MSPs & Cloud: 7 Lessons From Early Mover Reliam
Channel partners and cloud-computing providers were slow to embrace one another. Some partners – perhaps especially MSPs – were skeptical about the considerably different pay-as-you-go model of public-cloud infrastructure. And in their gold-rush phase, some of the big public-cloud providers didn’t yet see the value of a robust partner ecosystem.
Things are changing.
In 2018, initial reticence is giving way to unbridled cloud enthusiasm among a growing number of MSPs and other partners. In our 2018 MSP 501 survey, we asked which cloud services respondents leverage to drive revenue. The “big three” stack up like this: Sixty-seven percent cite Microsoft Azure, 40 percent make bank on Amazon Web Services, and Google pulls up the rear with 18 percent. In the overall market, AWS is still by far the No. 1 by revenue, though Azure has faster growth.
“You’re seeing a huge shift in the market,” says Jonathan LaCour, chief technology officer at Reliam, an MSP that works with a variety of cloud providers. “There’s plenty of value to create on top of AWS, Azure and Google Cloud for our customers.”
This turning point is evident in growing consolidation among MSPs – a trend LaCour expects to continue for the foreseeable future – as they jockey to get in position to capture a larger piece of the cloud market. Reliam itself recently acquired two other firms – Stratalux and G2 Technology Group – to bolster its cloud-services business.
Cloud providers have seen the partner light, too, as they seek growth wherever they can find it, especially in the hypercompetitive public-cloud space. Google, for example, announced a broad set of additions and enhancements to its Google Cloud partner ecosystem and program ahead of its annual partner summit, Google Cloud Next ’18. And earlier this month, Microsoft introduced its new Azure Expert Managed Service Provider program.
Still, LaCour says that AWS has a head start with partners, having already built out a robust set of programs, including one specifically for MSPs. Microsoft and Google are playing catch-up, but LaCour expects the field to only get more level.
And while these are commonly considered the “big three” of public cloud, they’re far from the only cloud providers out there, especially when you consider the full gamut of everything as a service, private and hybrid cloud, and more. Among the MSP 501, VMware was cited by 45 percent as contributing to revenue.
Given that more MSPs and other partners are following the early movers into the cloud, we tapped LaCour for insights on the business needs that new and existing customers approach Reliam with, as well as some wisdom on being successful with one or more vendor partner programs. Consider these useful lessons – from an early cloud adopter that has already learned a thing or three (or seven) – when ramping up your own cloud businesses.
First, some insights on what customers need from their cloud MSPs.
1. Understanding that many can’t navigate the massive menu of cloud choices.
LaCour notes that AWS, for instance, is well-known for launching new features or changes on a continuous basis; this isn’t the olden days, where a manageable chunk of updates wait to get rolled out at the vendor conference.
“They’re always releasing something new,” he says. “That can be intimidating for a customer.”
That’s where a partner like Reliam comes in: His firm is committed to helping its customers keep up with the pace of change in the cloud, a key need in companies that don’t have the internal resources to stay current on their own.
2. Support when they’re kicking off a new project.
Another common need among Reliam’s existing customers: A company is kicking off a new project, and they want to run the services in the cloud, usually because they want to move faster than their existing infrastructure may allow.
“It’s much easier for them to move quickly on AWS rather than bend their data center to their will,” LaCour says. This could be in the case of a greenfield cloud project, but customers also come to Reliam with a mix of workloads that require a hybrid approach, with integration work needed to connect a customer’s cloud environment with its on-premises (or colocation) environment.
3. Expertise when they’re doing a new – likely their very first – cloud migration.
This is one of the most common reasons new customers approach Reliam and other cloud-focused MSPs for the first time: They’re ready to do their first substantial cloud migration project, or are planning to migrate a far more significant system than they’ve done before, and they need help. Expect this to be growing market as the final barriers to cloud adoption teeter and fall.
LaCour says Reliam has also done dozens of projects with new customers as part of the AWS Well-Architected program, which his firm joined during its pilot phase. Among the appeals for customers: They can get a $5,000 credit from AWS, which essentially reduces the cost of engaging with a MSP like Reliam.
4. They dipped their toe in the water and now want to dive in. Are you ready to make it happen?
It’s not unusual for a customer to come to Reliam and say, effectively: “Here’s one workload we want you to manage the cloud infrastructure for.” It’s how some organizations tread cautiously into the cloud. But there usually comes a point where the customer wants more.
“Inevitably, they come back to us and say: ‘Can you do the rest of it for us?’”
The payoff for being there with advice and hand-holding during trials is the trust to help them make a larger move. Whether this is a lucrative opportunity for you depends on how well you structure your cloud-support offerings. Most (88 percent) MSP 501 listees make money managing cloud storage. Other winners: Ninety-six percent offer cloud-based backups and disaster recovery, 82 percent sell cloud security and 64 percent manage colocation services.
Now, three things partners should keep in mind about working with cloud vendors.
1. Don’t be a silent partner.
As cloud partner programs grow – and they’re virtually guaranteed to do so – so will the competitive field of MSPs and other partnering firms seeking profits in the cloud. You’re going to need to stand out with the vendor to ensure you get leads and other preferred enablement.
“Engage as closely as possible with the cloud provider,” LaCour advises. “You have to fight for their attention.”
Successful cloud MSPs will go above and beyond on this front by working closely with the platform’s sales team, for example, or advocating to be included in its content, such as blogs, case studies, conference presenters and so forth.
2. Consider the feedback you receive subject to change.
Cloud computing is an always evolving space; the pace of new features and changes LaCour mentioned earlier is a good example of this. Consider the same true when you receive feedback from a partner-development manager (or similar contact at the company), especially if it’s not the answer you wanted. Things can change quickly, LaCour says. If you ask for something and get a “no,” LaCour offers this advice: “Ask again in three months.”
3. Educate yourself on all available programs.
Successful MSPs will make it their business to know everything the platform offers, including programs that might help bring new customers on board. He points to funding programs that AWS offers for significant cloud migration projects, where the company helps an end customer offset some of the cost of getting to the cloud. While LaCour doesn’t like leading a sales pitch with funding, per se – that’s not the real value of the public cloud, in his view – he notes that it certainly doesn’t hurt.
“They won’t pay for everything, but it’s usually enough to move the ball forward,” LaCour says.
Back to that growing excitement among partners in the cloud: It’s growing for good reason. Companies just now moving to the cloud commonly need help; they waited this long for a reason.
“The later you get in the adoption curve, the greater the need for partners who can help with cloud migrations,” LaCour says. “The reason it’s ramping up is there’s more opportunity there for partners and the cloud platforms.”