It would be easy to switch off when people start talking about cloud. The subject is not only worn out, but is one that means so many different things to so many people. As a result of that jaded confusion, there is a danger that some of the potential opportunities cloud presents could be missed.
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MicroScope garnered opinions from across the channel about what cloud technology could offer resellers this year and where efforts would be best placed for those looking to grow their businesses. The good news is that there are plenty of suggestions, and with Microsoft Windows Server 2003 support ending next month, it is a good time to encourage those running on traditional setups to look at a hosted alternative.
Pave the way for SMEs
“The next 12 months will be the prime time for resellers to step up and dominate the SME market, taking an increased share of SME customer telecoms and IT services. This year will hold continued growth in cloud products and services, supported by a further drive to a more mobile-centric working approach and sustained rapid growth and requirement for data connectivity solutions,” says Graham Harris, product director for cloud at Daisy Wholesale.
“Hosted desktop will be an important product for us next year, as we see the idea of virtualisation move from server level to desktop and storage. Even more so with the looming deadline of Server 2003 and Windows XP retirement, channel partners will find themselves in an ideal position to guide SMEs away from traditional infrastructure to a virtual hosted desktop environment. As more and more businesses opt to move away from traditional IT, I believe channel partners are in the best possible position to offer a virtualised solution,” he adds.
As well as using Windows Server 2003’s demise as a starting point, the ongoing challenges of managing diverse devices and making sure the network – whether on-site, hybrid or hosted – is fully secure present further opportunities.
Management of systems
Ashley Leonard, president and CEO at Verismic, says the channel community, particularly managed service providers (MSPs), need to arm themselves with a simple, cloud-based systems management tool.
“PCs and laptops are not going away, despite the rush to adopt tablets and smart devices. PCs and laptops need managing, monitoring, patching and licensing. Windows 10 will likely create a flurry of upgradework, application compatibility testing and roll-out,” he says.
“MSPs need a systems management tool that combines the cloud with agentless end-device setup, so they don’t need to deploy and maintain another piece of software at every customer site and on every
PC,” he says.
Elsewhere, the focus is on security, with Francois Daumard, AVG’s vice president of global channel sales, keen to stress the need to deal with the challenges of securing mobile devices, cloud-based apps and the growing number of objects that are connecting to the internet and corporate network as part of an internet of things (IoT) movement.
“Competition in the cloud space is intensifying. Shrinking margins in non-IT segments, such as VoIP/office copier/print services, are driving new players into offering managed IT services. To stand out from the crowd, resellers have to treat every customer differently according to their business needs rather than force them to pick from a limited range of cookiecutter services,” says Daumard.
“Another factor affecting resellers this year is the fact that average customer sizes are falling as SMEs seek to take advantage of cloud applications to deliver more affordable services. Management technology is also getting simpler. Cloud-based service platforms are emerging that allow everything to be managed remotely, eliminating any need to have your own advanced remote administration or complex scripting tools on-site,” he adds.
“Successful resellers will be those that change their approach. This means not leading with IT solutions, but instead solving customers’ overall business pain points. Break-fix/annual renewals are out, tailor-made retainer packages are in,” says Daumard.
One of the biggest security challenges for the IT department is living in a world with widening frontiers. The advice from Werner Thalmeier, a security expert at Radware, is to carefully go with that trend, but to work with the best partners to ensure the best result.
There should also be some opportunities in the unified communications space as the growing mobile workforce drives demand for more collaboration tools.
“More and more they will want these solutions, such as Microsoft Lync and Cisco WebEx, delivered from the cloud and paid for on a revenue basis due to the flexibility, agility and budgeting advantages this can offer,” says Andy Clark, channel director at MeetingZone.
“For resellers, this provides a differentiated way of securing long-term revenues and building closer and sustainable relationships with customers, through which to provide additional services,” he adds.
Tony Martino, managing director of Tollring, highlights an increasing demand for call management applications for hosted and cloud telephony that are easy to deploy and offer the same level of analytics and overall functionality as on-premise systems.There is also big demand for call management apps on mobile devices.
“We are also seeing a significant increase in enquiries from customers reviewing business processes and existing communications strategies as they consider migrating to cloud-based offerings,” he says. “We see the evolution and availability of business intelligence solutions, with the same level of functionality that is present in on-premise offerings, as one of the key factors behind the adoption of cloud telephony services. The impact of cloud technology has been disruptive, creating a major shift in the industry away from complexity and towards business value.”
The other advantage of the cloud is the flexibility it provides some of the smaller companies looking to punch above their weight.
“With services now available in the cloud, gone are the days when such systems were deployed solely in large enterprises. This means these products are now accessible not just to large corporates, but to a huge SME market,” says Martino.
“Cost-effective call recording, together with innovation in call management solutions with unified communications and customer relationship [CRM] integration, has meant this market is now taking advantage of powerful cloud solutions that deliver real business intelligence. Resellers now have the opportunity to sell a ‘solution’ that every business can benefit from and deliver a return on their telecoms investment,” he adds.
Advice and support Ultimately, the cloud will grow this year because of the focus of the vendor community on driving their technology in that area.
Gillian Crewdson, channel director at Mimecast, points to the increasing focus on Microsoft Office 365 as an ideal barometer for the channel.
“We know many businesses are still hesitant to deploy Office 365 due to ongoing compliance and security concerns. Others are taking the plunge, but quietly admit they are not entirely confident they have appropriate resiliency in place,” she says.
“For Office 365 deployments to grow, the channel has an important role to play in educating customers on how best to remove complete reliance on Microsoft or any other single vendor. Many resellers were traditionally concerned about the impact the cloud would have on their businesses,” adds Crewdson.
“Resellers have had to adapt to new revenue models and invest in technical resources as they grow their services business. This investment is paying off as most organisations need a great deal of advice and support to deploy a new platform like Office 365,” she says.
Cloud is the future
Tony Smith, sales director for the indirect channel at Unify, speaks for many when he describes the cloud as something that is here to stay and is permeating more of our day-to-day lives with each passing month.“From a reseller perspective, it’s incredibly important to have a finger on the pulse of the latest and greatest cloud technologies. Regular health checks and updating of the enterprise’s cloud strategy will be essential in helping resellers’ clients to avoid expensive mistakes or missed market opportunities, as the market is moving at such an incredible rate,” he says.
Smith believes this year is about enabling flexibility and delivering collaboration into the modern day workplace while still maintaining reliability. The world is in transition and, although ‘cloud’ is a concept
that has been doing the rounds for the past few years, there are still plenty only just embarking on their hosted journey and lots of support that the channel needs to deliver.
The year ahead will provide opportunities in unified communications, management and security, and could change long-established desktop tools in favour of something hosted or virtual. But there will still be a need for the reseller to consider the political and cultural side of a sale. Cloud can be seen as threatening not just because it is a new way of doing things but also because it poses a threat to the status quo.
Successful channel players will need to be able to provide support to customers scared of the future as well as delivering top notch products and services. No one can doubt that the cloud is here to stay and will provide opportunities for the channel. The rest of 2015 and beyond promises growth for those that position themselves to deliver tried and tested cloud services and support. ■