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Windows of opportunity: The channel reacts to Windows 8

The channel may lead the way in Windows 8 adoption if early indications are any guide as several companies including Data#3, WhiteGold Solutions and ASI Solutions are ready to get on-board.

The overall picture, though, remains mixed as analysts and business deal with the arrival of the contentious new software which has been been both strongly criticised and supported in the weeks leading up to its release on October 26. The release ranks as Microsoft's most significant move in recent times, alongside its shift away from being just a software company. It has been referred to as an enormous gamble and leap into the unknown but it also has the potential to be the vendor's greatest milestone and lead its move into mobile.

Enterprise Buyer's Guide to Tablets

Ultimately, the market will decide. While Windows 8 will undoubtedly have a place in the consumer space, either through voluntary upgrades and adoptions, or retail products which have the operating system (OS) preinstalled, the big question is whether businesses will embrace, adapt, or deny it.

Gartner Research director, Peter Sondergaard, speaking at the firm's Symposium/ITexpo in the US, said, "However good the prospects look for Windows 8 in the consumer market or for tablets, there are no compelling business imperatives to drive legacy devices in business towards Windows 8."

"Ninety per cent of enterprises will bypass broad scale deployment of Windows 8 through at least 2014."

Channel Dynamics director, Moheb Moses, agrees: "My feeling is that very few end users are going to transition to Windows 8 in the next 12 months."

Balancing that out, other commentators have noted large enterprises rarely move quickly to a new Microsoft OS. This is due to the processes in place to ensure operational efficiency before new systems are in place.

A full investment is not only about replacing software and hardware. A company-wide deployment requires resources for training, certification and more; that's a lot of man hours.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, as always, it is about the bottom line.

Data#3 managing director, John Grant, said the value proposition is there.

"Data#3, like most customers, from an enterprise IT point of view, are trying to manage a disparate and mobile user community operating multiple devices and trying to do the same things around our business. The issues we have around that is managing the device, keeping it secure, and keeping the pathway between the device and our datacentre secure and in sync," Grant said.

"Windows 8 offers us the chance to bring that all together under one OS, and we are expecting significant operational and productivity benefits out of it." Data#3 is adopting the OS company-wide, and has a project plan in draft to guide the switch. The reseller has a history of early adoption of technologies "that were going to be mainstream".

Data#3 is not alone. WhiteGold Solutions said that it will adopt Windows 8 as well, starting in its services and support area, and moving to full adoption across the organisation gradually over the next 12 months.

Managing director, Dominic Whitehand, said that learning the OS enables it, as a distributor, to support vendor technologies running on it. The business motive is there, and again, so is the value proposition.

Windows 8 also forms part of Express Data's technology roadmap.

CEO, David Gage, said the company strongly supports the application model on which Microsoft is focusing.

"We expect to see a progressive transition supported by our bring-your-own strategy, corporate Cloud services, and application initiatives," he said.

ASI Solutions is in the same boat. "There's some anxiety [around its features]... but I think that will soon evaporate," product manager, Craig Quinn, said. "Once some of the features get used and adapted to, it will succeed."

No negative aspect

Quinn said he expects some internal implementation to be completed this quarter, and company-wide deployment to occur beyond that.

"I don't see any negative aspect on the channel," he said. "I would expect that businesses will replace hardware as and when they need it. They won't go through massive rollouts because of Windows 8."

Among the optimism, Quinn raises a key business concern: There are still some companies out there struggling to get off XP, and, at the same time, many are amidst Windows 7 implementations.

So what will happen? Analysts says businesses will either stick to XP or Windows 7, continue their transition to Windows 7 and perhaps consider 8 much further down the track, or move forward with Windows 8 through selective implementations that will be slow .One thing must be noted though: Microsoft has faced similar flak in the past. "It's always been like that before with any release of Windows," Moses said.

"Everyone bags it and says 'it will never survive' and somehow Windows does. It takes longer because it takes a long time to transition."

Overall, most commentators and analysts do agree that Windows 8 shifts the focus from technology to business and IT strategy.

Distribution Central managing director, Nick Verykios, said, "You would expect the conversations to mature into business strategy rather with a typical technology upgrade or migration discussion. Technology conversations are now quite boring."

4 key opportunities

Channel businesses thinking about the Windows 8 proposition, whether already on board or not, must recognise the benefits at hand. Channel Dynamics director, Moheb Moses, highlighted four key opportunities for the channel:

1. Mobility: Microsoft is the first vendor to create an operating environment that runs across the desktop, notebook, tablet, and smartphone. Businesses therefore have the ability to produce a single solution/application that can be applied across a multitude of devices. This ignites the concept of true mobility and anytime/anywhere accessibility.

2. Migration services: Channel businesses who adopt Windows 8 early have the obvious opportunity to assist existing customers with migrations from Windows 7 to 8, or attract new customers by offering such services.

3. Educational/advisory role: While it may not generate revenue directly, there is an opportunity for partners who familiarise themselves with Windows 8 to act as advisors to customers exploring the OS. "The only way they can do this is to install the product themselves, test it, attend seminars, and form an unbiased view that is based around customers," Moses said.

4. Desktop virtualisation: Not necessarily exclusive to Windows 8, channel businesses have the opportunity to revisit the desktop virtualisation space as a foundation for migrations and thus avoid standard migration issues in the future.

Conclusion: Despite the opportunities, Moses said that there should not be a rush to take action. He recommends a patient approach for resellers, rather than a rapid business transformation. "If I was a reseller, I would sit back and see how it plays out," he added.


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