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Google Cloud’s Gearhart: ‘I’m Committed to Making Partners Succeed’

The provider’s channel chief reflects on the last three years – especially 2020 – and shares what’s in store.

Kelly Teal

May 14, 2021

10 Min Read
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Closing in on her third year as Google Cloud Platform’s channel chief, Carolee Gearhart calls the ride “action-packed.”

Channel_Futures_Signature_Series_Logo-300x300.png“Even to the beginning of last year, we had been on this growth trajectory but I don’t think anyone knew what the pandemic would mean for the channel,” she told Channel Futures. “It rapidly became clear that 2020 would really be a watershed acceleration year for our partners.”

Indeed, COVID-19 gets much of the credit – or blame, depending on your view – for increased cloud computing demand worldwide. For Gearhart and Google Cloud, it’s the former. Cloud technologies should solve problems, especially the hard ones. Without question, the pandemic meets that criteria. Providers including Google Cloud and its channel partners responded with haste and expertise — so much so that some industry observers say the customer of 2030 arrived a decade early.

At Google Cloud, pandemic-fueled adoption translated into more business in 2020 than ever before. The company also brought on more indirect resellers than the previous year, Gearhart said.

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Google Cloud’s Carolee Gearhart

“Beyond the number, I’m so proud of the way our partner ecosystem responded to support customers,” Gearhart said. “It became clear that customers needed the agility and transformation only cloud can offer.”

She pointed to SADA’s National Response Portal as just one example. SADA is a California-based managed service provider that went all-in on Google Cloud two years ago. Last May, SADA launched the portal so health care providers and policy makers could share data about the pandemic.

“Those are the kinds of investments that will continue to pay dividends,” Gearhart said.

As another highlight, India’s largest cash and payment solutions vendor used Google Cloud to pioneer a way to deliver paper money to vulnerable seniors, Gearhart noted.

“We’re seeing positive impact on communities overall … and on real people around the world,” she said.

In turn, Gearhart, as head of Google Cloud’s channel, remains eager to keep demonstrating commitment to partners.

Headed ‘in the Right Direction’

Gearhart aims for partner satisfaction. She and her team seem to be earning it, considering the “onslaught” of testimonials submitted in the last year alone.

“We nearly doubled the number of entries … to more than 1,700 net-new customer stories,” she said.

Much of the praise came as the result of Google Cloud’s work to help partners differentiate themselves. Here, Google Cloud defines MSPs, resellers, independent software vendors and other partners by expertise around particular products, industries, solutions and markets that set them apart, Gearhart said. The vendor then pairs those channel specialists with end users seeking distinctive capabilities.

“We got a really strong signal we were going in the right direction [because] … between 2018 and 2020, partners were involved in three times the number of customer deals than they were before,” she said.

Google Cloud has enabled that differentiation largely through its specializations, “which are like Ph.D.-level expertise,” Gearhart said.

The curriculum covers 13 areas. Those include security, machine learning, work transformation, cloud migration and application development. Earning certification proves to customers that the partner “can bring something unique to them,” said Gearhart.

Over the past year, Google Cloud partners more than doubled their expertise, Gearhart said. And more of them took advantage of the tools the vendor houses in its portal.

“Everyone’s got a portal,” Gearhart said. “What I care about is that folks are actually using it.”

To that point, weekly engagement activity within Google Cloud’s partner portal more than doubled in 2020, she said.

“I know that partners are going out there and using these resources.”

Key Accomplishments

Since her arrival at Google Cloud in 2018, Gearhart has helped the partner ecosystem grow by more than 400%. That by itself, she said, “has been incredible.”

But it’s not just about having more partners.

“It’s really about the value they can bring,” she said.

Indeed, due in part to the channel, Google Cloud Platform now boasts …

… more than 7.5 million customers in 200 countries and territories, Gearhart said.

A big part of that growth came after the partner program revamp in 2019. Recall, when Google Cloud hired Gearhart, that Forrester Research analyst Jay McBain said change was necessary.

“[Gearhart’s] main challenge is pulling together the dozens of products, categories and crazy projects into something that is coherent for partners to add value to enterprise clients,” he told Channel Futures.

Gearhart met the challenge.

She spearheaded the merge of 26 separate channel initiatives into one cohesive package. That created a “really strong foundation,” she said.

For instance, in addition to simplifying structure, the program extends partner benefits by criteria including market, expertise and customer success. Gearhart also helped establish Google Cloud’s Local Market MSP designation. This third-party certification verifies the legitimacy of MSPs operating in emerging countries. And she introduced channel neutrality within Google Cloud, making sure direct salespeople work well with partners.

On the whole, Forrester’s McBain tells Channel Futures, Gearhart’s leadership is paying off.

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Forrester’s Jay McBain

“With 46% growth last quarter, and market-leading growth the quarter before that, I think GCP has succeeded in expanding its partner base with a streamlined, comprehensive set of programs and enablement,” he told Channel Futures. “I would still like to see more grassroots community involvement like we saw a decade ago, but, overall, partners are telling us they are pleased with Google.”

What’s in Store for Google Cloud and Its Channel Partners?

In short, a lot.

“2021 is going to be another snap-your-seatbelt-on year for us,” Gearhart said.

For starters, Google Cloud has introduced new incentives that drive partners’ financial gains, she said. As one example, premier partners may secure higher discounts across their entire business. This, Gearhart said, is key to “increasing the profitability of the business they’ve already earned and driving [the future].”

