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Webcor needed a cost-effective way to build and maintain its network of job-site computers. Its wishes were fulfilled when it handed the job over to a specialty consultant.

Ever wish you had a guardian angel to take on those IT demons while you sleep? Tommer Catlin, MIS manager for general contractor Webcor Builders, prayed for one.

"We're in business to build buildings, not to take care of computers," he says. What Catlin needed was a cost-ef fective and reliable way to install, support and service desktop computers in each of the company's on-site job trailers. Webcor had trailers at 27 job sites in the San Francisco Bay area, all connected by T1 lines to the company's private network.

"The environments the computers sit in are pretty rough," Catlin says. "They take a lot of dust and pounding from the cranes outside and the pilings going in."

In February 2000, Catlin turned to network integrator BridgeNet Information Systems, which was already building Webcor's servers and back-end systems, wide-area network and other high-level infrastructure. "We gave BridgeNet our requirements. The computer goes down, we want it back up. Data has to be backed up. The computer itself has to be easy to service and fix."

Outsourcing seems to be the most cost-effective solution for small enterprises. But of course there's more to it. Lend us your voice? YES

A Dreamy Connection

Gregg Davis, BridgeNet's president, contacted Everdream Corp., a service provider that offers complete IT solutions and Internet-based computing services to small and midsize businesses through channel partners at a fixed monthly fee.

The first system Everdream installed for Webcor included a Pentium III whitebox manufactured by Acma Computers Inc., running Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business, and other standard desktop programs. (Note: Everdream since has switched from Acma to HP Vectra v1400 PCs, because many customers are more comfortable with HP's brand name.)

Everdream's proprietary software manages the interface with Everdream for data backup and support. XO Communications Inc. is Everdream's ISP partner. Webcor leased a T1 connection from the trailer to XO.

Webcor pays $150 per month for the PC, software and Everdream support.

"The person working in the job trailer didn't know a whole lot about using the computer," recalls Davis, "We thought the Everdream system would be perfect, since it came with the training, the support and the backup."

The Webcor project is the fourth on which BridgeNet has teamed with Everdream. "It's been a perfect solution for us," Davis says. "We're able to work on the stuff we want to work on, which is the higher-end servers and the other connectivity points those customers need."

Conversely, says Everdream CEO Gary Griffiths, "We offer our partners two extensions to their service. Agents can sell Everdream's hardware/software solution under the Everdream brand, and we bill the customer. Partners can purchase what we call service packs—all the Everdream software and services—on a wholesale basis and resell that as their product."

Outsourcing seems to be the most cost-effective solution for small enterprises. But of course there's more to it. Lend us your voice? YES

Partners earn 5 percent on initial orders when they sell Everdream's turnkey solution and a share of later up-sell revenues. Partners that integrate Everdream service packs into their own solutions can set their own margins and bill customers directly.

Behind the Mask

"We offer a complete service with a turnkey system. Our customers don't know or care who the ISP is. It's all Everdream to them. We truly are the IT department for these companies. When they call us, it doesn't matter where the problem lies; we're responsible for solving it."

There is strong demand for higher-quality desktop support, notes BridgeNet's Davis.

"More and more [customers] are getting frustrated with the product support lines from the manufacturers," Davis says. "We started our own help desk but don't have the software tools or level of training that the Everdream people have."

Everdream offers backups of its clients' data, and can perform remote diagnostics and repairs. "If a person accidentally deletes a file, they can restore it remotely," says Davis. "They'll walk you through almost anything over the phone or send somebody out."

But for Webcor, cost was as critical as the service. "There really isn't anyone else out there doing anything like Everdream, offering a solution for the price they're offering," Catlin says. "We have to keep our overhead low. That means we can't have an IT staff. We can have good equipment, but we can't have someone on staff to support it." For example, the IT budget for a $50 million building may be just $10,000—for equipment, maintenance, T1 lines, etc.

"With Everdream, we can stretch that money a lot further," says Catlin. "If I go buy a desktop computer for $1,400, then I've got to also buy hours of time for someone to set it up, configure it, customize it for us, then maintain it. I'd need an IT person to maintain and solve all the problems. With Everdream, I pay $150 a month, and they own the computer. Anything goes wrong with it, they come out and fix it. They back it up—they have their automatic backup system. If the computer fails, it just magically comes back."

In short, Everdream obliterates the nightmares associated with training end users. "With traditional networks, you have a computer, a server, a tape drive and a network. The end user has to manually copy the files to the server for backup, and so on. This system automatically does it without our even knowing it. We don't have to train the end users. All they have to do is turn on the computer and go."

Everdream and its main competitor, Centerbeam, have nailed the small-business trend we recently highlighted (Dec. 18, 2000, p. 50;). Keeping bread-and-butter infrastructure running smoothly is the biggest concern among small firms. By leveraging the power of broadband connections, Everdream and Centerbeam are able to offer remote support at surprisingly low prices. Expensive on-site service visits are minimized.

Both firms have major backing. Everdream is aligned with HP, Centerbeam with Dell. Everdream closed its third round of funding in September, receiving $50 million. In November, Centerbeam landed $115 million in second-round equity financing.

Outsourcing seems to be the most cost-effective solution for small enterprises. But of course there's more to it. Lend us your voice? YES

While both firms offer partner programs, Everdream is more fully committed to the channel. Centerbeam is more focused on corporate branch offices and cutting deals with office-complex owners. Catering to branch offices may require Centerbeam to support enterprise applications such as SAP, PeopleSoft, etc., and that could dilute its commitment to small, MS Office-using businesses.

Both firms claim "thousands" of subscribers, though neither will release revenue figures. Everdream's largest customer is HQ Global Workspaces, manager of "executive suites on steroids" in moe than 500 locations. Centerbeam recently inked a deal with Equity Office Properties Trust to market Centerbeam services through 381 office buildings. (Strangely, HQ Global Workspaces recently received a $75 million investment from Equity Office Properties Trust.)

There's plenty of room for competitors in the small-business IT outsourcing market. You may want to go head-to-head with Everdream and Centerbeam, or partner with the firm that best suits your client base.—David Hakala

Customer: Webcor Builders Inc., San Mateo, Calif.,

Customer's Industry: Construction

Customer's Size: 650 employees; 27 job sites

Customer's Business Problem: Installing, managing and supporting on-site desktop PCs

Lead Partner: Everdream, Fremont, Calif.,

Deal Maker: Everdream's price and full service

Hardware: Desktop PCs by Acma

Software: Everdream's Dreamware and Dream service tools, MS Office

Service Providers: XO Communications (ISP)

Result: Webcor is freed of desktop support