Cloud Taskforce's David Sebestyen reveals the secret to jump-starting your cloud computing practice.

Channel Partners

February 21, 2014

7 Min Read
Jump-Start Your Cloud Computing Practice

By David Sebestyen

As a pure-play IT cloud partner, I often am asked about the best cloud solutions telecom agents should sell to get their cloud compute practice off the ground. Hosted PBX and the like have been easy entry points into selling cloud for some telecom agents, but many are finding these “telecom extensions” provide neither a platform nor a path that leads to building a cloud computing practice. Closing this gap to the compute side is very high on most agents’ priority lists. 

So, how do you jump-start your cloud computing practice? First, you need to first define what “the best” cloud product or solution means to you. For my company, it has always been about delivering those products and services that provide the highest value to the client while nurturing and protecting the long-term relationship by staying ahead of the rapidly changing technology curve and thus remaining in the forefront of the client’s mind as the “go-to person” for technology. In other words, it means being a strategic business adviser who consults with executive management on business transformation via technology as opposed to a person who peddles technology products or services either as a middleman or as a service provider.   

A Decision Framework

You may have identified hosted email as a foot in the cloud computing door. While hosted email has its advantages, what you really need is a solid framework through which to evaluate any solution that you may wish to represent. Any new solution set will require a significant investment of time, money and effort in order for you to develop a differentiating level of expertise in the space. So, you must avoid knee-jerk entries and initiatives that amount to nothing more than following the crowd. Instead, consider solutions that fulfill as many of the following four core criteria as possible:

  1. Reaches across all industries. A horizontal solution helps you avoid having to develop a vertical specialty or expertise, which, while absolutely necessary, takes much longer, requires more resources and is, therefore, not part of a realistic “phase one” plan.

  2. Is easily understood and needed by most businesses. This criterion is essential for scaling. It also is helpful for the solution to present a potential crossover sale with your core network services offer.

  3. Causes little or no business disruption. Business disruption is possible with any IT service, but ideally you want the first cloud sale to your client to have very low probability of disrupting its employees. This criterion single-handedly makes hosted email a less desirable entry point.

  4. Solves a core business problem that keeps decision makers up at night while aligning you with the client’s internal or external IT people. This is all-important because it positions you correctly and achieves significant customer mindshare with the first cloud sale, which is a prerequisite for a successful long-term cloud practice.

In summary, you want a cloud service that:

  • gets clients critical business assets/data in the cloud in some fashion all with little effect on the clients day-to-day business

  • places you into the valued position of trusted technology adviser”

  • offers your client a solution they did not quite know existed at least with the feature set, capabilities and business benefits you provide

  • has the potential to organically grow in both scale and monthly recurring revenue (MRR) without additional sales

So what are the best cloud services to get your cloud computing practice off the ground or boost an existing practice? My one-size-fits-most answer is data protection.

Data Protection Defined

Data protection goes far beyond data backup to include five components: 

  1. Online Backup. Raw data is backed up offsite (with or without an optional onsite component). Multiple versions and retention periods exist. Data is restorable from the cloud in the event of partial or local loss, or full-scale disaster. A wide spectrum of solutions exist with varying viability.

  2. Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS). Data is replicated to the cloud as entire servers/virtual machines with or without  retention and can be brought online in the cloud with varying recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs) or shipped back wholesale for on-premises recovery.

  3. Continuity of Operations (COOP). Data is synced and runs on live servers that function as warm spares,” with varying RTOs and RPOs. Ease of accessibility to work off remote location varies. COOP is extended with the integration of additional technologies to reduce risk against any single point of failure in an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud solution. This hedges against all forms of cloud provider failure and is part of the emerging cloud assurance space.

  4. File Virtualization. With advanced feature sets designed for business and enterprise, files are synced and shared between locations, on and off private and public clouds, and securely made available to and from any device, anywhere. Primary stores can be on-premises or in the cloud.

  5. Email Protection. Mail relay, disaster recovery and continuity for email, email filtering and security, compliance archiving and related services.

Data Protection Benefits

As you can see, the data protection space is both wide and deep, fits all four core criteria of our evaluation framework and includes solutions that can be designed and integrated to address a vast array of real challenges that your clients face today. Even more importantly, this solution category constitutes a highly strategic sale that can jump-start or grow your cloud computing business, offering many benefits beyond solving your clients’ essential needs. These include:

  • An easy cloud compute conversation.  Data protection can be plugged easily into any network services inquiry. In contrast, it would not be a natural extension of the ongoing conversation about an MPLS network to bring up virtual desktops.

  • Low to no impact on user population. Data protection, in most cases, constitutes a solution set that has almost no end-user impact, but it is critical to decision makers. There is less opportunity to disrupt day-to-day business and create client perception issues. The solutions are non-invasive, but establish the client in the cloud, providing a strong beachhead. Compare this to hosted email, which is very likely to have end-user and decision-maker pain for little return. Plus, hosted email is not even a gateway into the rest of the cloud computing world; strictly speaking, hosted email is a free-standing SaaS app. Clients routinely adopt one SaaS app and do not do anything else in the cloud for years. In contrast, field experience proves that data protection easily leads to other cloud sales.

  • Varied entry points. Each of the five legs of the data protection space is appropriate for any client with little dependence on the client’s size or point in the cloud adoption process. Data protection can be up-sold and cross-sold to any client regardless of where the client has its IT infrastructure onsite, in a colocation facility, or partially or fully in the cloud.

  • Built-in multiplier. Data protection is one of very few solution categories that features an aggressive built-in multiplier. Commissions always go up rather than down because data always grows; both the solution and the resulting MRR grow organically without having to reengage the client.

  • Aligns with IT resources.  Most people responsible for IT put data protection high on their priority list. Traditional legacy data protection methods rely on human intervention and on software prone to known issues that can corrupt or lose data. Often times, malfunctions cannot even be discovered until your client has a disaster and the data cannot be restored. Technologists as well as financial and executive decision makers recognize data protection as critical. Decision makers tend to be highly interested in new ways to solve this core business problem and to remove themselves from the responsibility.

If you have not yet considered data protection, now is the time to align yourself with cloud service providers that specialize in this space. Look past one-trick providers to those that carry a suite of services that work together. And, be sure to consider factors such as pedigree and longevity and  technology edge; there is a wide variance in solution viability, installed base, financial stability and support infrastructure. In addition, team with select IT partners or an industry group that can help provide the expert analysis, assessment and solution design skills required to architect a complete data protection solution for your clients. A data protection sale is the best foundation for a thriving cloud computing practice.

David Sebestyen is a founder of Skyrope, a managed IT services provider, and a managing director of Cloud Taskforce, a consortium of services providers including Skyrope that have joined forces to acts as clients’ advocates in the cloud. Cloud Taskforce also is a member of the Agent Alliance. Sebeystyen has nearly 20 years of experience in technology services with a focus on business development, design, implementation management and account management.
Twitter: @cloudtaskforce

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