsoft Office clone,” he notes.

To hear about Google’s enterprise push, listen in on this week’s Partner News Podcast.

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

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