No single integrator is good at doing it all in the cloud. And just because your previous partner was a virtuoso back in the day of on-premise technologies doesn't mean they can handle your migration project. So, how do you pick a cloud partner with confidence? It's easier once you know precisely what you need and what prospective partners can actually deliver.
This week, I had the opportunity to attend the Channel Partners Evolution/Software Defined Expo (SDxE) conference in Austin, where I led a panel on container security, agility/orchestration, and portability. It was great to network with other professionals and partner companies in this quickly evolving space, and learning where each of us can carve out our niche using our respective expertise.
Because the cloud space is so big, with each of the hyperscale providers offering so much in terms of services, many partners have become specialized in specific workloads and also consulting and software development activities. They range from the very small one-person boutique development shops to the medium-sized system integrators and also the largest one-stop shopping global tier 1 consulting firms, such as the company I work for, NTT/Dimension Data.
What all of these companies have in common is that when it comes to the cloud, every single one of these wants to be your preferred partner if you are an enterprise.
Many of these companies are very good at selling. A lot of them come traditionally from the value-added reseller space and have been moving hardware and software for many years. Every one of these is now facing major transformations of their business model, which is in the process of being severely disrupted by the cloud -- and the managed services that lay on top of the cloud.
Those that have been heavily involved in hardware and software sales are examining their pipeline and are now coming to the realization that the golden days of making big profits off multi-year maintenance contracts are coming to an end.
On-prem data center equipment and software aren't exactly going away, but the margin is not what it used to be and more and more enterprises are coming around to the idea of moving more and more of their workloads to the public cloud in order to free up compute and storage in the data center.
Enterprises know they can be agile and more easily embrace new technologies like containers and use the public cloud for business continuity at much lower cost than duplicating infrastructure on-prem for a disaster scenario that might not ever arise.
So, the partners are highly sales driven to push their services business, and they have been staffing up presales engineering like crazy. They want to sell you assessments of your on-prem to determine cloud migration feasibility and then follow-engagements to perform those migrations, the software development that is needed, and the managed services if you are short staffed.
They are looking for every way possible to differentiate from the other partners, which are all trying to do the same thing. I know, because this is what I am smack in the middle of right now as a solutions architect at a systems integrator.
Here's the kicker: Many of these integrators can talk cloud and understand what the public cloud offerings are and can determine your needs. Executing those services, however, are very different from pre-sales engineering.
Whether they are big or small, most of these firms have not performed large-scale cloud migrations or business continuity engagements. They may have the tooling to do discovery and assessment but may not have a developed consulting methodology for this because they are still in the process of figuring out what the market is going to bear and what investments they should make in delivery staff.
The big firms are adapting their data center consulting businesses to cloud and are mature, so they have a leg up in this department. But their actual offerings are very much a work in progress. The smaller firms may not have actually built their services arms until very recently because until now, they were just pushing boxes.
They may also not have had actual experience delivering exactly what they are selling. Just because they've done a bunch of Office 365 migrations doesn't mean they understand Infrastructure as a Service or business continuity. Or they may have migrated a few VMs for a smaller customer but have never done a large scale lift and shift or a replatforming effort of the size you actually require.
Also, they may not have figured out how to compensate their field sellers properly for cloud consumption -- even though they are selling services that sit on top of those clouds. Because it is such a pain in the ass for them to figure it out, many field sellers may not be incentivized to sell you the cloud solution you want and need.
The sellers may fall back onto good old box moving because it is the model they understand. They may also not be confident in their own managed services and cloud delivery processes.
So, what's a buyer to do?
Ask the hard questions: You really want to ask them about all of this stuff, put them on the spot, and get beyond the marchitecture. Do not take it at face value they actually possess the subject matter expertise you are looking for.
Confirm certifications: Press them on their cloud certifications and levels of partnerships with the cloud vendors themselves. Just because they have a huge VMWare consulting business and the CEO plays golf every weekend with the account manager at your favorite hardware vendor doesn't mean they can form and execute your cloud strategy.
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Check alignment: And make sure your vendors are in alignment with what you want to get done, too. Otherwise, when you know what hits the fan in your hybrid cloud deployment, the fingers will start pointing.
Beware the overhead: While these partners are still developing offerings, they still need to sell. So, if they don't have the back office manpower or network operations centers to execute, they will have to farm them out to subcontractors. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with doing that, but the more they have to do that, the more overhead that creates for the integrator in terms of squeezing overall margin. So guess who feels that overhead when they need to make up the points? You do.
Bottom line, you want to engage the integrator that has a very solid understanding of the workloads you have and has consistent delivery processes and experience delivering projects with those workloads.
Specialist or generalist? It's perfectly fine if you engage a generalist, but they should be able to demonstrate their competency. It's better to hire a specialist that understands the nuances of business continuity to do one aspect of your cloud migration and engage another that has expertise in other areas such as databases or Internet of Things.
No single integrator is good at doing it all in the cloud. It's a vast space and a huge ecosystem that is very much still in its infancy. The partners are going to carve out their respective niches, and eventually, it will all get sorted out. Right now, it's the wild west. But just because your previous integrator partner was a virtuoso back in the day with on-prem technologies does not mean they can pull off your cloud project.