Partnering with AWS is an entirely different experience to the traditional IT channel one. Described by some reseller execs as "inflexible" and "challenging", becoming a top-level partner with a public cloud vendor appears a more nebulous process than that which most channel partners have come to expect.
AWS' product catalogue is dizzyingly vast, invoicing customers is more complex and, if you don't get it right, partners can expect miniscule margins.
And there are seemingly infinite ways to partner with AWS. The firm has nine separate partner programmes, ranging from SaaS to public sector to service delivery.
To make matters more confusing, Microsoft and Amazon have recently introduced an elite tier for their highest-certified partners: AWS launched its Managed Services programme in 2015 whereas Microsoft only launched its Azure Expert MSP programme last year and now has 45 partners signed up.
So how can partners earn status with public cloud vendors and, perhaps more importantly, what do partners get in return?
Getting their attention
Cloudreach's EMEA head, Chris Bunch, said that the amount of attention public cloud vendors pay you depends on how large your organisation is, with smaller resellers likely to be given the cold shoulder.
"If you're a large tier-one systems integrator, if you say you're really interested in making this work they're probably going to reach out with quite a bit of help and support," he said.
"But if you're a smaller organisation, the help and support is still going to be there - they'll have some form of partner contact for you - but they'll probably say ‘go and read some material, go and win some business and then come back once you've impressed me'."
Getting AWS' attention, claims Bunch, is all about worming your way into your first customer deal, which isn't easy when you have no proven track record in delivering public cloud projects.
"You're going to have to have an honest conversation with an honest customer where you say ‘look, this is something new we are getting into' and offer them some kind of commercial deal and they accept the fact it will take a bit longer to complete the work," he said.
"Fundamentally, that is what you need. It's all about how do you get your way to that first deal so you've got something you can talk about both with the partners but also publicly; something on your website which says you moved customer X to the cloud and quote them on how delighted they are with your service. At that point, you're able to get that first partner tier badge to say you're signed up and onboard."
Breaking out the figures
After you've won your first customer testimonial, public cloud vendors typically judge your commitment based on three criteria: certifications; customer growth and retention; and revenue.
To become a "Standard" AWS partner, for example, you need to hit $1,000 in billings, based on a three-month average, in addition to two business and technical accreditations, two "associate" level certifications and two customer references.
For Advanced partners, billings go up to $50,000, accreditations rise to eight for business and technical in addition to four in "TCO and Cloud Economics" and six customer references are required.
Microsoft, Amazon and Google typically don't offer a blanket status across multiple countries, so resellers are required to build up a local presence consisting of skilled staff.
"If we want to establish ourselves in Spain, for instance, I'm going to have to open an office there and get 10 or 20 people down there and get them trained up and excited about what we do," said Bunch.
M&A is of course an obvious way to skill up quickly in public cloud. MSPs and resellers have been hoovering up "born-in-the-cloud" companies in order to meet public cloud demands.
UK-based MSP Claranet has acquired around 20 firms in half a decade in order to grow its international footprint and grow its status with Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
Consultancy director Tanaz Gould said that splashing out on M&A has helped Claranet become one of Europe's highest-certified cloud partners.
"We have built exceptional technical capability in a very short space of time. In our minds we needed to be at the forefront of these innovations as and when customers want to consume them," she said.
"The best way for us to gain it was to acquire a born-in-the-cloud company, as we have done in various countries. They typically have not come from a traditional hosting background, but have fully lived and culturally embraced the cloud. That included everything from how they're operating, how their teams are structured, to the tooling they're using. By acquiring instead of just training up, you gain the true cloud excellence which Claranet has achieved today in a much shorter space of time."
Reaching the top
Microsoft has been facing calls from its most invested partners to give them a way to stand out in its channel ecosystem.
It's no surprise - Microsoft has more than 170,000 partners worldwide and some partners have suggested that it's far too easy to pick up Gold-level competencies with the vendor.
Microsoft introduced Azure Expert MSP status last year. Partners are required to employ 15 full-time staff who have taken one of three Microsoft Certified Professional exams, and to have obtained four customer references.
But most importantly, acquiring the Azure Expert MSP badge requires partners to undergo a three-day on-site audit with the vendor.
Sentia was one of Europe's first Azure Expert MSPs. Its Microsoft alliance director, Jakob Norup, explains how the process works.
"You have to demonstrate everything from marketing and automating capabilities to cloud readiness to how you deploy and run customer environments in an automated manner. So it's really more like getting an ISO rather than obtaining a competency based on some customer references," he said.
"It was also meant as a consulting session; asking for us to put in some effort in areas where we might be a bit weak. It was actually very good because getting the certification gives us the opportunity to truly differentiate, because there aren't even 50 Azure Expert MSPs in the world right now. It was useful for us because it allowed us to put some thinking in motion for certain topics so we could get better at what we do," he said.
So what are the advantages of attaining top-level status around Azure or AWS?
Firstly, public cloud vendors tend to funnel their investments into the top 10 partners in their ecosystem, according to Bunch. Secondly, large enterprises planning complex cloud projects will take you more seriously.
"It certainly helps with very early-day credibility when we're dealing with larger organisations. In some instances, these programmes come with specific access to particular teams within Microsoft, for example, via the Expert MSP programme, which then helps us accelerate and build up some of our capabilities, said Gould.
"But for us, the most important differentiator is that we as Claranet stay on top of our game in terms of helping customers through their cloud journey and delivering it through multi-cloud."
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