Re:Invent Recap: Looking Back At AWS' Global Partner Summit

Last week's AWS re:Invent conference, which drew 19,000 members of the Amazon community to Las Vegas, introduced a barrage of features coming down the pipeline of the world's largest cloud. But kicking off the massive conference was a slightly more intimate affair bringing together a few thousand AWS channel partners.

The Global Partner Summit is always first on the re:Invent agenda, and Terry Wise, Amazon Web Services vice president of alliances and channels, delivered a keynote sharing seven additions to the channel program intended to create opportunities for partners to drive more business.

Those include new certifications in DevOps, security, Internet of Things and migrations; broad investments in the channel ecosystem; dedicated instances that should lure owners of perpetual licenses (especially Microsoft Windows); and even Amazon's recognition that hybrid clouds (gasp) exist and seem to be here to stay.

[Related: 14 Scenes From Amazon Web Services Re:Invent Customer And Partner Conference]

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"It probably had less than 500 people in the room," Aden said. At that time, "what stood out was that partners were realizing this is a viable option. Customers were asking for it."

A lot has changed since 2012 -- AWS being a "viable option" might be the biggest understatement in the industry. The public cloud's phenomenal success since then is the reason "now everyone from mom-and-pop shops to the big guys are trying to enter the ecosystem," Aden told CRN.

Among Wise's announcements was a new DevOps competency, which 2nd Watch officially added to its credentials on the same day of the partner summit.

"It's how we think about our business. We have guys who live and breathe that with our clients," Aden said of DevOps. "Managing automation is a big part of what we do."

The formal certification ensures "one voice around products and services internally and with customers," Aden said. "They hear from Amazon what they hear from us."

Another AWS partner that's made big inroads with its DevOps practice is Flux7, an Austin, Texas-based systems integrator.

CEO Aater Suleman told CRN the partner summit was one of the best days ever for his company.

Not only was an innovative IoT project Flux7 executed on behalf of agricultural vehicle manufacturer John Deere showcased in a video during the keynote, but the firm also added the DevOps competency and capped the day off with a Partner Recognition Award in the category of Invent & Simplify.

The formalized DevOps competency AWS introduced is essential to driving that business model forward, Suleman explained, because different vendors and entities currently offer a jumble of definitions.

"People like us that claim to be a DevOps practice don't agree on the definition," Suleman told CRN. "The biggest contribution Amazon is making is putting in place an ordered competency that attests to people doing DevOps. It actually makes it so the term means something."

To earn the certification, Suleman noted, AWS is monitoring engagements in which solution providers take customers "from traditional to modern IT."

Wise introduced to much fanfare at GPS another training and certification program with two components: Security Fundamentals and Security Operations.

Kevin RisonChu, director of systems and infrastructure at Mirum Agency in San Diego, Calif., told CRN that track invokes immense interest at his firm, which views security as a key differentiator from other digital agencies.

"We have invested heavily in the past two years to ensure that we bring enterprise level security at the agile pace of a startup, which has resulted in not only retaining large enterprise business, but also new business wins," RisonChu told CRN. "Having these certifications will just be proof that we are who we say we are."

Media Temple, a Los Angeles-based cloud solutions provider catering to Web designers, developers and creative agencies, is also laser-focused on the security certification.

Josh Barratt, the company's chief architect, told CRN that in light of the many high-profile data breaches of late, Media Temple's clients often ask about security in the introductory conversation.

The Security Fundamentals and Security Operations programs will help Media Temple deal with those conversations, Barratt said.

"They'll enable us to further improve the quality of our managed cloud services and give our clients the extra peace of mind that comes from knowing they are working with a team of certified experts," he told CRN.

Mark Weiss, vice president of channels and alliances at 8K Miles, a systems integrator headquartered in San Ramon, Calif., told CRN that AWS once again demonstrated with the product and channel announcements at re:Invent -- from its Internet of Things platform to the new competencies essential for driving engagements -- that it will continue empowering and transforming the industry.

"What AWS customers are telling both us and the industry is that they are far more likely to work with a partner that has achieved competencies and demonstrated proficiencies," Weiss said.

David Lucky, director of product management at Datapipe, a Jersey City, N.J.-based MSP, said two themes emerged around services at re:Invent that he believes partners can quickly take advantage of.

First was security and governance -- new products making compliance actionable and automated, such as AWS Config Rules, will help credentialed partners "take an innovative approach to their security processes," Lucky told CRN.

"Every customer would love to have a Netflix-type security and governance model, where their process and maturity is so high, that they can deliberately insert errors into the system to ensure it is detected and corrected automatically," Lucky said.

The second theme involved "reducing the typical friction associated with onboarding data to the AWS platform," Lucky told CRN.

