The usual platitude that vendors and distributors trot out when they want to encourage resellers to sell their products is that they must stay ahead of the game if they want to remain profitable. By this they mean staying ahead of the adoption curve and finding products to sell which are still regarded as a 'black art' and 'need a lot of handholding'.
One of the best ways to keep abreast of new technological breakthroughs, of course, is to hoof it over to California for the regular trade shows. But setting aside the joys of a thinly veiled holiday to the US, there are a couple of reasons why this doesn't make sense.
The companies you may come across at the Comdex Fall show, for example, are only just getting started in the US, and you can have no idea if they will be successful.
Even if they are, you can't be sure that the people you are speaking to will still be with the company by the time the product makes it over to the UK. And if they are still in business, they probably won't remember you.
So it may be better to hang on until they come over here. If you don't want to wait for your friendly local distributor to introduce you to the latest talent, the Cal-IT Europe event in London could be your best bet.
Hand picked and cutting edge
Cal-IT is organised by the State of California Trade and Commerce Agency. The strength of the hi-tech sector in that state, home to Silicon Valley, is well known, so you can be sure that the 50 companies the Agency chooses to profile at this event are cutting edge. They are hand picked by representatives of the European Technology Advisory Board, which includes people from BT, Ericsson, Cap Gemini and Bertelsmann.
Clarent, a company that exhibited two years ago, has grown from a 20-strong organisation to one with 200 employees. PacketVideo had 10 staff last year; this year it has 300. If you get to know a company when it has 10 people, those 10 will be the ones sitting at the top of the pile making all the strategic decisions in a year's time.
Cal-IT Europe 2000 was held in October at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in London, a chip's throw away from the Houses of Parliament. It was the most successful show in the event's five-year history, registering the highest number of visitors to date. The organisers estimate that deals worth a total of $200m (£133m) were concluded at the show.
There were new vendors addressing established markets, such as security, and new players hoping to gain a foothold in a market that is expected to become massive - streaming media and automated knowledge discovery.
Securant Technologies concentrates on the security sector. It already has offices in the UK and has appointed Andrew Hockey as its business development and channel sales director. "We're looking for resellers who understand web building and the need for security and controlled access," said Hockey. "The beauty of ecommerce is that it opens companies up, but that's also the problem. Security is more complex but managing it needs to be simpler. That's what Securant has set out to address."
Under chief technology officer Eric Olden, the company has addressed it pretty successfully in the US, signing up companies such as Reuters in multimillion dollar contracts. It is now looking for UK resellers to make commissions on similar sized deals over here.
As ecommerce develops, so does the need for accessibility and managed security. Through products such as ClearTrust SecureControl, Securant claims to offer a security management tool that provides authentication, access control, authorisation and administration for web and networked applications.
"It's primarily a security tool, but people buy it for other reasons," said Hockey. "Its good for managing business applications, especially in environments where you want to restrict access, such as finance and banking."
The control system rationalises the problem of having multiple users who want access to multiple servers. The rise in numbers of users is hard enough to manage, explained Hockey, but the fact that data is spread over growing numbers of servers makes it even harder to track. Users cannot remember their passwords or the different methods of signing on to different servers. Securant's system enables them to have a single user ID and password which is valid for all points of the network.
Written in Java, the system is also fast, scalable and flexible, the company claims. The product's main selling point is that it dramatically reduces the number of helpdesk calls that lost passwords generate - the biggest headache for IT support departments.
Securant is running training sessions for resellers who want to get involved. You pay £1200 for a five-day course and you get training from the people who devised the product, rather than the usual second or third hand knowledge.
The single sign-on market is set to be huge, according to the latest ebusiness report by research company Giga Information. "The quest for a day's work based on a single authentication event is reaching legendary proportions. After six years of development, the single sign-on has matured tremendously. Until public key infrastructures (PKIs) can be integrated with back-office applications, single sign-on will be built with multiple vendor products," it said.
