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Understanding the Role of the Channel in Cloud Computing
Larry Walsh, of Channel Insider, recently tackled the sensitive subject of the role of the IT service Channel in the burgeoning market for cloud computing services and then subsequently posted a follow up. Since 6fusion is the only 100% Channel focused cloud computing provider in the market that I know of, I naturally read Larry’s piece with an extra amount of attention.
Walsh makes a couple of very poignant observations about what is happening in the market regarding Cloud computing and the impact it has on the thousands of IT intermediaries we often call Resellers or Managed Service Providers (MSPs) but I think Walsh’s perspective on the role of the Channel is somewhat uninviting.
The first point he makes is that the majority of Cloud service offerings are aimed at cutting out the Channel from the business equation. He couldn’t be more right about this. Maybe I’ve been in this business for too long, but everything you hear and read about regarding the Channel and Cloud computing stinks like some Michael Dell ‘how to’ screw the Channel guide from the 1990s. Make no mistake. There is no room for the Channel in the cloud business plans of Microsoft, Salesfore.com, Google Apps (as I recently wrote about) or any of the other hosting providers that have jumped into Cloud computing.
What I would add to Larry’s analysis is that the threat of disintermediation is like none other we’ve seen in the industry. I know we’ve all heard the displacement theory before, but it’s not like the old days. Cloud computing is very much a paradigm shift. It is not about a more efficient way to package, sell and ship the same commodity hardware and software. Cloud computing is a business model rooted in the fundamentals of how we consume technology. It’s much bigger than most IT service providers can imagine and it’s about control over the very elements that keep IT service providers in business.
The second point that Larry makes is that the Channel would be ill-advised to build a mini-cloud and hope for a measure of insulation from the threat. He points to tough slogging MSPs had when they built out big NOCs for the rising tide of support subscriptions, but here is the true reality: Cloud economics is about sheer volume. This is why Google, Microsoft, Hosting shops, big telcos and the hardware vendors are leading the charge. An IT Service Provider thinking about dropping a couple hundred grand on some kit and virtualization software to ‘take on the Man’ better think again. This is a mistake of epic proportions. It would be like bringing a hundred dollar bill to a high-stakes poker room.
So what is a Channel company to do in this situation? Walsh says MSPs and VARs should adopt an ‘agency’ approach acting as an advisor to customers trying to sort out the malaise of application integration, SLAs and contract matters.
6fusion is taking a much different approach with the Channel.
When we started our company a few years ago and told our peers, investors and others that 6fusion’s technology was going to be 100% Channel focused we got a lot of quizzical looks. Channel focused? Huh? Isn’t the middle man dead? I don’t know. Why don’t you go ask Michael Dell. Dell isn’t so brave these days and contrary to the pundits predictions 15 years ago the Channel is alive and kicking. But seriously, here is why 6fusion is the only Channel focused company in the Cloud Service business today: Because Cloud Computing is about business processes, operational improvement and cost containment as much as it is about purely innovative technology or cool apps. And we understand that. Period. We resisted the temptation to become an apps vendor because we are not the ones that should be deciding what apps to run and where to run them. We simply provide the cloud infrastructure and tools to help you build what YOUR customers want and need to integrate with how they run their businesses today. And most importantly, we can do this with zero capital investment from the Partner. We operate 6fusion the same way an Electric Light Co. would. Pure consumption.
So my experience makes me disagree with Walsh in that I believe whole-heartedly that VARs and MSPs can and should build Cloud services into their portfolio without compromising their client base to the likes of Google and Microsoft or picking up the tab to launch a rack full of servers to get into the game. We are helping the Channel go to market faster and with fewer financial resources every day. And if you speak with our growing number of Channel customers about it, they will tell you they are beginning to make more money than they could ever make peddling someone else’s SaaS or yielding the infrastructure market to others. This in spite of the fact that the world is telling them they no longer matter. Again.