Solution Providers Demand New Skills And Create New Processes To Deliver Multi-Cloud Environments

Solution providers who can manage multiple platforms and help their customers stay nimble -- and not locked in -- will win in the business of cloud, a panel of solution providers told their peers at The Channel Company's NexGen 2017 Conference and Technology Expo on Tuesday.

Customers are moving more of their infrastructure and applications to the cloud, so there's no denying that the multi-cloud trend is alive and well. However, the multi-cloud trend is demanding a different skillset from solution providers, according to Allen Falcon CEO of Cumulus Global, a cloud solution provider who is a longtime Google partner and new Microsoft partner based in Westborough, Mass.

"There's less loyalty to the cloud. We hear: "This is the solution I want, this is what's best for my line of business, and you're my [solution] provider, so you deal with that," Falcon said.

[Related: The Amazon Way: What Solution Providers Can Learn From The World's Cloud Computing Leader]

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10th Magnitude, a cloud consultancy and managed services provider that specializes in Microsoft Azure, is also frequently being approached by customers looking to adopt multiple cloud platforms, which can vary across different lines of business within a customer's organization, said Alex Brown, 10th Magnitude's CEO and founder.

While "bake-offs" between AWS and Azure are common, so is the movement between these large cloud providers from longtime customers, Brown said.

Solution providers must make changes within their own businesses to work with and support multi-cloud environments. This can mean changing hiring approaches, or tweaking the commission structure for sales teams.

Jason Waldrop CEO of CWPS, a system integrator which serves both the federal and commercial marketplace, is a self-proclaimed "recovering hardware provider" who is now getting into cloud services thanks to its partnerships with Microsoft and Amazon Web Services. Upon making the pivot to cloud, CWPS had to "re-tool" their engineers, who had to learn about cloud technologies through training.

On the sales side, it was a bit more challenging, Waldrop said. "The sales folks love selling that half-million-dollar data center infrastructure deals and getting that commission check. They aren't used to getting that annuity from managed services, so it took them losing deals, candidly, to get them onboard with the cloud strategy."

10th Magnitude's Brown said that selling more cloud services has changed how its company hires; it now favors people who thrive in high-pressure, fast-moving environments.

"It is a fool's errand to hire for an AWS or Azure engineer. If you do find one, you had better be willing to spend a lot of money on them," he said. "Now, we look for people who are comfortable in an environment that demands constant learning. In the past, you could rest on your certifications, and you knew you'd be viable for the next few years. Now, that doesn't really exist anymore."

Moreover, if a solution provider doesn't have the right expertise in-house, forging partnerships with fellow channel partners is invaluable, Cumulous' Falcon said.

"Multi-cloud is clearly stretching our skillsets, and there is a lot of power in partnership," Falcon said.

Cumulous works with several Microsoft partners today that specialize in various functions associated with Azure, such as deployment and ongoing support services.

"If we can't do it in-house, we broker the right services that can," he added.

Perhaps most importantly, solution providers who decide to support broad cloud strategies must evaluate their internal infrastructure and processes to ensure vendor management runs smoothly, Falcon said. "It is very easy to get overwhelmed as your business grows and when you're bringing in niche providers on the administrative and internal operations side."