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Forrester's Staten believes that there are cloud brokers focused on SMBs, but they often aren't household names. But cloud providers are beginning to kick off channel programs aimed at attracting partners, he said.
"I think that a VAR or system integrator who is not actively exploring this option is probably missing a major opportunity," said Staten. "And I would not be surprised if those who miss the boat find themselves getting replaced in the process.
"Most companies have no problem signing up for cloud services, but they struggle mightily to try to manage and maintain those services," he continued. "So the channel has a great role there. They need to focus on how cloud solutions differ from on-premise technologies, in terms of the economic model, the integration piece, along with monitoring and security, and also configuring the cloud services to meet the parameters of the desired SLA."
Alternatively, channel partners can engage a cloud-management-as-a- service strategy, which stops short of cloud brokerage but takes on other functions such as monitoring and performance analysis as a managed service. But whichever strategy is employed, there is a strong emphasis upon combining efficiency and simplicity for the benefit of the end customer.
"Giving the customer a massive list of applications can be a recipe for failure," said Rick Mallon, vice president of product management at Toronto-based Sigma Systems, which has built its business around enabling partnerships between service providers and software companies and provides a management platform.
"If the customer has a bewildering number of options, they tend to pick the cheapest one. But the cheapest ones are usually the first to go out of business because they're not well-capitalized. When this happens, there is usually a lot of blow-back on the operator or the broker. So the key is to narrow the field on the customer's behalf and be a trusted adviser. You are far better off with eight to 10 highly reputable cloud vendors who will most likely be around over the long haul."
The essence of cloud brokerage is to bring together different players in the value chain and combine them for the end customer. Therefore, the partner component is huge, according to Chris Vincent, president of Global Data Systems, a Lafayette, La.-based solution provider.
"There is value in the relationship," he said. "It doesn't mean the accounts won't go outside the relationship, but the person who owns the relationship is typically the one who has the contract."