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Amazon Web Services Says Managed Service Program Gaining Steam, But Finding Cloud Talent Still Challenging

AWS has strict requirements for managed services partners that want to work with its customers, and one of the vendor's executives says it's a challenge to find enough talent to meet demand.

Amazon Web Services' Managed Service Program is seeing steady growth, but finding partners that can meet its famously rigorous requirements for pleasing customers is still a challenge, according to the vendor's top channel executive.

AWS debuted its Managed Service Program in November 2014 and now has 66 partners that have passed the vendor's strict auditing process, compared with 11 partners at this time last year, Terry Wise, vice president of the AWS worldwide partner ecosystem, said in a recent interview.

Wise told CRN the program will have to grow much larger in order to meet the level of customer demand that exists for AWS cloud managed services.

"We’re looking to scale the program to 10 times the number of partners we have today, maybe even 100 times," Wise said. "We’re still just scratching the surface here."

AWS is built around self-service and automation, yet its Infrastructure-as-a-Service and other offerings require a certain amount of in-house skill for customers to operate. As a result, many customers have decided to let managed services partners handle this work, freeing them up to focus on higher-level tasks.

[Related: 6 Key Things To Know About Amazon Web Services' 'Sentinel' Managed Services Offering]

AWS validates partners' abilities when admitting them to the program, and the audits them every 12 months afterward to ensure they're keeping their skills up to date.

In January, AWS raised its auditing requirements for partners in areas like application migration and monitoring services, as well as continuous optimization -- i.e., helping customers use the right instance sizes and ensuring they're getting maximum utilization from the AWS services they're using, according to Wise.

Robert Groat, executive vice president of technology and strategy at Smartronix, a Washington, D.C.-based AWS MSP partner, said the program "is going unbelievably well for us."

Smartronix has completed two AWS audits, and Groat said this year version "was substantially more in depth" than last year's.

"AWS really is using the MSP audit program to better educate and engage their partner ecosystem on best practices," Groat said. "They really want to see partners using AWS in a manner that helps automate security and compliance."


Luis Benavides, founder and CEO of Day1 Solutions, an AWS partner in McLean, Va., said the AWS MSP program gives partners incentive to elevate their skills and focus on capabilities like cloud automation and scaling.

"In order to truly support clients, MSPs have to think bigger," Benavides said. "The AWS MSP program forces you to do that because of the auditing process. That has worked out well, and we're following the guidance that AWS has identified."

Partners have to work hard to meet AWS' auditing requirements, and not everyone has the skills and talent to move as quickly as AWS does.

"There is a challenge in keeping up with our pace of innovation and delivery," said Wise. "The partners we want understand all our services, and new features coming out, and which ones to implement when and where."

The shortage of skilled MSP partners may be why AWS is developing a top-secret self-service managed services offering, code-named Sentinel, which could let large enterprise customers manage and monitor their public cloud workloads independently.

AWS is testing out a beta version of Sentinel with a handful of partners, sources told CRN in mid-April. Wise declined to comment on Sentinel.

DevOps, a term that describes how software developers and operations teams work in concert to speed cloud application deployments and updates, is a crucial component of the AWS Managed Service Program. But most traditional MSPs -- ones that deliver services like remote monitoring and management -- don't have this skill.

To be successful with AWS, MSPs need to invest in DevOps and other emerging cloud skills, said Wise.

"Our MSPs are frankly starting to look more like system integrators," said Wise. "Customers are telling us they need partners to not just provide infrastructure managed services, but also to evolve to higher-level DevOps and even move into the application space."

Jason Deck, senior vice president of strategy at Logicworks, a New York-based AWS partner and one of the original MSPs to join the program, said his company's business has seen a steady acceleration.

"Customers are coming to us with sophisticated requirements for how they want to operate AWS infrastructure," Deck said. "In a lot of cases, we are the sharp end of the stick in helping customers who want to transition from running cloud infrastructure in the traditional IT way to a true DevOps methodology."


DevOps is important because the traditional approach to building and updating apps just isn't quick enough for customers. "Customers want partners to move faster and to respond to new feature requests that come in. They need the ability to respond to that without compromising road maps and release cycles," Wise said.

AWS has always held its partners to a high bar, and Wise said MSP program members have responded well to the challenge.

"We’re very pleased with the engagement and commitment," he said. "This enablement and audit is pretty rigorous. The vast majority of partners in this have had to do rework in order to pass."

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