AWS Becomes 'Much More Partner-Friendly' As It Clears The Way For Solution Providers To More Easily Build A Business Around Its Cloud Services

Amazon Web Services is sunsetting the term "reseller" in favor of "solution provider." That subtle signal was not lost on its channel partners at AWS re:Invent 2017 in Las Vegas this week. The world's largest cloud computing company is serious about its partner program.

"In this last year, we've seen significant changes in how Amazon orients itself around partners," said Aaron Kamphuis, data analytics and IoT practice manager for Open Systems Technologies (OST). "The expectation now is, when AWS works with a business customer, they also work with partners. They've become much more partner-friendly."

Businesses aren't looking for resellers that only handle sales transactions. Instead, they want a partner that can add value to AWS services, Terry Wise, vice president of worldwide alliances, channels and ecosystem at AWS, told CRN.

"Our most successful partners are solution providers. The partners with a level of specialization and managed services focus -- it's what customers are asking for," Wise said.

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The newly-rebranded Amazon Channel Reseller Program, which Wise announced at re:Invent will be called the AWS Solution Provider Program in 2018. This change reflects the trend that more partners are offering an end-to-end solution for their customers, Wise explained.

"Frankly, we were kind of forcing our partners to choose one bucket or the other [consulting partner or reseller partner], which made sense eight years ago, but we needed to change that," he said.

In the early days of its cloud business, AWS followed the lead of its retail business. "Go to the website, sign up for an account, and configure the services you want. That's what the relationship looked like, and that has evolved a lot," OST's Kamphuis said.

AWS has changed how it engages with customers and how it brings sales opportunities to channel partners. The cloud giant has also bulked up its resources for the channel, building out a larger team that specifically works with partners, Kamphuis said.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based OST got its start selling hardware, which it still maintains as a part of its product portfolio. But as its customers began pivoting to the cloud, the solution provider evolved. OST today is focused on professional services for its business customers.

Several years ago, moving to AWS was unheard of for some businesses, especially highly-regulated industries such as health care or finance. That has changed, too, according to said Marilyn Daly, vice president of marketing for Logicworks, a Premier Amazon consulting partner. "Now, it's table stakes. Companies want to know how they can leverage AWS," she said.

The steady flow of new services and improvements announced at re:Invent 2017, showed Amazon's drive to make AWS is making it even easier for customers to adopt. But that doesn't mean that the cloud giant is stepping on partners' toes.

Businesses still need a migration and cloud design plan and help shifting workloads. Also, these customers will likely adopt a hybrid cloud strategy to keep some of their data on-premises, said Alex Jantz, solution architect, IoT and data analytics for OST.

"There was never a barrier to a business using AWS, but we play on the enablement side, making those services easier to use," Jantz said. "Now that AWS is making it even easier for customers to use, it's our job to take our experience on AWS and help customers be successful. Going to the cloud takes more than just turning the service on."

Telos is an AWS partner focused on cybersecurity that straddles both the technology and consulting partner programs. The company launched its solutions within the AWS Marketplace in June, and it expects business to continue to pick up within its client base as its on-premise customers move workloads to AWS, said Richard Tracy, chief security officer for Telos.

"Deployment of our technology within the various AWS regions gives us access to more customers," Tracy said, noting that some of Telos' end users -- which include government customers -- are held to the highest security and compliance regulations.

"The reason why we embraced the opportunity to work with AWS so strongly is really because AWS takes security more seriously than nearly any other provider," added Stephen Horvath, vice president of strategy for Telos.

Along with a name change, Amazon is changing some policies in its partner program. Partners that have provided a specific level of customer support on a historical basis now can opt out of buying business support from AWS, a current requirement of the program.

"We're giving partners the opportunity to offer support on a much more flexible, and cost-effective manner, which could potentially increase their margin," AWS' Wise said.

For Logicworks, the AWS partner program has given the New York City-based MSP the chance to differentiate itself within the network, and the newly announced changes will further this opportunity for partners, Daly said.

Logicworks has earned a number of AWS "Competencies," a program that highlight partners that demonstrated technical proficiency and proven customer success in specialized areas. Logicworks today has competencies in DevOps, healthcare, marketing and commerce, migration, and security.

"We have certainly been able to shine through with the competencies we've been able to achieve," Daly said. "The [technology competencies] aren't easy to obtain, which is a good thing," Daly said.

There still exists a gap between what customers need and what a hyperscale cloud vendor provides. The maturity of the AWS partner program is not on par with other hyperscale cloud providers, but it is quickly catching up, OST's Kamphuis said.

"Because of that, there's a lot of opportunities to understand a company's business and how [partners] can use a hyperscale provider to support their needs," he said.