August 2013 Feature

Wanted: Skilled Guides to Lead Companies to the Cloud

VMware’s Toni Adams Gives a Wake-Up Call to Channel Partners

by Hobart Swan
Diane Krakora
What virtualization expert Toni Adams calls, “a shift of tectonic proportions,” may send shudders of fear through the IT professional community. But it represents, he says, one of the most exciting business opportunities channel partners have had in a long time.

The Journey to the Cloud

Adams, vice president of global partner and alliances marketing at VMware, defines this shift as the increasing trend among businesses to move their in-house computing infrastructure to the cloud. He says the transition won’t take place overnight. But it makes financial and strategic sense to many companies, according to Adams, that it’s as sure to come as the current “Age of Mobile-Cloud” the pundits predicted a decade ago.

“The cloud allows customers to get their IT delivered as a service. With the money they save from doing it this way, they can start focusing their capital expenditure on the things that really matter to them—providing more personalized experiences to consumers. Channel partners are perfectly positioned to help their customers make this move to the cloud—and, in some cases when wanted, even to manage and run their customers’ entire IT departments.”

Not an Overnight Thing

Adams is quick to point out two things: 1) Partners need to gain new skills and expand their ecosystems to help customers move to the cloud, and 2) Partners have time to make these changes because this move won’t happen overnight.

Many organizations, he says, are still at an early stage—one that will eventually make the journey to the cloud easier: They are “virtualizing” their computing needs—using software to run many “workloads” (multiple operating systems and applications) on fewer, but more powerful, servers. Even at this first step, there is ample opportunity for channel partners to profit by facilitating the virtualization process of the server environments. Partners get paid for consulting, implementation and configuration services, as well as other associated services.

But that’s just the start. After a company has virtualized its computing needs, it still owns the network, storage and security components and needs the appropriate internal IT staff or a dedicated partner to manage and maintain its computing environment. All of this requires a company to invest money and time typically in a part of their business, which is not a core competency, and they don’t make money from. More companies realize that they can move this capital into their core business to drive customer loyalty and they’ll be looking to the partners for help moving some or all of their IT services to the cloud.

The Next Public Utility

Organizations today can access IT services through the cloud and pay just for the time they use. “They don’t have to buy hardware, maintain hardware, manage the delivery of services, or keep up with changing security needs to make the services secure. And they can start using these cloud-based applications or access new cloud-based functionality in a matter of minutes—not weeks or months.”

The Big Opportunity

Because of its obvious advantages, the cloud is bringing what Adams calls “tectonic shifts” to how companies allocate their resources. But it’s bringing big changes to the channel as well.

“The major difference is that traditional partner skills are focused around technology implementation, which in the new era of IT won’t be a core requirement because partners won’t be the ones doing the implementing if the services are procured or provisioned through the cloud. The advantage now goes to those partners with the business skill to consult companies to address their business and fulfill on it though IT as a service.”

And, Adams notes, as channel partners sell one service, they can offer others. For an additional fee, they can make sure the service runs 24/7, or help the customer move its test and dev environment, its exchange system, or its collaboration solution to the cloud. Each additional service carries a new cost to the customer. But the cost will be far less than what the customer would pay to provide these services in-house. So it’s a win-win-win for partners, their ecosystems, and customers.

How’s Your Ecosystem?

The above scenario won’t work for every customer and/or partner, Adams says. Some partners won’t be able to offer customers a hosted software-defined data center or move them to the cloud. Providing either of these requires capability and/or a skill set that not all partners may have yet.

“For those partners that don’t have a needed skill, the job of vendors like VMware is to bring them along and say, ‘Even though you don’t have that capability, let us give you programs so that you can provide the cloud form-factor to your customer. That way you’re still part of the selling motion—and you remain the trusted adviser to your customer.”

Adams says that he’s seeing more and more partners respond to customers moving to the cloud by becoming services aggregators. With that comes the role of partner as business consultant. It will be the partners’ job to truly understand the customers’ needs, look within their ecosystems for the best service providers and vendors to meet those needs, and then put it all together as a packaged offering.

“We are looking to support our channel partners in creating or expanding their ecosystems and gaining the skills they’ll need to keep up with changing customer demands. Over time, agile channel partners will learn to take advantage of tremendous new opportunities and income streams, and to benefit from this new era in IT.”