Securant's breakthrough is that it has developed a PKI-compatible product. It is even developing support for biometrics. Given that the biggest security threat has always come from internal users, a company that cracks that problem and improves manageability is a good bet for its agents.
Another company addressing security is Recourse. "We trap hackers and give you recourse too," explained marketing manager Karl Hutter. The strategy is simple. ManTrap, the company's first product, is a so-called 'deception host' to which hackers are diverted so that their data searching methods can be scrutinised and recorded, and their whereabouts detected.
During the Olympic Games in Sydney, for example, a hacker was identified by the patterns of interrogation he made while visiting the official games site. He was diverted, tracked down and arrested before he had time to do any more damage.
ManHunt, the company's second product, further advances intrusion detection and the ability to make an aggressive response. It is a firewall add-on for enterprise customers, service providers and ecommerce vendors who want better protection. According to Hutter, the company is looking for a mixture of client relationships. "We want to sell direct, through original equipment manufacturer partners and through resellers," he said.
With the explosion of bandwidth capability, streaming is widely predicted to be a huge growth area in the next few years, offering good opportunities for pioneering resellers. According to some analysts, the amount of bandwidth provided by telecoms companies will far exceed any demand by a factor of about 10 to one. In 1998, for example, 23 million miles of fibre optic cable was laid. Telecoms consultancy Renaissance Strategy believes that by 2002 there will be 500 times as much new fibre added. A single carrier, such as newcomers Qwest or Global Crossing, could carry all European and US data traffic 20 times over.
In other words, there won't be much point in reselling bandwidth, but video services and video gateway products will take off in a big way.
Video streaming has massive potential, according to Dr David Du, founder of Streaming21. "By 2001, half of all websites will include some sort of streaming media," he predicted. "By 2004, it will be a $9bn market."
Since 2001 is only a month away, this seems a touch optimistic - not even half the world's corporate websites appear to have streaming media at the moment. But the company is looking for integrators and resellers who can offer services around its software-based broadband streaming media suite.
"The majority of the players in this market are developing a solution for end users," said Du. "We're going to target telcos, entertainment venues and distance learning programmes with our Codec independent media server."
The wireless revolution
An exhibitor with technology addressing the trend for distributed computing to mean "an information strategy that's all over the place" is 2Roam. Its aim is to allow ebusinesses to extend their business globally to all wireless devices via any network protocol through the use of the company's Wireless Website Toolkit.
This suite of products has two main components: Catalyst Server, which manages wireless device requests; and Nomad, a client-side graphical interface that allows website producers to maintain control over the wireless delivery of a site's content.
The market proposition is that the use of wireless internet devices for mobile commerce will be huge in the next few years. The Yankee Group predicts that there will be one billion wireless users in the world by 2003, and that the mobile commerce market will be worth more than $13bn.
Bryan Wargo, founder of 2Roam, said: "We are on the edge of delivering revenue-generating and customer-loyalty enhancing services. We believe this market has an even bigger potential in Europe."
FusionOne Europe has a similar outlook. It identifies a need for 'internet sync', and has developed software that makes information access seamless and simple across a range of devices. The idea is that users enter information into a mobile phone or handheld device, for example, where it will automatically be replicated on all other devices.
"Everyone experiences the frustration of finding that information entered into Outlook on their office PC has to be re-entered into their home machine. With this technology, it can all be syncronised via Netscape Communicator," explained Rob Hogarth, the company's European vice president.
FusionOne can also provide clients with an information portal, eDock.com, through which the information can be accessed. Based in Surrey, the company is looking for resellers and partners that want to add value to their current propositions.
Like the technology it promotes, Cal-IT is something you should perhaps become involved with at an early stage.
- California produces 20 per cent of the world's software, with a gross domestic product that makes it the sixth biggest economy in the world.
- Cal-IT has been a showcase for new IT companies for the last five years.
- Deals worth $200m were struck at this year's event, which was the biggest so far, with 50 new vendors and 350 delegates.
- Security, ecommerce, video and mobile communications were the most popular sectors at this year's show.
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