Providing enterprises with managed services to complement their offerings of public cloud infrastructure is a great business opportunity. The expanding cloud ecosystems of Azure and AWS are examples of the scope of this new industry. Are you taking advantage of the market opportunity? By packaging and selling your company’s specialized expertise to multiple customers, you earn contract fees and establish ongoing profitable support relationships with organizations that wish to benefit from the cloud. However, have you developed relationships with your cloud vendor? Have you leveraged this partnership to support your marketing and business? Are you managing your responsibility in this threesome — the cloud vendor, your enterprise customer and you? As a Cloud MSP, there are many ways you can develop your business to better serve your clients and increase your profitability.
An Opportunity Is Born: The Public Cloud
When Amazon Web Services (AWS) emerged in 2006, the industry’s new entrant had deep pockets and a proclivity for making compute available to the masses. They began servicing start-ups, and, as with every good disruptive technology, made their way to the large enterprise market. Because of this trend, a traditional MSP (managed service provider) hosting service could no longer rely on the margins from physical data center hosting to stay afloat.
CEO Taylor Rhodes defined it best: “How do you matter in a post-Amazon world?”
In recent years, Rackspace and other enterprise IT hosting vendors recognized a growing niche: enterprises want to scale down their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and move to the cloud. To make this shift, they needed help with the complicated process of migrating their applications and data. The automation and self-service mechanisms that enabled AWS and Azure to remain scalable made them impersonal; neither Amazon nor Microsoft could afford to assign account managers to every potential customer. Traditional managed service providers that boasted years of trusted relationships with existing customers were experienced in providing this needed service. Becoming a Cloud MSP enabled them to support a customer’s cloud adoption journey.
The gap noticed by players such as Rackspace is ever widening. Organizations in many industries are clamoring for access to this new technology in order to succeed in their own marketplace against their competitors, as well as to break through scaling bottlenecks that increase time-to-market. Yet costs can be prohibitive without a Cloud MSP to bridge the gap.
Cloud MSPs can evolve to service multiple customers with similar integration needs. A Cloud MSP can specialize in a specific vertical, such as the healthcare industry, which requires HIPAA-compliant cloud stack construction know-how, for example. The Cloud MSP acts as a “bridge” between an institutional customer such as a school, hospital, university or medical practice and a cloud vendor, while providing the custom services that such customers require.
Enterprises recognize the gap as well. They seek to accelerate cloud adoption and remove deployment and management risks. Cloud vendors similarly recognize that gap, and they see the MSP as a key player in their race to conquer the enterprise market.
So, if you partner with players such as AWS and Azure, or are planning to become certified as a cloud consulting partner, continue reading to learn more about this important, strategic partnership.
- Choose Your Clouds
As an early stage MSP, it is advantageous to select a single public cloud vendor to broker. This focus allows you to make the most of your resources and expertise, rather than diluting your energy among multiple vendors. Choose your vendor by evaluating the feature set that can best serve your niche customer, making sure to consider supported architectures, tools and technology, as well as your customers’ first option. You will also want to consider the extent of “lock-in” with your vendor – and evaluate your needs with regards to this.
However, remember your role as a cloud broker. In addition to requiring your assistance with migration to the public IaaS, your enterprise customer may want you to run a hybrid IT infrastructure. Private cloud solutions can provide the answer – select a vendor by evaluating their compatibility with your supported public cloud, and the overall deployment and management efforts required from your team.
As you become more experienced, you may want to grow into a multi-cloud offering that can provide additional options to your customer. Plan for the long term and define for yourself when and how you intend to begin to branch out to other additional offerings.
- You Are a Partner
Establish a strong relationship with your chosen public cloud provider. Attend summits to join the scene, arrange for accreditation to a partner program and invest in this relationship. Several tiers of partnership are available, depending upon the size of your account and achieving a higher tier offers benefits such as access to volume discounts and development roadmaps.
Joining a cloud vendors’ partnership program and becoming deeply involved with your cloud vendor helps you stand out and benefit from partner programs. They can assist with budget and resources, and are eager to do so, in order to promote you to their customers as their consulting partner.
Once you are a partner, communicate with your cloud vendor account manager regularly. Establish relationships and a continuous discussion, and respect this important partner. This relationship can have a huge impact on your business as they can send many opportunities your way.
- Certify and Accredit Systems and Personnel
When hiring your team, check CVs for existing accreditation and training qualifications with your chosen cloud vendor, such as an AWS Certified Solution Architect qualification, and cross check the registration number with your cloud partner. Expand your existing resources and create a skilled and trusted team by offering staff in-house training led by your senior cloud professionals. A knowledgeable team of skilled cloud consultants is your core capability.
- Prove Delivery and Market Your Capabilities
Where possible, choose projects that showcase your skills in your specific niche, or show off skills as per your cloud partner’s guidance. Showcasing a good enterprise migration project for a recognized brand can generate business through recommendations. Ensure that your cloud partner’s account manager and leaders are aware of your skills by sharing case studies and inviting them to hear you speak at key events. Become a cloud thought leader in the verticals you service by giving technical examples and sharing the best practices and tools you use. This will encourage your cloud partners to forward potential customers to you.
- Understand Your Responsibility
The cloud shared responsibility model, an important element in defining the separation of duties between the customer and the cloud vendor, was etched into the industry’s consciousness by AWS. However, you need to make sure that your liabilities are defined as well. They must be aligned with your customer and fit in with your position between the vendor and customer. For example, is your team the sole administrator of the cloud infrastructure? Are there users on the customer side, or any other stakeholders that can affect your liability? These are issues that must be defined.
Although the cloud vendor might be able to inform you and the customer of threats such as DDoS attacks or instance pools exploits, it is advisable that you demonstrate proactivity.
Maintain a robust governance, monitoring and alerting suite. As the cloud expert, you should be the first to report and fix problems, such as a cloud sprawling due to a hack. You must plan your network and resource allocation. In a co-hosted environment, for example, define how you will segregate customer accounts so that they cannot see each other except through sanctioned federation arrangements. Decide how much access and control the customer is given over their cloud network and how to support customers when they make changes that are difficult or impossible to assure.
- Resell Your Partner’s Infrastructure
The MSP is a hub and should leverage its position as a reseller by negotiating better volume packages and forwarding some of the benefits to its customers. Reselling public cloud is a great opportunity and a scalable business.
In comparison to traditional IT reselling, however, this is a volume game. As your cloud reseller service grows, you can generate additional efficiencies that are directly translated to added benefits for yourself and for your customers. Some examples include consolidating resources, migrating steady workloads on-premise, and leveraging long term discounted packages such as AWS reserved instances. Prove your professional skills, show customers that you can achieve better deals, and “own” the account by being the hub for the bills: you pay the vendor and chargeback your customers.
This is a win-win-win for all parties: your cloud partner, your customers and last but definitely not least, your business.
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