The new migration competency Wise introduced at GPS should drive a lot of business to Amazon partners, he said, supported by products previewed at the conference like Snowball and Database Migration Service.

One almost deceptively significant unveiling from Wise at GPS was a new feature enabling users to provision dedicated EC2 hosts -- Amazon's first foray into offering single-tenant servers through its cloud.

Once live, that option will allow customers to bring server-based licenses -- specifically Windows licenses -- into Amazon's environment, dramatically lowering the cost for some companies that want to run Windows and other software they've already purchased, Wise explained.

Aden, of 2ndWatch, told CRN there's value in a dedicated host "for companies that either have longstanding agreements with favorable terms they haven't changed for many years, regardless of pressure from the software companies, or the customer has a huge discount due to the type of business, like nonprofits or education."

"Essentially, the terms will be transferred over," Aden said.

And the benefits go beyond importing licenses into the public cloud -- dedicated hosts are also ideal for many regulatory and compliance reasons, Aden added.

If there was any single theme that stole the show at re:Invent 2015, it was Amazon's deep dive into supporting Internet of Things application architecture, with a comprehensive IoT platform revealed by Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels on the final day of the conference.

Speaking to CRN after the partner summit a couple of days earlier, Wise compared the IoT market to where the cloud was in 2009.

"The real demand is coming from customers," the AWS channel chief told CRN.

With IoT and DevOps, "software's being developed and delivered in an entirely new way," he said, citing the agile methodology being brought to market by vendors like Chef, Ansible and SaltStack.

"IoT applications are all going to be built on DevOps and agile models," Wise told CRN. Many of the new features are "the commercialization of the stuff we've been doing at Amazon for a long time."

Matt Whitney is director of cloud at Relus Technologies, an AWS partner based in Atlanta that's working on a few IoT-related projects, including developing a solution for a large research institution.

"They bring out this technology. It's awesome. We develop a whole practice around that," Whitney told CRN. "I am never at a lack of markets to grow, solutions to grow, opportunities for my company, based on all the new things that Amazon is constantly doing."

The timing of the IoT push "is perfect for us," Whitney told CRN. "I think it will just affirm our position and affirm what we're doing."

But Relus will first complete its current batch of jobs before evaluating whether it should invest in the IoT competency program, he said.

Suleman, of Flux7, told CRN the IoT competency, like all the others, will simply allow partners to differentiate themselves in a verifiable and credible manner.

"From the customer's standpoint, when they're sniffing through a list of 10,000 partners, they want to be able to filter people through certain verticals and certain competencies," Suleman told CRN.

Amazon's initiative to inject additional funding into its cloud ecosystem -- with more competencies, resources, subsidized proofs of concepts and free product trials -- was another well-received announcement from Wise at GPS.

Selling cloud is a journey, and there are a lot of steps to getting to the final destination, Suleman explained. The journey usually starts with a proof of concept, and getting the finance department to shell out funding for one is often the primary inhibitor to cloud adoption for enterprises, he said.

Solution providers either need to convince potential clients by subsidizing that proof of concept, or face an uphill battle in closing the deal. But Amazon will now help shoulder those costs.

"From a partner standpoint, it actually simplified the sales process. And from the customer standpoint it’s a game changer because a project they want to do can get started," Suleman told CRN.

Another surprise at the partner summit came when Wise, with little in the way of details, told partners that Amazon Web Services will position itself to more-comfortably coexist in hybrid environments.

That's a departure for a company that in the past only grudgingly conceded hybrid clouds had any role to play in the coming IT landscape. But the reason for the thaw might be quite simple, according to Whitney at Relus.

"To me it says Amazon feels like it has won the argument, and they are no longer fighting to win it. Now they are willing to come back on their position and try to moderate it," he said.

From a position of strength, the world's largest cloud can concede there are, and for a long time will be, use cases that call for on-premise components.

"Two years ago at GPS, Wise was laying out a basic proposition for public cloud," Whitney said. "In his keynote last week, he's not arguing for public cloud anymore. He's talking about evolution, next steps. They have won the argument. At the same time, they realize everything doesn't fit."

Whitney, who spent eight years at Cisco, said Amazon is challenging the very notion of what it means to be a partner of a large technology vendor.

"You have ISVs like [New York-based enterprise software vendor] Infor standing up at a partner summit, who identify themselves as a partner," Whitney said. "At Cisco, they would never be a partner, they would just be a customer."

"This question of what a partner is in the new world is really interesting," he added.

The struggle among vendors to answer that question will be an important theme playing out in the channel over the coming years.

"How you partner with Amazon is different from the way you partner with, say, EMC," Whitney told CRN. "It's very different, and it's still evolving and still early."