Midmarket partners have opportunities, too. Consider Google Cloud’s IT cost-optimization program. Partners may take advantage of pre-packaged best practices and materials that highlight the benefits of choosing Google Cloud.

“It’s been so fun to see how partners have engaged … using some of the assets we’ve built,” Gearhart said. “We’re going to continue doing that.”

Next up, look for Google Cloud to support its partners with its own diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. Gearhart serves as Google Cloud’s executive sponsor around that initiative. Building internal DE&I programs “will help [partners] show up and really meet the needs of their customers,” she said.

Despite all the positive momentum, Gearhart sees areas “where the job is never done.” With that in mind, she intends to keep identifying ways to make working with Google Cloud easier. One of those items pertains to the partner contracting process. Another ties to partner dashboards. To that point, Google Cloud will release new versions in the third quarter. The interfaces will deliver more visibility into partners’ businesses. They will have the ability to track all the work they’ve done with Google Cloud, enforce privacy requirements, protect their data, view and control who has access, monitor employee certifications and performance, and more.

Here’s our most recent list of important channel-program changes you should know.

“I want to make sure everybody shows up and has an incredible experience about how they work with us,” Gearhart said.

And heads up, traditional telecom partners — don’t feel overlooked by Google Cloud. While the provider does not yet interact with agents and consultants the way it does with MSPs and resellers, that could change.

“If there is an opportunity to support other partnering business models and helping them grow their cloud business, we’re absolutely open to it,” Gearhart said. “We’re looking to meet customers where they are.”

The Long View on Cloud Adoption Since 2020 and Google Cloud’s Place

Digital transformation prompted by COVID-19 continues to give Google Cloud significant sales boosts. Late last month, the provider reported …

… higher first-quarter revenue, attributed to pandemic-spurred deployments.

To be sure, the coronavirus pandemic forced organizations worldwide to adopt cloud computing more quickly than anticipated. Industry-wide, observations and projections about cloud’s importance even after COVID-19 abound.

“I believe cloud was the lifesaver of our industry during COVID-19’s disruption,” Avishai Sharlin, division president of Amdocs Technology, wrote for Channel Futures last fall.

In the U.K. alone, 88% of firms surveyed by the Cloud Industry Forum say they’ll increase cloud services adoption throughout this year.

Meanwhile, Synergy Research Group says global first-quarter 2021 enterprise spending on cloud infrastructure services exceeded $39 billion. That marked an increase of well more than $2 billion compared to the previous three months. It also represented a 37% rise over 2020’s first, pre-pandemic quarter.

Now, analysts said in late April, the cloud infrastructure services market is seeing its third successive quarter of year-on-year growth. That, they said, “is unusual for such a large, high-growth market.”

A slowdown appears nowhere in sight.

Even though organizations shifted to cloud technologies sooner than planned, inviting complications, many now understand the benefits. They can support hybrid or all-remote work without compromising employee productivity. They can save money on overhead (though that’s not to imply that cloud technologies come cheap).

Thus, enterprises and SMBs across the world intend to continue moving to more flexible, accessible, employee-friendly services, infrastructure and applications. Many are doing so with the help of partners. As Gearhart pointed out, examples of this work can run into the dozens, if not hundreds, of citations.

Consider, then, research firm IDC’s assessment last year that Google Cloud partners have prospered greatly over the past year. That trend will continue, analysts found. IDC forecasts that, by 2025, partner revenue from Google Cloud opportunities will more than triple. Over the next six years, accumulated net-new partner revenue will reach $341 billion. Between 2019 and 2025, the breakdown will look like this, according to IDC:

  • Resale will account for 27%.

  • IaaS, PaaS, SaaS add-ons will make up 26%.

  • IT services will comprise another 26%.

  • Business services will contribute 15%.

  • Hardware and networking support will add up to 6%.

On a macro scale, Gartner says the proportion of IT spending shifting to cloud will accelerate once COVID-19 passes. Analysts there predict that cloud – whether AWS, Azure, Google Cloud or someone else – will make up 14.2% of total global enterprise IT spending market in 2024, up from 9.1% in 2020.

“The increased use of public cloud services has reinforced cloud adoption to be the ‘new normal,’ now more than ever,” said Sid Nag, research vice president at Gartner.

Yet, all that activity notwithstanding, Google Cloud retains its third-place ranking compared to its competitors Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Perhaps, though, Google need not worry.

John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy Research Group, says there’s enough cloud computing demand to go around. Smaller vendors such as Google Cloud have “some excellent opportunities,” he said.

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Synergy Research Group’s John Dinsdale

“Taking Amazon and Microsoft out of the picture, the remaining market is generating over $18 billion in quarterly revenues and growing at over 30% per year. Cloud providers that focus on specific regions, services or user groups can target several years of strong growth.”

Gearhart expects to do just that through the channel. To wit, even though the company trails AWS and Azure, it boasts several exclusive partners and tends to move with more agility than some of its rivals. The company also has been expanding its data center regions and private cloud partnerships, extending coverage options to more potential end users.

“I’m committed to making partners succeed,” she said. Therefore, this year, she added, expect “even more acceleration and resources.”

How will that play out for Google Cloud’s market size? Check back in a few years.

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Kelly Teal or connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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