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Google Cloud To Double Down On Channel With New MSP Program

'They’ve been listening and responding, and we’re just very, very excited about the potential to unlock our ability to invest more in our business alongside Google,' says Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, a Google Premier Partner.

Google Cloud is dramatically increasing its channel commitment with plans for a new managed service provider (MSP) program along with additional partner tiers, specializations, certifications and incentives, according to partners briefed on the strategy.

Changes coming from the No. 3 cloud provider -- some of which will be announced at its Next ’19 summit in San Francisco that starts Tuesday -- are aimed at eating into No. 1 Amazon Web Services’ and runner-up Microsoft Azure’s market shares, the partners said.

Carolee Gearhart, Google’s vice president of worldwide channel sales since last July, has been working hard to champion new partner programs and better understand what the partner ecosystem entails and needs, according to Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, a Google Premier Partner.

“They’ve been listening and responding, and we’re just very, very excited about the potential to unlock our ability to invest more in our business alongside Google,” he said.

The planned MSP program will track, measure and reward MSP partners such as North Hollywood, Calif.-based SADA, a cloud-focused managed service provider and all-in Google Cloud Premier Partner.

“It’s a new tier and a new category,” Safoian said. “MSP as a category didn’t really exist in the past in a formal fashion. It more clearly defines the role of partners like us who are involved in not just the initial sale and professional services of a customer’s journey to Google Cloud. We stay on for the lifetime of that engagement. The MSP program is designed to incent that engagement model in a way that the old program did not. The new program is based on performance. It provides additional margin potential, so we can invest back into our customers.”

SADA is doing prep work for the launch of the MSP program, according to Safoian.

“Our support and technical account management capabilities will be evaluated by Google as part of the program, and we also, frankly, have to sign up for certain commitments to the growth of our Google Cloud business to qualify,” he said. “We think this is a program that will allow the cream to rise to the top, so to speak, and that we’ll get recognized more clearly for our contributions to the Google Cloud business. We’re excited to operate in a more stringent environment for that reason. This will support our reinvestment needs much better than in the past.”

MSPs are crucial to Google Cloud's long-term strategy, said another top partner, who did not want to be identified.

“Midmarket and SMB (small and medium-sized business) customers want someone to manage their environments,” the partner said.

The upcoming channel changes follow Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s pledge in February to heavily invest in Google Cloud’s sales organization and channel to compete more aggressively against AWS and Microsoft Azure and accelerate growth.

A Google Cloud spokesman declined comment.

“For about three or four months they have been talking about changes coming to the program to make things a lot more simple and customer-focused, and (providing) a lot more…support-type benefits or rewards for partners in order for us to build and scale our practices faster, as well as help on the enablement and selling part,” said Vanessa Simmons, vice president of business development at Toronto-based Pythian, an information technology consultant, MSP and Google Premier Partner. “Adding more tiers can only make it more clear for partners on how they can take advantage of Google as a partner.”

The partner program changes are an indication of the “continued maturation of Google Cloud's overall enterprise approach,” said the partner who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Google Cloud’s nascent partner program currently has Partner and Premier Partner tiers with 10 specializations (application development, cloud migration, data analytics, education, enterprise collaboration, infrastructure, location-based services, machine learning, security and training) and seven certifications (associate cloud engineer, professional cloud architect, professional data engineer, professional cloud developer, professional cloud network engineer and professional cloud security engineer in addition to G Suite certification).

Google Cloud has identified six key areas – including SAP workloads -- where it believes it can make dents in the cores of Amazon’s and Microsoft’s businesses, and all play toward driving consumption, partners said.

“They’re pointing their go-to-market teams – their sales and marketing -- around the six areas and bringing in partners…that have specific industry or tech expertise to help them to achieve the substantial growth in those areas,” said the partner who did not want to be identified. “They’re prioritizing specific partners around those workloads. It’s a very focused partner strategy.”

Google Cloud’s partner ecosystem is still very small and “not big enough to satisfy Google’s appetite,” the partner said.

The new channel partner tiering and specializations will allow Google to bring up its “next rung of partners,” according to the source. “They’re cultivating the next rung of partners, which is a much better group, but they’re also pushing those partners, too,” the source said.

Google also is raising the bar with a more rigorous vetting process, telling partners that if they want to be top-tier partners, “you have to really demonstrate that you can bring us top customers and customer value” and “here is the gauntlet of things you have to do to become a top partner, including onboarding and migrating and implementing X amount of customers,” the source said.

“They’re doing it in an aggressive way,” the source said. “They’re definitely stepping it up. Partners actually have to invest and demonstrate competence and that they’re successful on Google’s platform to achieve top partner status.”

Partners can expect “more discipline around the numbers, around the business element,” said Tammy Cyphert, chief business officer at Dito, an enterprise information technology and cloud service provider based in Reston, Va., and Google Premier Partner.

In a recent interview with CRN, channel chief Gearhart said Google Cloud would allow partners to differentiate themselves in areas where they have depth and expertise -- whether it’s a vertical space, or Teradata combined with BigQuery, for example. The partners would get specialized credentials with a Google Cloud “Good Housekeeping”-type stamp of approval, according to Gearhart.

“You’re going to see, as we roll into Next, us relaunching sort of a new programmatic approach that allows the partners to really kind of define themselves just in the way in which they’re interacting with customers,” Gearhart said. “What they really want is to be able to is represent that in their own way. The specializations and expertise that we’re developing really stack really well with that.”

Gearhart said Google Cloud plans to introduce a “landing pad” between its individual certifications and partner specializations that will be partner-focused.

“We will double-down in areas of expertise, whether it’s healthcare or retail, media – some of the areas where Google has incredible depth and experience -- and allow partners to really show their expertise in those particular areas and as well the solution areas,” Gearhart said. “We’re really working on focusing in a way that…addresses Google’s key differentiators from a cloud perspective.”

Cyphert, of Dito, said she welcomes Google Cloud’s commitment to improving partner economics.

“One of the biggest areas that they’re focusing on with their new program is…partner economics and really working with the partners in the channel to help optimize how and where we can add value and make our money as well, but in partnership with them, which is really terrific to see,” Cyphert said. “It takes the relationship beyond just working together to build Google’s line of business.”

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