In-depth: Building a cloud platform for the channel

The cloud poses a challenge to everyone in the channel but no tier more so than distribution which faces some fairly fundamental questions about its future role serving resellers in a hosted world.

The cloud poses a challenge to everyone in the channel but no tier more so than distribution which faces some fairly fundamental questions about its future role serving resellers in a hosted world.

Some have made some early gains by lapping up server sales to build the datacentres that will run the public clouds of the near future but have not really looked beyond those rather enjoyable hardware sales.

Others have moved to become cloud service aggregators working with a large number of vendors to help present resellers with a menu of options in various different technology segments. That approach is going to be the most common going forward with the large multinationals getting involved in that model fairly early on.

But there has been room for innovation and with time on the side of the pioneers, cloud is growing but it has been a slowish ramp-up, ComputerLinks has emerged with a model that has been built with the channel in mind from the outset.

Plenty of stories have been written in the last few months about the distributor's Alvea cloud platform as it adds features and product options to it ranging from hosted firewalls and anti-virus to more high-end infrastructure services like backup, storage and business continuity. But what has not received quite as much coverage has been the methodology behind the platform and the changes it involved for the distributor.

"This was a cloud only service built with a two-tier channel in mind everything has to be channel centric," says Dave Ellis, director of new technology and services at ComputerLinks.

The distributor was determined to minimise not just complications for resellers but also risks developing off the peg service level agreements that it could offer to customers as well as marketing documentation that the channel partner could put their own branding on.

As well as keeping it simple there was also a tactic to aim high and move away from simply delivering an aggregation of services and instead opting for enterprise level infrastructure products, to take the value added distribution approach.

"We sit at the higher end of the cloud, the value added strategy is different to some others because essentially being a SaaS broker is not where we want to be," says Ellis.

When it came to working out which services to offer the distributor built on its security expertise but also used research to identify where resellers believed customers were most in need of hosted services. Mike Worby, business development manager at ComputerLinks, points out that the result of that process was to guide it into the storage and data backup arena.

To make that strategy a reality the distributor has established a team of developers that have helped to build Alvea and extend the functionality of vendor products, thrown open a host of marketing options to partners and spent some money getting the legal side of the cloud with the SLAs all put together for resellers.

Kathryn Miller, professional services manager at ComputerLinks, adds that there is also help on offer with drawing up contracts, giving the resellers the services to provide their customers with confidence of uptime and a suggested mechanism to encourage regular customer reviews so the dealer doesn't end up disappearing into the background with the client using managed services via the cloud.

Crucially there is also help around the pricing issue with resellers getting advice about the way monthly payment works and the pricing structure of cloud services.

It is still relatively early days for Alvea, as it is for the cloud in general, but already the addition of services like storage, where ComputerLinks has not traditionally operated has brought in fresh resellers and there have been some project wins already to prove there is demand for hosted services.

As more resellers look to get on board the original philosophy that underpinned Alvea continues to be the guiding principles that Ellis and his colleagues stick to: "We are always going to provide everything for resellers so ultimately the reseller has no risk. We want to help them get to the cloud but with no costs or risk."

Reseller stories

The start-up
CommitTel was formed in June this year turning to the cloud offering from ComputerLinks as a quick way of getting the business up and running quickly.

It took less than eight weeks from an initial meeting with the distributor to signing the first client for managed secure backup services.

"The economic climate of increased taxes, diminishing real-term earnings, and cautious consumers means that all brands need to maximise client revenues," says Shevon McDonald, founder of CommitTel.

"Starting a new business from scratch could have been expensive and time consuming, but with ComputerLinks I had all the resource and support I needed to start selling Alvea services straightaway without any cost to me," he adds.

The established player
Having traded with ComputerLinks for more than eight years Assurix has established itself as an expert in the IT security solutions field. With a well established working relationship the reseller was able to work with its distributor to move to the cloud where it is using Alvea to test new products and taking advantage of the chance to enter new markets without the need to expose itself to risky investment.

David Lannin, managing director at Assurix, said that good value added distribution not only developed new services and way to support resellers but to stay one step ahead of the market.

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