As they partner up in the hosted Unified Communication market, Unison Technologies and Intermedia issued a warning for VARs and managed service providers: Don't surrender to Microsoft Online and Google Apps. The warning, issued at the Parallels Summit in Miami, comes at a key time for VARs that specialize in traditional Exchange Server options. Here are the details.

During a keynote presentation this morning at Parallels Summit, Unison Chief Marketing Officer Rurik Bradbury offered some dire warnings to solutions providers and hosting providers about the hosted email and SaaS email markets. Bradbury said:
"We've got a war going on. Cisco is going direct with WebEx. Google Apps and Microsoft are selling cheap email. Google seems to have gotten some traction, Microsoft cut prices, and hosting partners are caught in a clash of the titans. One of the base problems for hosting partners is email is the "gateway" drug that gets customers hooked. The person who controls email is the person who controls the customer. And it gets worse: It's not just about email anymore, it's about unified communications."

Unison, Intermedia Make Their Move

To compete, Bradbury says hosting companies and solutions provider need to offer "fully unified communications" solutions. No surprise, he pointed attendees to a new Unison offering, hosted by Intermedia. But wait, there's more.

Manlio Carrelli, chief marketing officer at Intermedia, made a surprise appearance during Unison's keynote. He described why Intermedia is partnering up with Unison to provide a unified communications offering to the channel.

For solutions providers that plan to offer email as a service, the question becomes "what kind of email?" said Carrelli. He says solutions providers need to push beyond POP to offer more and more premium email services. Move beyond groupware, he noted, and get into unified communications.

"I like UC for a couple of reasons," said Carrelli. "There's plenty of margin for [partners].... Talk to your customers; 30 percent of SMB employees work out of the office some of the time, one in six spend most of their time out of the office." Those are UC opportunities, he added.

The Competitive Landscape

So what are the UC options for hosting providers and solutions providers? Carrelli's points and assertions included:
  • Microsoft does not have a full UC service today, he asserted. Microsoft has email and instant messaging and the products are good, he said. But if you resell Microsoft Online or BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), you don't own the customer and you don't own the billing.
  • "I'm not saying go out and build this infrastructure... [instead] look at at private label services."
  • Intermedia, he noted, already offers Exchange 2010, in an approach where VAR and MSPs control the customers and the branding.
  • Looking ahead to UC, Carrelli claims Unison is the most compelling option, built from the ground up for solutions providers in the unified communications market.
No surprise, Unison and Intermedia are partnering to bring SaaS unified communications to channel partners.

Equal Time

Admittedly, The VAR Guy didn't reach out to Google and Microsoft for comment. But our resident blogger things he can summarize both technology giants' SaaS strategies. Google Apps now has more than 1,000 channel partners and seems to be catching on with some MSPs. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to balance a direct sales and indirect sales effort for BPOS, which includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and several other offerings.