Amazon Web Services (AWS) has grown over the past few years from being a blip on the balance sheet to a category now estimated to drive $2bn (£1.2bn) in revenue for the company, according to Citi Research.
This has been about making computing resources - from simple storage and compute through to full virtual machine instances - available to anyone with a credit card.
It has spurred a lot of IT professionals to consider using cloud in a more general sense. Once they have got past their initial scepticism and completed a few test and development projects, the potential to use AWS for more jobs across IT becomes much more apparent.
This parallels the rise of virtualisation that happened previously. Once only evident in isolated instances of testing, virtualisation is now a critical part of many IT strategies. For organisations working in the distribution channel, making this comparison is important.
Will AWS continue to be used in its current way, or will it become a challenge to the relationships that have been built up over time with channel customers? Or will it even become a separate opportunity in its own right?
The conventional thinking here might be that AWS will be a real threat to a reseller winning business with such customers in the future, as soon as a customer starts using AWS for something. What starts out as a bit of testing here and there could grow to become a serious cloud habit.
However, it is not as simple as that.
Rather than looking at Amazon as a company that will supplant the traditional reseller-customer relationship, companies can engage with their customers and see why they think using Amazon for cloud will help.
They can retain their coveted position as trusted adviser for the customer in this way, which will also help them - and the channel - in their long-term decision making.
Testing and development are great opportunities for the use of cloud; after all, the resources can be assigned to a particular task and the customer only pays while they need those resources.
The trick is for both customers and their partners to recognise the transient needs that public cloud can fulfil, and which are the more in-depth requirements that might need some more thought.
For the more in-depth requirements, working with the customer on how it uses AWS might still be the right strategy. However, it might be that a different public cloud platform, such as Microsoft Azure, would be more suitable in the longer term for the specific situation.
In these cases, helping the customer migrate across between different cloud platforms is a great opportunity to add value to the customer relationship and make use of any initial investment that has been made.
Similarly, looking at hybrid cloud models where public and private cloud resources are used is also a good option for customers. The important thing to bear in mind here is that cloud is not a fixed option: different cloud providers run on different storage, server, OS and hypervisor platforms.
These can all change over time as well, based on the economic demand for specific cloud services and options.
To support this, migration has to be considered as a long-term play. Rather than simply moving a customer to the cloud once, migration should be part of both the customer and the partner strategy.
All parties involved here may have their own priorities: customers will be after the most cost-effective platform that still meets their needs, while partners will look at where the potential for new revenue and cost control can be found.
However, all concerned will want to keep their options open, so migration strategy should always be included in discussions.
Using AWS can help proof-of-concept projects be completed more quickly, which may loosen the purse strings faster too. So making use of AWS for your own purposes can in fact help speed up the sales cycle.
It should always be possible for any work completed on AWS to be moved on to other private or public cloud platforms too.
Cloud is still in its infancy when it comes to full-scale IT deployments. It should not be considered a threat to customer relationships - even though it might well lead to shrunken hardware sales. Instead, plan for this shifting future by thinking about migration from the start.
Ian Masters is Northern Europe sales director at Vision Solutions
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