Computer companies are trying to determine not only how to make money from the burgeoning Internet market, but how to look to their own customers as if they are ahead of the curve. Comstor founded "C.R.I.S.P," which stands for Comstor's Reseller Internet Services Partner Program, to let resellers into the game without having to buy equipment first.
Services offered by Comstor, and in turn the other companies, include Internet access, World Wide Web hosting and Internet server hosting. "It doesn't chew up the reseller's resources ... and he ends up with a check every month," said Ira Barkoe, executive vice president of Comstor.
By offering this service, Comstor has really become an Internet service provider. The company's primary focus is value-added computer and networking distribution. Barkoe said the company is actively building an Internet backbone that will soon be national. In 1996, Comstor had $127 million in sales; Barkoe predicts $220 million in 1997.
Of course, reselling Internet service is hardly a new business. But traditionally, the companies that repackage the access have been communications companies, including the regional Bell operating companies. Brian Muys, spokesman for one of the largest independent Internet access providers, PSInet in Herndon, Va., said Internet reselling is part of a larger trend of otherwise dissimilar companies jumping on the Internet train.
PSInet doesn't consider companies like Comstor as a threat, however. Reselling is highly profitable, he said. "It's really a no-brainer. There is no shortage of prospective customers," said Muys.
One of Comstor's first clients, Tony Lachick, president of network integration company CommQuest in Clifton, Va., said using the service is a cheap way to keep customers happy. "It locks your clients into you," he said. Lachick also said it makes him a "virtual ISP." That monthly check is great, too, he said.
Lachick said he couldn't afford to actually build his own network, as much as his customers wanted Internet access and Web hosting services. When he tells them he can do it all, they are impressed, he said. "Almost every client is in the mode of 'we have to get a Web site,'" said Lachick.
Comstor's partner in the physical buildout of the network is Management Analysis Inc., McLean, Va. Cisco is Comstor's choice for routers.
The prices are fairly low. Comstor is charging $150 for a setup fee and about $40 a month thereafter to the reseller, who will turn around and charge more. Barkoe said he doesn't plan any end-user sales.
Companies can then decide whether they want Comstor to handle all the technology or buy their own servers and routers, which can be monitored by Comstor at a remote site. That site, a storeroom with a series of metal cages, holds what Barkoe calls Internet "condos."
Any company with its server set up in the room has 24-hour access to the room and to its own cage. Each cage has a separate lock, however, so rival resellers can't mess with each others' computers.