No Matter What You Think of Crypto, Blockchain is For Real

If you’re like most people, hearing the word “blockchain” immediately gets you thinking “crypto,” and thinking “crypto” quickly leads to visions of plummeting asset valuations, massive fraud prosecutions, and (everyone’s favorite) ransomware payments.

When Curtis O’Neal hears “blockchain,” by contrast, he sees something very different: the future of our industry.

“It’s going to be the new TCP/IP,” says O’Neal (pictured), who is founder of Cybernetics Global, a solution provider and MSP in Atlanta, and vice chair of CompTIA’s Blockchain & Web3 Advisory Council. Which is to say O’Neal believes blockchain is a transformative, foundational technology that everyone in IT will eventually be using, and possibly profiting from too.

That future isn’t even the future anymore, according to Wes Jensen, a board member at networking vendor 21Packets who leads CompTIA’s blockchain council alongside O’Neal and spends most of his time these days contributing to multiple blockchain-based startups.

“It’s already happening, he says. “The train’s left the station.”

Indeed, one of the world’s biggest banks announced a blockchain-based service this week, and one of the world’s biggest technology companies—Microsoft—recently announced its intention to rebuild what’s today known as Azure AD on a blockchain-like “decentralized identity” platform named Entra ID.

In other words, according to Jensen, blockchain is not synonymous with crypto and “it’s not crazy.” Fundamentally, it’s just a database like any other but with one critical difference. “You can’t change the data,” Jensen observes.

That has profound, practical implications for a range of use cases, especially in security. One of Jensen’s current ventures, for instance, is developing a digital identity system, “kind of a zero trust on steroids,” designed to help businesses verify that everyone they interact with online is who say they are, while helping those people and organizations validate their authenticity in return.

Canadian vendor Credivera is among a growing set of companies already doing similar things, in their case for corporate HR departments. “I can go on LinkedIn right now and tell everybody that I graduated from Stanford, but I didn’t,” Jensen notes. Credivera’s software helps potential employers confirm the legitimacy of such claims. When such platforms become mainstream, as Jensen believes they inevitably will, resume writing will never be the same.

“Now you’ve got to be honest,” he says.

O’Neal, for his part, is working on several blockchain applications, including one aimed at streamlining remote healthcare delivery by enabling doctors and insurers to authenticate patient identities seamlessly without violating HIPAA requirements.

“There’s no more, ‘hey, we need to validate your insurance,’” he says. “Everything’s pretty much automated already,” using zero-trust methods that leave patients in complete control of their health records.

Of course, most MSPs don’t develop apps, and don’t wish to make the investments required to start. Nor does selling clients “blockchain” make any more sense than selling them “cloud computing.” Better for the majority of IT providers, then, to commence their blockchain journey reselling third-party, blockchain-based solutions instead, according to Jensen, like Credivera’s.

“They’re leveraging an underlying technology, but the product is not blockchain,” he notes. “The product is credentialed digital identity.” Explaining what that product does and why it’s superior to older ones will showcase your cutting-edge industry know-how to current and potential customers, Jensen adds.

According to O’Neal, meanwhile, educating yourself on blockchain and its many potential uses is an even better starting point. “There’s tons of conferences right now where you have like-minded individuals who actually have business cases,” he notes. “The possibilities are endless.”

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Cisco is ponying up to win SMBs

I won’t belabor the details of Cisco’s second biggest news of the week, after that $28 billion bombshell it dropped yesterday. My friends at ChannelPro, among others, have already done that well for you, so I’ll focus instead on why the plans the company announced for conquering the SMB market felt to me like a significant moment in a story that’s been unfolding for at least the last 18 months.

To explain why, I’ll begin with a comment that Andrew Sage, the company’s VP of global distribution and SMB sales, made Tuesday during a webcast about the new strategy. “These customers,” he said of SMBs, “are stampeding to the cloud.”

That rang a bell, and I had to go back to my notes from a conversation with Sage (pictured) back in April 2022, just days after SMB revenue first became part of his job, to figure out why. “They’re stampeding to the cloud,” he had said of SMBs.

