In 2018 cloud computing is an established and integral part of most organization's IT operations. Customers leverage the cloud to help them meet revenue targets, increase employee productivity and gain an advantage over the competition.
In 2019 cloud is set to become further entrenched within those firms with the technology underpinning many of their digital transformation strategies. In particular, we have seen tremendous take-up of public cloud services; nearly 60 percent of North American enterprises already rely on public cloud platforms, according to Forrester - five times the percentage that did just five years ago.
This presents an enormous opportunity for the channel. At Microsoft Inspire in July this year, Jason Zander, VP of the Microsoft Azure business claimed the vendor's Azure platform was experiencing the fastest growth of all cloud platforms, with 100 percent year-on-year consumed revenue growth and 122 percent Azure Premium services growth.
More importantly for partners, Zander said that every $1 Azure consumption drives $5 of partner business.
Demand for Azure services from customers is "a tsunami", according to Amy Rutt, president of Alexandria, VA-based MSP, Ciracom, who adds that "everyone wants to get their infrastructure from on-premise to the cloud as soon as possible".
Some of the specific customer pain points that Azure can help with include:
- Compliance needs
- Data location, reaching your customers
- Flexible payment options (pay-as-you-go, reservations)
- Facilitate lift & shift migrations (Azure Site Recovery, Azure Migrate)
- Simplify management with Platform-as-a-Service offerings
What does it mean for MSPs?
As noted, research suggests that customers aren't going 'all-in' with public cloud, rather they are using it as part of a hybrid or multicloud strategy. For example, a 2018 survey by Canalys reports that 75 percent of channel partners say that most of their customers are adopting a combination of private and public cloud computing.
This presents an enormous opportunity for MSPs to help build a clear migration path for them, remove any complexity and find further scope for projects and professional services to support this transformation.
"The opportunity is in professional services, in terms of consulting, integration and ongoing managed services," Canalys research analyst Daniel Liu, said when commenting on the survey findings. "Partners must provide the tools to secure workload migration and movement, visibility and policy enforcement across multiple environments to ensure cost control and compliance, as well as providing platforms for new digital application development."
Azure provides its own district opportunities for partners, including cloud deployments and disaster recovery and backup, and DevOps, so it's important you define in the early stages of implementation what your customers are trying to achieve for their business.
Some of the opportunities for MSPs looking to build an Azure practice include:
- Assessments/analysis, scoping, designing/architecting
- Migration, integration, development, deployment
- Support, management, troubleshooting, monitoring, training, upgrades, billing
There is even an opportunity to go further, developing customized applications, or specializing in specific technologies like analytics, IoT or security delivered on top of Azure, for example.
"Azure is such an enormous opportunity for MSPs - it's the foundation for services for the modern office and provides a growing services catalog to create new vertical solutions, as well as enhance and grow our customers' cloud solutions," Rutt tells CPI.
"The tools that are being developed to move workloads, create new value chains with increased services, such as AI, are terrific. We are now working within an ecosystem that is a whole. This has aided us to quickly design and deploy more integrated systems on Azure."
Pitfalls to avoid
One of the biggest missteps that MSPs can take is approaching Azure as if it were a traditional resale opportunity. It is important to analyze their past and expected cloud spend so they can make sense of costs - and if done correctly, this can add a lot of value to both your practice and your customers.
"Most people are afraid of the cost of Azure, what it looks like at first sight," Jean-Philippe Poulin, presales technical specialist - sales, at specialist cloud distributor Sherweb, tells CPI.
"The reality is that the comparison between various solutions (cloud and on-premise) is not as simple as it seems. Do a proper analysis, such as a total cost of ownership, keeping in mind all the features that a cloud solution such as Azure has to offer (compliance, elasticity, redundancy, security, et cetera) and then objectively compare the options.
"With proper sizing of your virtual machines, using scheduling, reservations for long-term usage, hybrid benefits and other features that Azure has to offer, you can really achieve great savings versus more traditional on-premise or less flexible cloud solutions."
Another mistake that you can make as an MSP is moving your customers to Azure and then not capitalizing on it. After the initial 'lift and shift' to Azure, MSPs should follow up with additional support and value-add services, ultimately helping their customers to maximize their investment in the platform.
Azure has many capabilities and can seem almost overwhelming to a new customer. Therefore, as an MSP it is crucial to drill down into what exactly they want to achieve, keeping their business goals in mind.
"You cannot learn Azure in its entirety," says Poulin. "You need to specialize, find what your market is, how you can help your customers and develop an expertise around that."
Canalys analyst Robin Ody describes Azure as "the glue" that helps MSPs provide what they're already offering their customers, "particularly in sectors like finance or retail that have specific application and infrastructure needs, plus different regulatory issues to deal with".
"MSPs are leading the conversation with their own offering, and they will be specialized in their own areas, such as application management development specialization or application management consulting," he tells CPI.
"It's all about developing their own IP and using Azure as a launching pad to build their business model on top of that."
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