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How has the cloud changed life? Let's ask a vendor and channel player

The cloud has changed the way many of us operate, and Nick Booth has gone out to take a closer look via a couple of examples

How has the cloud changed the culture of selling products and services through the channel?

MicroScope set out to see this through the purview of a vendor, a distributor and a service provider, all of whom are in the market for UK partnerships.

The vendor is cloud startup Alkira, founded by Amir Khan and Atif Khan, who gave the world software-defined networking with Viptela, before selling it to Cisco in 2017. They were good enough to give MicroScope instant access and a Zoom interview with the CEO.

The next company in our study is infrastructure and service provider Logicalis, which has just extended its cloud suite and now offers the full range of Oracle.

Alkira was created by the Khan brothers to close the reality gap being created by the pioneers of cloud computing. Anyone who believed that Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google would create a perfect buyer’s market was living in cloud cuckoo land.

In reality, cloud services are a nightmare to network, says Khan. They all use different syntaxes and networking configurations, and they all have ways of locking the customer into their own service. I remember questioning the theory that AWS was run by a philanthropist who wanted to empower the IT buyer and being corrected by a tame analyst hired by a vendor for a briefing. ‘Cloud computing,’ said the analyst, ‘gives the IT director perfect buying power because they can always move.’ It turns out I was right – you can move, but you might have to gnaw some limbs off.

Many of the promises of cheaper processing power were delivered, but as a result of service providers’ differences, it’s very hard to network your clouds together, says Khan.

You still need a network for enterprise connectivity and, since this is a physical entity, its construction involves intensive forward planning. There’s a reason why you can’t buy networking as a service. It’s become too complicated, making it expensively labour-intensive.

If cloud services could be networked together, big corporations that use multiple clouds would enjoy massive productivity and cost-saving benefits.

The only possible way to automate it would be to find people who have managed clouds, collated all their expertise and committed all that knowledge and practical experience into some programmable compendium of knowledge. That, in essence, is the service that Alkira promises to provide.

A network manager may be daunted by the challenge of rationalising three cloud services for three departments from three different vendors. However, Alkira has been there, done that and learned every lesson.

It says that since it knows all the variables so well, it can pre-programme the job of integration. If there’s a snag, it can train a machine to learn the best options at the speed of machine learning and neural networking. All this data, experience and wisdom has been put into one system, called the Cloud Service Exchange (CSX).

Is all that true? It’s early days to vouch for the pedigree of this contestant, but Alkira has gone two rounds with venture capitalists Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins. Now it has tens of millions of dollars to recruit a channel of UK service providers.

By contrast, service provider Logicalis, with its datacentres and infrastructure, seems positively old school. There’s a massive opportunity for this cloud channel partner if it can adapt to the changing nature of the enterprise systems market.

The cloud problem Logicalis promises to solve is similar to the one Alkira tackles, but different.

Enterprises are understandably confused by their own estate of software. One of Logicalis’s vendors has more than 300 products and sales teams that are rather competitive. Many enterprise customers have been on the business end of aggressive sales tactics for years.

As a long-term partner, Logicalis has many staff that know the vendor’s portfolio inside out. They are close enough to know the products, but detached enough to be objective. They can use their knowledge of the vendor’s products to knit them all together with much greater cohesion, says Mark Benson, Logicalis’s platform head of business development. It’ll be more valuable to turbo-charge the existing engines than to force people to buy new ones.

Most enterprises have millions of pounds worth of ‘cash in the attic’ – software features that are incredibly valuable that they aren’t even aware of, says Benson, adding that there are many existing features within suites that could be used instead of buying new applications.

For example, thanks to Covid-19, half the nation is working from home and companies need to manage these remote workers. Many are looking to buy whole new device management systems, but they already have one – it’s an option in their existing systems. This is how Logicalis can prove its mettle, says Benson.

“We’re not sweating assets,” he adds. “It’s more like waking a sleeping giant and putting it to work.”

With its legacy of datacentre and infrastructure management, Logicalis can smooth the path of companies moving into the cloud, speeding up the process of integration because it’s crossed those bridges many times before.

In this context, Logicalis and other cloud service providers are the ideal business coaches. They are close enough to know the vendor’s products but, being independent, objective enough to know their foibles and to coax better performances from them.

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