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Distributors and VARs: The unsung heroes of the IoT market

The background

Commercial IoT has received substantial press over the last three years. It started in 2015 with hyped claims of IoT’s ability to deliver total transformation, but expectations around the technology have matured and IoT is now viewed as a reasonable technique for solving business problems. However, one thing has not changed: When it comes to IoT market participants, the focus of the discussion remains on larger IT vendors, SIs and customers. The missing story is the involvement of the distributors, VARs and smaller SIs, and the current needs of the small to midsize customers.

What are distributors?

Distributors sit between IT vendors and VARs or SIs, procuring equipment or software from the former and distributing it to the latter two. Because distributors generally have a very large customer base, they can help vendors reach more customers or provide a channel for vendors that cannot afford to build their own, such as smaller ISVs. Because distributors procure equipment from vendors and stock it themselves, they are incentivized to educate VARs or SIs about vendor products and help market them as well as to deliver sales training, demos and exhibitions. Distributors are masters of the supply chain, bundling and contract negotiations.

What are VARs?

VARs, along with SIs, serve on the frontline of IT and offer a more tailored storefront to customers than a larger vendor. VARs will seek to build and deliver turnkey solutions by mixing and matching technology and software, as well as layering on services of their own, such as integration, customization, consulting, training and implementation. VARs are often organized by customer type, from those offering general IT services to those specializing in education, the public sector, heavy industry and other niche areas. VARs, along with SIs, often have the keenest grasp on customer challenges, making them well positioned to package IoT components, build applications or offer services.

Signals of consolidation appear in the cloud IoT platform space

Infographic discussing signals of consolidation appearing in the IoT cloud platform space

The cloud IoT platform landscape consolidates around largest vendors as customers seek continuity, consistency and the best tools

Cloud services revenue grew 48.2% year-to-year and increased as a percentage of total benchmarked Internet of Things (IoT) revenue from 12.4% to 15.8% year-to-year in 2Q18. Growth is driven by customers, especially those without deep legacy ties, moving their workloads to the cloud. The public cloud ecosystem is beginning to consolidate, with the top vendors competing on best-in-class tools, partnerships and business-problem-solving messaging.

Software, while still a sizable portion of benchmarked revenue, is experiencing slowing revenue growth, from 19% year-to-year in 2Q17 to 4.2% year-to-year in 2Q18. Software, along with ICT infrastructure, will continue to play a role in IoT solutions with the advent of edge computing, but as providers’ cloud platforms mature and tie-in deals with application partners are cemented, demand increases.

ICT infrastructure revenue grew 14.1% year-to-year in 2Q18 due to increased IoT deployments as well as hybrid IoT becoming an increasingly common IoT framework. ICT infrastructure gross margin rose 80 basis points year-to-year. TBR believes the increase stems from the need for more specialized or powerful hardware to handle the more advanced needs of IoT and its components, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine vision. Despite the increased utilization of ICT hardware due to hybrid IoT and the need for specialization, the long view for ICT infrastructure will be complicated by commoditization. TBR expects most ICT infrastructure companies to deeply invest in software and service components to buttress the profitability of customer engagements as the threat of commoditization looms.

Vendors across the technology spectrum are all fervently trying to crack the code for the “killer app” within specific verticals that can solve common business problems and be widely adopted by customers. The vendors that win with building the first widely accepted solutions will be set up for success, while others in the oversaturated market will at best become acquisition targets and at worst become history.

For more information, contact Analyst Daniel Callahan at [email protected].

Canonical’s growth play: Make customers’ and partners’ lives easier (and more economical)

TBR perspective

At Canonical’s 2018 Analyst Day, CEO Mark Shuttleworth laid out a very compelling construct for Canonical’s vision of being the link between the operating system (OS) layer and the cloud control planes. Canonical has Ubuntu OS versions to run from the largest high-performance computers with NVIDIA graphics processing units to the smallest device OSes at the heart of offers from niche vendors such as Rigado. Throughout the event, Canonical stressed multicloud interoperability through Kubernetes. The big unknown on the horizon is how to provision infrastructure for edge analytics, which sits at the heart of the strategic relationship Canonical has with Google Cloud as Google donates Borg to ensure Kubernetes does not challenge Borg the way Hadoop forked from MapReduce.

Existing virtualization economics has stalled, with premium pricing models emerging from the major and better-established competitors Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) and VMware (NYSE: VMW). The Canonical play further compresses the economics of the infrastructure abstraction and OS components, where parts will be provided for free and the services and update provisions will become the basis for the monetization model. Akin to how free Android disaggregated the device OS space and gained share against Microsoft, Canonical bets on market projections showing devices used/owned per person growing from two to three devices today to as many as 20 devices within the next five years.

It is from this vantage point that one open-source Linux distro, Canonical’s Ubuntu, was taking direct competitive aim at another (Red Hat), while likewise suggesting VMware’s time as the market maker would quickly start to fade as more and more app modernization efforts move code from virtual machines (VMs) into lightweight Kubernetes containers (clusters).

 

Canonical hosted its 2018 Analyst Day in New York City on Sept. 20, 2018. The event featured presentations from the top leadership at Canonical, including Shuttleworth, Finance Director Seb Butter, SVP of Global Data Centre Sales Jeff Lattomus, and VP of Global Sales, IoT & Devices Tom Canning. Canonical focused on business and go-to-market updates as well as key presentations by partners, such as Paul Nash from Google Cloud, outlining how Canonical has accelerated or added value to their businesses. At this year’s event, there was a noticeable blurring of the lines between cloud and IoT discussions in comparison to years past where there were more definitive tracks. Regarding both Canonical’s own strategy and its conversations with customers, it is exceedingly difficult to have a discussion about one and not the other, which is reflected in the broader IT landscape as of late.

Increased market clarity drives 16.1% year-to-year growth in commercial IoT revenue

Technology Business Research, Inc.’s (TBR) 2Q18 Commercial IoT Benchmark recorded revenue growth of 16.1% year-to-year, to $10.3 billion, in 2Q18, among the 28 IT and operational technology (OT) vendors we benchmark. The revenue growth is largely a result of continued implementation of Internet of Thing (IoT) and growth of installed IoT solutions.

The dousing of rampant IoT hype, which only served to confuse and overwhelm customers and vendors, is helping drive the growth of installed IoT solutions. As the hype dies out, a wave of increased clarity and maturation is forming with vendors rationalizing their go-to-market strategies and messaging, leading to customers better understanding how to apply IoT and vendors learning how to assemble solutions. Packaged solutions are emerging as vendors cooperate, focusing on their strengths, and assemble components sets that solve verticalwide challenges. TBR believes these factors are driving tactical business-focused IoT projects to supersede overambitious projects stuck in proof-of-concept limbo.

However, while easier than in the past, IoT design and implementation are still a challenge. TBR does not expect a huge explosion of revenue beyond midteen growth going forward.

Total 2Q18 commercial IoT benchmarked gross profit increased 16.6% year-to-year to $5.1 billion. Reduced complexity in IoT due to increased knowledge around building and applying IoT as well as the streamlining of portfolios as a result of increased partnering is improving vendor profitability. Also, vendors are leveraging specialized tools, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to justify higher pricing.

 

TBR’s Commercial IoT Benchmark highlights current commercial IoT revenue and gross profit for vendors. TBR leverages financial models and projections across a diverse set of IT and OT components. Additionally, the benchmark outlines the major vendor drivers and trends shaping the market.