Last November, storage vendor NetApp warned partners to embrace cloud computing or risk losing business in the future.
NetApp’s vice president of worldwide channel sales, Julie Parrish, told VARs that, if they were unwilling to provide cloud-based services, their customers would turn on their heels and “find someone else who will”.
Nearly six months have elapsed since Parrish issued her war cry and Jeremy Wallis, UK systems engineer for NetApp, said the message is slowly trickling down to the firm’s partners.
He said: “There is a definite shift in the market, with end users looking at IT in different ways, which is creating opportunities in the cloud for VARs.”
Rather than “leaping head first into cloud”, Wallis said, the firm’s partners are favouring a more “cautious and steady” approach to adopting the technology.
He added: “It is our larger partners that are showing the most interest in IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) and cloud, because they typically have the resources, in terms of manpower and money, to invest in it.”
The fact the technology is still in the “early adoption stage” also goes some way to explaining why VARs are treading carefully, said John Malabon, marketing director at NetApp Star Partner Alpha.
“A lot of resellers are trying to work out how they will make money from the technology,” he said. “But, while there is a lot of interest in cloud-based services, the uptake [from end users] is low.”
The knowledge gap
The discrepancy between the level of interest and investment being made in cloud was highlighted in a recent NetApp survey into end-user attitudes to cloud-based storage.
Out of the 200 people who took part in the study, a total of 74 per cent said they had a good understanding of cloud storage, but only six per cent said they were planning to invest in it this year.
The most popular reason respondents gave for not wanting to invest was fears about the security of their data (29 per cent). Moreover, 22 per cent said they were concerned about how difficult it might be to integrate cloud storage with their existing IT infrastructure.
Despite these qualms, Pete Rawden, regional director of channels and general business at NetApp in the UK and Ireland, said cloud represents a “real area of growth potential” for its partners.
This forecast is backed by market watcher IDC, which predicts worldwide spending on ITaaS will triple by 2012 to $42bn (£27.3bn).
Rawden said: “It will provide them with opportunities to win new business because this is new technology which customers’ incumbent suppliers may not be able to help with.”
Additionally, most storage VARs are already in a prime position to take advantage of opportunities in the cloud, he added.
“Many storage partners already have accreditations in virtualisation and networking from VMware and Cisco, which will stand them in good stead,” said Rawden.
However, Paul Hickingbotham, solutions manager at NetApp distributor Hammer, said the immaturity of the market could be holding resellers back.
“VARs are, understandably, being drawn towards cloud computing, but there is still a lot of confusion surrounding how best to embrace and deliver cloud-based services,” said Hickingbotham.
Helping VARs to work out how to include cloud in go-to-market offerings is something the vendor has been addressing on a case-by-case basis, explained Wallis. Every partner has different ideas about the kind of cloud service provider they want to be, he said.
Wallis added: “It has been a learning curve for the company and has provided us with a body of experience about what works and what does not. We would not have achieved that if we had taken a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Partners have also benefited from the vendor’s hands-on approach, said Wallis, because it means the solutions they create are “bespoke and unique”.
“Any partners looking to get into the market need to find a way to differentiate themselves,” he said.
Rawden cites the vendor’s Professional Services Programme as a good example of its hands-on approach to helping partners realise their cloud aspirations.
The programme features modules on cloud-related topics, such as server virtualisation and networking, he explained, and takes into account the accreditations partners may already have with other vendors in complementary areas, such as VMware and Cisco.
He said: “It is really important that partners have these certifications because it shows customers that they have the skill and experience needed to guide them through an area that not many are that familiar with.”
Additionally, the vendor also provides partners with access to its own intellectual property and to the same tools used by its own staff to give its resellers a leg up.
“The priority for us is to provide our partners with the tools they need to broaden their awareness of cloud so that they can approach and win new business,” Rawden added.
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