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CRN Security Roundtable: Do Public Cloud Providers Get The Channel?

‘You’re dealing with behemoths out there. You’re dealing with very, very large companies. If you think you’re going to go in there ... and kind of change the way they do things, it’s not going to happen,’ says Check Point’s Frank Rauch.

Solution providers must understand and embrace how each of the public cloud providers likes to do business in order to be successful, according to a panel of the security industry’s top channel chiefs.

“You’re dealing with behemoths out there. You’re dealing with very, very large companies,” said Frank Rauch, Check Point Software Technologies’ head of worldwide channel sales. “If you think you’re going to go in there—whether you’re a partner, or whether you’re one of us—and kind of change the way they do things, it’s not going to happen.”

Rauch’s comments came at a CRN Roundtable titled “Security: Where To Place Your Bets In 2020,” which also featured channel chiefs from Bitdefender, Fortinet, McAfee and Palo Alto Networks. Vendors and partners that realize success in the cloud are the ones that have spent time understanding the different methodologies of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, Rauch said.

[Related: The 20 Coolest Cloud Security Companies Of The 2020 Cloud 100]

Some cybersecurity vendors have been forced to adjust how they do business to accommodate the behavior of the public cloud giants. McAfee found that when working with AWS, the best way to ensure that the company’s salespeople were paid in a timely manner was to go through two-tier distribution, according to Ken McCray, McAfee’s head of Americas channel sales and operations.

“In my opinion, AWS is still learning,” McCray said. “When we look at the AWS program as it pertains to us being in the Marketplace or them working with our customer base, I think they still have a lot to learn about the channel. I think they're going to learn fast, but I think they're a little bit behind.”

AWS could strengthen its relationship with solution providers by spending more with channel experts, McCray said. There are multiple constituents in the cloud environment from the solution provider to the vendor’s account managers and account executives, and McCray said cloud providers should look at the relationship through different lenses to make sure that all stakeholders are being properly served.

Arlington Computer Products has found that AWS often prefers working directly with customers at the enterprise level rather than engaging the channel, according to Tom Turkot, vice president of client solutions. The Buffalo, Grove, Ill.-based solution provider has found that AWS is most interested in working with cloud-native partners, Turkot said.

Solution providers that are moving into the cloud at the same pace as their customers rather than doing everything in the cloud are almost treated like second-class citizens by AWS, according to Turkot.

“AWS kind of has an attitude,” Turkot said. “You have to be established with them before they’ll give you the time of day.”

AWS didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

AWS is a little bit different than its public cloud peers and hasn’t necessarily approached the channel in a traditional manner, according to Rauch. The company wants to direct channel partners to its Marketplace, Rauch said, and is very focused on funneling activity through its Private Offers purchasing program.

“They’re doing things differently, but that doesn’t make them bad,” Rauch said.

Check Point is still figuring things out with Google right now, but Rauch said partners seem to love the company’s approach to both AWS and Microsoft Azure. Microsoft has embraced more of a co-selling model with solution providers, Rauch said, and the company is putting together collateral, running campaigns and building up a cloud-focused pipeline with the channel.

“You need to be able to treat them [the public cloud providers] all differently,” Rauch said. “Because they are all different.”

Microsoft Azure is engaged and paying attention to its commercial and SMB customers and works closely with channel partners to structure certain aspects of the relationship, Turkot said. Customers are often working with Microsoft around Office 365, Turkot said, and therefore typically already have an enterprise or select agreement in place with the vendor.

Microsoft excels at streamlining the billing process for Azure in the commercial and SMB space as well as providing opportunities around education, according to Turkot.

Cloud providers have been trying to figure out how partners can best monetize the opportunity around the cloud, according to Jon Bove, Fortinet’s vice president of channel sales. Solution providers will find it easier to build meaningful cloud security businesses as it becomes easier for them to monetize security tools in cloud marketplaces, Bove said.

“You’re seeing the shift where maybe some of their go-to-markets were direct to consumer,” Bove said. “And I think you’re seeing a shift to realizing the importance of the partner.”

Fortinet introduced a Marketplace category as part of its new Engage partner program to make it easier for solution providers to take advantage and monetize the opportunity offered by the public cloud providers, Bove said.

When the cloud providers first arrived on the scene, they weren’t looking at the traditional channel partner landscape as their go-to-market, according to Karl Soderlund, Palo Alto Networks’ senior vice president of worldwide channel sales. But a huge shift has occurred in real time, Soderlund said, with cloud providers leaning heavily into the channel as they come to appreciate the value they can provide.

“What they’ve realized, and what they’ve come to see, is that these partners have done such a phenomenal job over the years that they own the end users,” Soderlund said. “They own the relationships. They are the value consultant within many of these companies.”

End users today aren’t going all in with just Microsoft or AWS, Soderlund said, and are instead opting for a hybrid, multi-cloud approach that can address all their needs in a more holistic manner. Soderlund said channel partners should refrain from betting on a single horse since they’ll likely want to provide customers with the flexibility of using different cloud platforms for different workloads or tasks.

“I have three kids, three children, and I have three key cloud provider relationships, and I love them all equally,” Soderlund said.

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