How a 30-year-old IBM business partner stays relevant in the cloud

Over the past 18 months, Champion Solutions Group has migrated more than a half-million users into Microsoft cloud solutions.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Many legacy systems integrators with deep skills in data center integration are recasting themselves as purveyors of cloud solutions and private cloud infrastructure, and Champion Solutions Group -- founded way back in 1979 -- is no exception.

Over the past several years, Champion Solutions has ensured its ongoing relevance in data center infrastructure by building expertise at building private cloud solutions: it is one of VMware's elite Lighthouse partners, who are trained to accelerate adoption of hybrid cloud computing. 

"I can't think of one customer that is not utilizing the cloud in some way," said Chris Pyle, CEO of the integrator, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla. Its clients include the likes of Insurance.com, Moen and the Borgata Casino & Spa.

A rather typical example of the sort of work that Champion Solutions does involves a business continuity solution it built for Laurens Electric Cooperative, a 150-person organization in South Carolina. Using VMware vSphere and VMware View, Champion Solutions built a virtual server environment that can fail over to an offsite data center. View was used to streamline the process for managing tablets and desktops used by remote employees. In addition, Champion Solutions migrated the company's Exchange email into the cloud using Microsoft Office 365. 

"For the VMware vSphere upgrade, Champion conducted a methodical process to document every step and every component," said Bobby Smith, director of IT for the rural electric coop. "In addition to providing our IT team with training, our employees never noticed any change in the functioning of their ssystems -- the process proceeded flawlessly."

Although its list of vendor partners is lengthy (including Dell, Brocade, NetApp, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Citrix, Cisco and at least a dozen other serious data center and cloud contenders) and its roots lie in a long-time partnership with IBM, Champion Solutions has become a highly public strategic cloud partner for Microsoft over the past several years: through its 2012 acquisition of MessageOps, it now supports more than a half-million Office 365 seats, estimated Pyle. That includes Champion's own sales organization. "It's extremely hard to sell something that you aren't utilizing first," he said.

MessageOps was created in 2009 solely for the purpose of helping businesses migrate applications to Microsoft Online services. But even before that, Champion Solutions was named Microsoft's cloud partner of the year in 2011. Although Champion has extensive technical expertise in data center integration, it chose to focus on selling Microsoft's cloud applications so it didn't have to maintain the cloud infrastructure to host its own, and so that its consultants could focus on solving process-related problems rather than worrying about IT maintenance.

In addition, Champion Solutions focuses its cloud infrastructure services on assisting businesses with private cloud buildouts. Approximately 55 percent of 379 hardware decision makers in North America and Europe plan to prioritize building an internal private cloud, while 33 percent have begun this process, according to Forrester Research's latest "wave" study on this topic from November 2013. The majority of them (30 percent) are doing so using a commercially available software option, rather than a converged hardware/solution or open source software, Forrester reported.

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