Cloud computing is firmly ensconced in the IT industry vernacular, but vendors have widely differing definitions of what cloud actually means. Clarifying cloud is an opportunity both for traditional VARs making the shift to cloud and for progressive VAR that have woven cloud into the fabric of their operations.
During the Cloud Integrators Forum panel, held Wednesday at UBM Channel's Best Of Breed Conference in Monarch Beach, Calif., VAR members offered a glimpse of the impact cloud is having on their discussions with clients.
"Customers are asking us, 'What is cloud and what does it mean for my business?" said moderator Ron Dupler, CEO of Greenpages, a solution provider based in Kittery, Me. "People are paying pretty hefty professional services engagements to assess their present IT strategy and help build a strategy for reaping the benefits from this."
Mark Hilz, president and CEO of Dallas-based solution provider INX, said one impact of the noise in the cloud market is that customers are proceeding with caution because they don’t quite grasp what it’s about.
"Cloud causes very long conversations with customers deciding not to do anything," he said. "We have to help define what it means to customers."
Some vendors are pushing a hybrid approach in which customers run their IT operations using a combination of private and public cloud infrastructure. But the concept of hybrid cloud isn't quite there yet due to lingering concerns from enterprises about relying on external resources to run their businesses.
As a result, "The concept of private cloud is still in its infancy the way most customers would like to define it," Hilz said.
Seattle-based Denali Advanced Integration has made the transition from a tradition VAR mindset to one with a progressive approach. The company has moved its internal applications to SaaS, but while there's efficiency to be gained by doing so, it also comes with risks.
"That provides the biggest threat to our company, "said Denali President Chris Gerhardt. "We do a lot of health-care business, and when Electronic Medical Records go to SaaS, you are pretty much cut out of the conversation as a VAR."
The solution, according to Gerhardt, is for VARs to move up the stack and branch out into cloud brokerage or strategic consulting. "We see a real opportunity in taking customers down the path of cloud, and we have many cloud partners and providers," he said. You have to move up the stack and get into the vertical space as a progressive VAR."
Gary Rinedollar, vice president of alliances and channels at Appirio, a company often described as a "born on the cloud VAR," offered a different perspective. "We don’t talk about moving to cloud anymore. We eat our own dog food and are 100 percent public cloud based," Rinedollar said.
This approach reduces the need for IT staff, and Appiro just last year hired its first IT employee. "Our IT organization is basically a closet with a router. We have no infrastructure," Rinedollar said. "We will never own a server, or a disk drive. Most of us operate off mobile platforms at this point."
The cloud transformation is moving more quickly than people thought it would, and that means for the time being, VARs will play their traditional role of defogging the situation for customers. What's unique about the current situation is that VARs themselves are still trying to figure out what cloud means for them, panelists agreed.
"My hypothesis is that there are no experts. We are at the initial stages of a transformation, and nobody has all the answers," said Dupler. "But this is an absolute reality, and it’s important for us as channel partners to adapt and redefine value within the supply chain as we move to a cloud world."