AWS VP at NexGen Cloud: 'We're Living In The Generation Of The API'

David McCann, vice president of marketplace and catalog services at Amazon Web Services, advised NexGen Cloud attendees Wednesday to nurture expertise in specific cloud features and ecosystems, help customers develop and deploy applications rapidly, and most of all, master the use of APIs.

McCann, making the inaugural appearance for the industry-leading cloud at The Channel Company conference, told attendees that because of the current state of the IT industry, he thought of them all as system integrators, regardless of their specific business model.

"Really, the modern business of the channel is integration," McCann said. And that essential service is achieved through leveraging APIs.

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We're all "living in the generation of the API," McCann said, a product of the proliferation of software companies, products and programmers across the world.

Those software interfaces, by delivering lightweight access to specific services, empower partners to build functionality for customers, he said.

"As a partner, you have to become comfortable with writing to and leveraging APIs," McCann told attendees.

Because NexGen is a relatively new conference, Amazon looked at who would be attending before deciding on sending a representative. The composition of the NexGen audience made the choice easy.

"You're a very important part of the ecosystem of information systems," McCann told solution providers. "AWS is growing very fast because we have a fast-growing channel community. We're not growing without partners."

The theme of speed and agility, which Amazon has made its hallmark, is essential for the channel, which has always had to be highly flexible as ecosystems and infrastructure underwent rapid change.

Customers want to move fast, and the computing model is changing again to meet that demand for software that can be rapidly deployed, McCann said.

That strategy has grown AWS in nine years to more than a million customers, with the number of EC2 computing instances growing by 95 percent year over year.

That velocity "frees you up as a channel partner" to focus on selling services and adding value beyond setting up servers, McCann said.

AWS gives its partners a portfolio of software through its own features and third-party vendors.

McCann advised partners to leverage those tools by gaining delivery expertise, domain expertise, and a portfolio of services and competencies.

Channel businesses still installing hardware must understand it's a business model whose time is coming to an end.

"There's something about cloud scale that allows us to radically change the economics," McCann said.

But even with the new IT mindset, channels still have to make choices.

Partners must select ecosystems to become competent in, the asset mix of their staff, the direction of skill development for those employees over the next five years, and how to leverage the services made available to them once they move to the cloud.

But that's par for the course.

"Channel partners are always re-skilling," McCann told attendees. "You're always learning something new."

And developing the modern skills enable partners to serve as trusted advisers for enterprises ditching legacy software and re-architecting their systems for cloud deployments, he said.

McCann advised partners to take advantage of the cloud's flexibility to experiment on behalf of their clients, building prototypes without wasting time setting up infrastructure.

And above all, McCann told solution providers, they should back away from technologies they know soon will be obsolete.

Bob Leslie, chief technology officer of Systems Engineering, an MSP based in Portland, Maine, told CRN that McCann’s keynote hit close to home because his company still has a legacy mindset, with concerns about proximity to data and data sovereignty impeding cloud adoption.

"That's the engineers we work with, salespeople who sell, even the clients we sell to," Leslie told CRN. "They're baby boomers. White-collar professional services businesses. They are still very conservative."

But he understands that change has to happen, and came to NexGen to figure out the best way to approach the project.

"It's a matter of when, not if. There's a rate of adoption," said Jim Woolverton, director of managed services at Systems Engineering.

Moving to a cloud-centric environment is more of a challenge in a small city, where the networking infrastructure still doesn't offer the bandwidth to encourage hosted IT solutions, Woolverton said.

But what McCann said about not focusing on technologies that will be obsolete resonated, Woolverton told CRN.

"We are definitely in that boat. We have a hardware-centric existence and this is a new world. We have people installing hardware today as we speak," Woolverton said.

"We'll either need to figure out how to re-skill as API developers, or we're going to have to be aggregators," Woolverton said. "The older you are and the larger you are, the harder it becomes," Leslie told CRN.