Green Cloud Technologies On Being Channel-Exclusive And Why Solution Providers Who Aren't Selling Cloud Are Falling Behind

The Power Of The Partner

Green Cloud Technologies, a six-year-old cloud provider based in Greenville, S.C., is a big believer in the channel.

A team of two brothers and two longtime friends started Green Cloud in 2011 with the intent of conducting 100 percent of its business through the channel. The provider recently closed its acquisition of Cirrity, a fellow Atlanta-based cloud provider that also sells exclusively though solution providers in a deal that made Green Cloud the largest, independent channel-only cloud provider, and the company isn't stopping there.

Keith Coker, one of Green Cloud's founders and COO, sat down with CRN to talk about going up against Amazon, why solution providers need to get into cloud sales, and Green Cloud's aggressive goals for 2017. Here's what you should know about Green Cloud.

Tell us a little about how Green Cloud got its start, and what you're bringing to the table that's different from competing cloud providers.

A group of four of us started the company in 2011 -- Shay Houser [founder and CEO], and Charles Houser [founder and executive vice president], who are brothers, along with myself and Eric Hester [founder and CTO]. We all worked on and off together for the past 14 years prior to starting Green Cloud. The focus of the company originally was looking at a partner community with which we had long-term relationships, and really developing a service that could be distributed through partners. We started the company offering cloud services – Disaster-Recovery-as-a-Service and Infrastructure-as-a-Service -- through a 100 percent channel-focused model with a training aspect to it. We knew that [at the time] the channel wasn’t distributing a product like this, so we knew there was going to be a significant amount of education needed in the marketplace and we knew that it was going to be awhile before we had significant growth inside the company. It was kind of a grass-roots efforts to reach out to these partners, to explain what a cloud business model looked like, how they can take advantage of it, and then support them as they reach out to their customer bases to actually distribute the service.

Why did Green Cloud choose to focus 100 percent on partners as its only sales channel?

All of us in the past have run split sales organizations where there was both a direct component and indirect channel component, and there is always channel conflict. You always have a direct person calling [customers] and from a partner standpoint, you never know when the direct side is going to undercut you with pricing and services. It breeds a level of distrust with your partners if they know they are competing directly with the company. Given that history, the performance of partners in the past, and the relationships we built over time, we basically chose the tougher road because we knew [channel] sales wouldn’t come as fast, and we knew we weren't going to be able to control sales. But, we knew that two or three years into the company, we would be in a much better place if we made investment early on into the education of partners, building those relationships, and building that trust that we are never going to compete with our partners.

Do you see Amazon as a competitor?

We do run into them, but I wouldn't say it's every deal. Each cloud has its ideal customer. Amazon has Software-as-a-Service providers that fit very well into their environment, Microsoft has Office 365 [customers], and we fit somewhere in the middle. We fit in with [businesses] who have traditional environments, who are very familiar with VMware and very accustomed to how to manage VMware environments, and want something that is an easier transition then transitioning to a different hypervisor or different technology.

Our product set has evolved into not just IaaS and DRaaS, but also now includes backup, desktop and migration services to help on-board people and really form the basis of how a business could get into cloud for the first time.

What is Green Cloud offering that Amazon doesn't?

The combination of the channel partner along with Green Cloud offers a much higher level of support. A business today can reach out to their solution provider partner to take care of applications, help desk, business continuity plans, and all those items that if you go with a public cloud vendor, you're responsible for those yourself. Green Cloud provides the infrastructure and building blocks to teach those partners to create those solutions over the top of our infrastructure that their customers are looking for.

What kinds of partners are showing the most interest in selling cloud?

We have a lot of traditional telecom agent partners with a smaller number of relationships with VARs and MSPs. We've actually seen a lot of production out of the MSPs and VAR partners. In hindsight, one thing to attribute that to is in the beginning, it was a much more complex sale and [the partner is] really having to drive that solution sale and convince the customer why they should move from a premise-based environment to a cloud environment. I think that took some level of understanding of a customer's IT infrastructure.

As cloud has become a much more commonplace service that many more customers are consuming, the telecom agents have been growing in quantity and volume of sales because businesses are a little more educated about cloud and are turning to their tech adviser now, which is the role of the agent. Agents are good at looking across multiple providers and understanding the pros and cons of one cloud provider versus another.

With many providers, including the large telecom providers, getting out of the data center market, why has Green Cloud been able to be successful in this space?

I don't think the technology we are deploying is unique in the [cloud] space -- we use vendors that any enterprise could go purchase. But I think what we do from a support structure is understand how to efficiently support partners and how to handle on-boarding of customers. One of the biggest expenses is actually the transition between the premise-based environment to the cloud. Having done so many migrations now, we have experience and the tool set that allow us to on-board customers very efficiently.

How important is working with a cloud provider that has a regional data center footprint to partners and business customers?

It matters. From a technical standpoint it shouldn’t matter, but it does from a relationship standpoint, knowing that there is transparency within the company and we aren’t running behind a curtain is important – you can go visit the data centers if you wanted to.

In managing these facilities from a transparency standpoint, we allow customers to put some of their own gear into those spaces and let [that gear] interact with the Green Cloud environment. If companies have a special piece of hardware that wouldn't be accommodated within public cloud infrastructure, it can actually be accommodated through a solution with Green Cloud. That’s one of the building blocks that is unique about Green Cloud -- we allow people to leverage their existing investments or leverage nontraditional applications and run those as if they were running them in their own environment.

What are Green Cloud's growth goals heading into 2017?

We just acquired Cirrity, and we will continue to pursue both organic growth and growth through mergers and acquisitions.

As far as partner growth, we would like to continue to maintain a 75 [percent] to 100 percent growth of our channel year over year, which is a very tall order as our company gets larger. We have been able to do that each year so far, and we going to be working hard to do it again this year.

What is Green Cloud's message to partners?

Look at the landscape. Traditional vendors are seeing declining revenue year over year, and it's not a question of whether or not cloud services will be a part of IT's future, but what percentage of IT's future will it be cloud and how soon it gets here. Companies that don’t have a cloud strategy today are behind. Green Cloud is an excellent partner that has a history of educating partners and a history of quality support of the partner community. Partners [who join us] will be a part of an actively growing community that is centered around partner relationships.