According to Microsoft, the number of small businesses entering the cloud business will triple in the next few years. So if you’ve already become a part of that statistic, you’ve made a wise choice. Unless, of course, you’ve picked the wrong provider to be your partner.
Picking the right partner is easier said than done. And when it comes to the cloud, it’s hard to tell one provider from the next. So if you can’t even tell them apart, how are you supposed to pick one that will help you grow during the next phase of your evolution?
Only you know what will be the right fit for your customers. But here are the five things you must understand about your vendors to make the right choice:
Type of cloud. There are significant differences between public, private, hybrid, and virtual private offerings. They all meet very specific business needs, but consumer interest and service-provider commoditization have caused businesses to misuse each offering. For example, Amazon (largely credited with the invention of the public cloud) targets the Web application development, testing and research communities. Although the terms and conditions specifically state what data should be placed in that cloud, it hasn’t stopped customers and their partners from moving mission-critical and other sensitive data there. It also hasn’t prevented service providers from building their own offerings on top of Amazon’s public infrastructure. It’s important to make sure that the abilities of the cloud you’ve chosen will be able to fulfill your customer’s business objectives. While the public cloud might be an inexpensive option, it doesn’t meet most standard business requirements for privacy and security. If you don’t know what kind of cloud you’re proposing to your customer, find out.
The “also” cloud. The Microsoft survey mentioned above also found an important fact that surprised the industry: Businesses that are looking to move more services to the cloud want to do so with the same vendor. Unfortunately, most pure-play cloud providers focus on doing one thing and doing it well (email, HPBX, desktop, etc). But now, based on customer demand, many of these providers (as well as traditional carriers) have decided to quickly cobble together additional cloud products or start reselling other clouds to look like all-in-one commercial offerings. Channel partners must ask the tough questions to understand if their provider is actually delivering that cloud or someone else’s “also” cloud.
Cloud infrastructure. IP lowers the barrier of entry for service providers as much as it does for customers. This means that it doesn’t take a lot of expense to start up a few servers and get in the game. The issue is that it takes a ton of money to do it right, and it’s the channel partner’s job to make sure its customers understand what they are getting into. Platform and software manufacturers, open-source or supported, dedicated or high-availability, speed and type of storage, geographic diversity, security and third-party auditing, and compliance on systems and process — these factors and more have to be considered, understood and dealt with by a channel partner. That’s not a trivial task that an organization can get involved with quickly and take lightly. Remember, just because a billion-dollar carrier is offering a cloud service doesn’t mean it has invested billions of dollars in its new cloud offering.
Oversimplifying and over promising. I often have potential customers tell me that our competition promised to help the customer move everything to the cloud and support its end-users, both for no additional fee. This is simply misleading. Despite what many cloud service providers tell you, moving to the cloud requires the customer’s IT staff, who know the business, to take part in the migration. There is no magic wand that makes everything appear in the cloud. These promises seem attractive to the channel partner because they can offer an on-ramp to the cloud without effort and expense. But when the service provider says “no,” your customer will be blaming you for your poor recommendation.
Misunderstanding continuity. It’s true that the cloud provides disaster recovery that customers generally can’t afford by themselves. A well-designed offering is built on the right equipment, in a proper enterprise-class data center, with high availability built in. However, moving something to the cloud does not mean that it’s served from all over the world automatically. Generally, cloud providers don’t move your customer’s critical apps and content, free of charge, to the West Coast if the East Coast experiences an outage, and vice versa. The customer will still have to buy resources elsewhere to make this happen. And while many cloud providers offer services to support this level of continuity, failures in the cloud are not unheard of. The bottom line: Setting the wrong expectations in the beginning will lead to a real problem when disaster strikes.
Channel partners have an unprecedented opportunity in front of them, because more and more customers are understanding the cloud and choosing to move more services to it. But they also have a tendency to want to lean on a single vendor to do so. Before you select an all-in-one cloud vendor, be sure to understand where your provider stands on these five critical questions.General