Give Sage credit. He understood that the SMB segment’s race toward the cloud is a giant opportunity for a networking leader like Cisco right from the get-go. He even summarized the point for me with four succinct words: “No network, no cloud.”

Fast forward now about six months to last October, when Sage’s colleague Luxy Thuraisingam (who had added the SMB space to her prior duties heading up global partner marketing earlier in the year) valued Cisco’s SMB business at more than $4 billion in a conversation with me, and said it was growing nearly 30% year over year. There was even more money to be made, she continued, if the company invested appropriately in its channel.

“We have work to do in enabling our partners to go and capture the SMB space,” she said.

This week we learned that in the months since that interview Thuraisingam and Sage have been busily drawing up a blueprint for that work, and successfully urging CEO Chuck Robbins and the rest of Cisco’s C-suite to fund it.

“We told this story to our senior leadership over the last couple of quarters that we really believed that there was a big upside [in SMB] for our company and for our partners, and they agreed with us,” Sage said, shortly before revealing the scale of that upside.

“We think there’s almost a $30 billion opportunity for us,” he noted. For context, Cisco’s entire top line was worth $57 billion in the fiscal year that concluded this July.

Hence the “tens of millions” of incremental dollars Cisco will spend this fiscal year to deploy over 100 new field sales resources globally, roll out a sophisticated “end-to-end marketing experience,” launch new offerings tailored for MSPs, and undertake various efforts to make life easier for everyone else in its SMB channel.

“We want to make upfront pricing and deal registration dead simple for our partners in order to maximize profitability and minimize quote times,” Sage said this week.

All of which suggests why this week’s announcements struck me as a pretty significant milestone in a long-running process. Cisco is now putting real money where its mouth was back when Sage and Thuraisingam took over SMB last year.

Egnyte and ConnectWise underscore the power of the Microsoft cloud

It must be nice competing in a business where 21% growth can qualify as disappointing. Yet that’s how much Microsoft’s cloud business was up in its most recent quarter, dragged down as Bloomberg more or less characterized it by a mere 26% uptick in Azure revenue due to cautious spending by recession-wary businesses.

Two recent stories, though, suggest that as far as SMBs and the SMB channel are concerned, the Microsoft cloud is only growing more dominant.

One, from this week, involved file management vendor Egnyte, which announced that it had added real-time document collaboration in Microsoft 365 to its product and rolled out a Microsoft Teams integration that allows users to share and upload files from directly inside the product.

Nothing terribly surprising about that considering that there were 300 million monthly active Teams users as of April, but on the surface at least Egnyte’s core solution competes with OneDrive for Business. Or that’s what G3 says anyway. If you want to attract and retain end users these days, however, you integrate with Microsoft even if you kinda, sorta compete with them as well.

“Integrating with Microsoft is becoming essential for vendors serving SMBs via MSPs as these organizations adopt cloud solutions for operational needs,” said Rajesh Ram’s, Egnyte’s co-founder and chief growth officer, in remarks emailed to Channelholic.

A similar dynamic was at play in a story from last week, in which ConnectWise announced that it was adding support for Microsoft Defender for Business to its MDR service. Why go through the bother of adding another EDR option to a service that already supports perfectly good products from Bitdefender and SentinelOne?

“You just don’t get around the ecosystem,” says Raffael Marty (pictured), ConnectWise’s executive vice president and general manager for cybersecurity, of Microsoft. “In certain areas they compete to some degree, on the SIEM for example, but there’s always a collaborative path as well that I think is bringing an optionality to the partner base.”

More specifically, he continues, Microsoft Defender for Business is a pretty solid solution that’s included in the Business Premium edition of Microsoft 365.

“When we talked to our partner base, we found quite a lot were very interested in having an MDR service on top of [Defender for Business] because they already own the license for the EDR itself,” Marty notes. “They really just wanted someone to be able to manage that, and there’s not that many options out there to actually have that done.”

