Parallels takes SMB to the cloud.

It’s sometimes hard to remember that companies often have more than one string to their bow. Take Parallels for example.
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor and  Mary Branscombe, Contributor

It’s sometimes hard to remember that companies often have more than one string to their bow. Take Parallels for example. Most of us know them for their Macintosh virtualization software that lets users integrate Windows with their Mac OS X desktop. But that’s only 35% of their business. The other 65% comes from their tools for hosting providers, tools like the Plesk control panel that helps service providers and users manage virtual and physical servers, with tools for deploying applications and integrating with third party cloud services.

It’s that service provider business that’s brought me to Orlando, where I’m at the 2011 Parallels Summit, learning about how the company intends to take its web hosting tools and use them as a basis for helping VARs and ISVs manage public cloud services for small and medium-sized businesses. It’s an interesting move for the company, as looking at the way companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce and Amazon are approaching the cloud, SMBs are sadly underserved. Parallels’ tools also mean that hosting providers (who can be running data centres with several thousand servers) can run their clusters more efficiently, giving them tools to compete with larger services providers and open up new lines of business.

Instead of configuring web hosts, Parallels’ automation tools will be able to set up cloud storage and backup, define the CPU and memory for virtual hosts, and install popular cloud applications with support for VOIP and for collaboration tools. You’re not limited to Parallels’ own virtualization platform, either, as there’s support now for Hyper-V and soon for VMware ESX (though if you want to use Parallel’s container technology you’ll be able to pack a lot more virtual machines in the same server).

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Parallels’ approach to SMB cloud provisioning is its support for a packaging standard that makes it easy for ISVs to market applications to other operators by giving them a standard way to deploy applications and services. This same model also allows Parallels to provide syndication services for larger, external, cloud services. If you’re setting up a cloud platform for a SMB you might like to integrate it with Microsoft’s Office 365 service – and all you need to do is add the syndication link to a bundle of packages. As soon as a prospective client selects the option they’ll have Office 365 as part of their cloud package with single sign on and with just one billing relationship.

That last piece is important, as it means that Parallels can give cloud providers, no matter how small, the tools to handle billing for a range of custom services. Clients can choose the tools and features they want, along with the memory, the bandwidth and the storage, and see exactly what it’s going to cost. Provisioning is quick – often almost instantaneous – and users also get access to self-service management and support tools, reducing the load on their own IT and allowing VARs and ISVs to develop new and innovative services rather than resetting passwords or adding and removing user accounts.

The numbers around this are interesting too, and Parallels has commissioned a report that shows that US SMB cloud services were worth $10.6 billion in 2010, growing quickly to $28.6 billion. Interestingly it’s the smallest businesses that are driving adoption, with businesses with less than 100 employees accounting for over 80% of the total market spend.

Simon Bisson

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