Plus, the Microsoft edition of ConnectWise MDR costs less than the SentinelOne and Bitdefender versions. “It’s a little cheaper than those because you bring your own license basically,” Marty says.

That two successful vendors in a state of co-opetition with Microsoft wound up announcing Microsoft cloud integrations within a week of one another is admittedly a bit fluky, but it’s a sign of the times as well. If you want to stay relevant in the SMB channel, it appears, you’d better play nice with the Microsoft cloud.

Eaton’s entry into managed services for power gear is officially underway

That Cisco story I referenced earlier is something I’ve been tracking a long time. Same’s true of Brightlayer, the consolidated platform for multiple, previously separate power management solutions from Eaton.

I first became aware of the Brightlayer name three years ago, when Eaton introduced it to the world, wrote about Eaton’s plan to turn it from a product suite into a unified, cloud-based management platform with a shared code base for ChannelPro last April, and foreshadowed this week’s official launch of that platform in May.

For those new to Brightlayer, it includes data center performance management, electrical power monitoring, and distributed IT performance management components based on what used to be stand-alone products called Intelligent Power Manager, Visual Power Manager, and Visual Capacity Optimization Manager.

Rolling those systems together makes operating them easier for technicians and consuming them easier too. Buyers who only need a portion of Brightlayer’s functionality can purchase a subset of its piece parts and add more with a few clicks whenever they want as needs change.

“We made it much simpler to do business with you,” says Mike Jackson (pictured), Eaton’s general manager of data center software.

More significantly, they’ve made moving into power monitoring and management services simpler as well. That’s a welcome development for Eaton’s SMB partners, who per my reporting earlier this year are watching margins on power device sales dwindle thanks to competition from the likes of CDW and Amazon. The release of Brightlayer arms resellers to replace those hardware dollars with rich recurring managed services dollars.

And they don’t even need to be MSPs as well as resellers. Eaton’s outsourced remote monitoring center is linked to Brightlayer in real time, and can do 24/7 administration on your behalf, dispatch technicians to do onsite repairs when necessary, or ship replacement units straight to the customer.

If you are an MSP though, and especially if you’re an MSP who’s never had much interest in power management, Brightlayer represents a low-barrier-to-entry way to boost MRR. The system features a granular multitenant interface, integrates with ConnectWise Automate RMM (there are more RMM integrations coming) and lets users who outsource remote monitoring to Eaton own all communication with their clients whenever something goes wrong.

“We put the MSP in the center of that” when we see an alert, Jackson says. “You’re going to get it, and you can call the customer, and you can play the hero.”

If you’ve got the right components in place, Brightlayer can automatically shut down on-prem servers during utility outages too, which positions it as an extended part of a complete BDR strategy.

“In the worst-case scenario where the power goes out and it’s a long-term outage, if necessary we will gracefully bring down that entire infrastructure and when the power comes back we’re going to gracefully bring it back up and you’re not going to have any corruption,” Jackson says.

Brightlayer has only been generally available for two days, but I’ll be curious to see how compelling its value proposition proves to be for current and potential Eaton partners.

Also worth noting

SonicWall has launched an MSP-friendlier version of its SecureFirst Partner Program. We told you this was coming last month, and will be discussing it with recently named global channel chief Michelle Ragusa-McBain at Ingram Micro’s ONE conference next week.

Speaking of security, WatchGuard has added AI-based threat detection and response capabilities to its portfolio through its acquisition of CyGlass Technology Services.

Speaking of AI, the aforementioned Egnyte has shipped industry-specific AI functionality.

Vade has expanded its email security software to the web via a remote browser isolation feature.

Congrats to startup vendors vCIOToolbox, Nodeware, and Thread for being named finalists in ConnectWise’s PitchIT accelerator program. One of them will get a $100,000 first prize check during ConnectWise’s IT Nation Connect event in November.

Registration is open for the Alliance of Channel Women’s October 30th ACWConnect Live! event in Miami. I bought my ticket yesterday, and hope to see you there.