Email is commoditized. File sync and share is yesterday’s news. So if you’re looking for new ways to profit from cloud computing, we highlight four good candidates.By Megan Santosus
WHEN CLOUD COMPUTING first came on the scene, channel partners steered their clients to migrate business applications. Today, deploying cloud-based apps such as Office 365, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Dropbox, and Workday has become the de facto standard for cloud computing. Yet simply focusing on business apps as the primary cloud play is no longer a differentiator for channel partners. As the cloud model of delivering IT services continues to gain traction, channel partners seeking growth can turn to new opportunities, namely cloud networking, managed clouds, cloud monitoring, and cloud security.
According to IT market research firm IDC, half of all IT spending will be cloud-based by 2018, and by 2020 spending on cloud services, including related hardware and software as well as services for implementing and managing cloud services, will surpass $500 billion. That's a big market for the channel.
Networking is a particularly hot area as end users need to access work applications via the corporate network. "The growth in cloud services means that access is more important as our end customers need to be always on and they need to grow that bandwidth significantly," says Meggin Sawyer, vice president of business solutions and cloud services sales for ADTRAN Inc., a networking provider based in Huntsville, Ala. As Sawyer sees it, the cloud networking services market stands between $200 billion and $400 billion and includes cloud networking services available via SD-WAN (software-defined networking in a wide-area network) solutions or cloud-based switching or wireless services.
CloudGenix Inc. is an SD-WAN networking company in San Jose, Calif., poised to capitalize on the burgeoning opportunity. "Our primary use case is essentially providing SLAs for cloud applications, whether private or SaaS," says Matt Hickey, CloudGenix’s vice president of worldwide sales. Hickey estimates the market for SD-WAN-based solutions alone will reach $6 billion to $7 billion in the next year or so. And channel partners who use the technology to monitor application performance and ensure the best end-user experience possible stand to become trusted advisers to their clients, Hickey asserts.
Keith Fletcher is COO of Speros Inc., an IT services provider in Savannah, Ga., and an ADTRAN partner. For Fletcher's firm, cloud networking provides recurring revenues: Speros rents the infrastructure and provides cloud-based networking services, including everything from LAN and WAN through design, to clients on a subscription basis. "The cloud makes it possible to really get everything done," says Fletcher. "We can monitor, configure, change, and fix things without ever having to connect to a client's network; we just connect to the device in the cloud."
For Speros, cloud networking enables the company to provide services without on-site visits, boosting productivity. And clients don't have to worry about frequent equipment upgrades, which is a significant value proposition. "Cloud networking saves us time, saves the customer money, and delivers higher performance," Fletcher adds.
Another channel partner in the cloud networking space is STL Communications Inc., an Avaya Inc. partner based in St. Louis. The provider of hosted and managed IT services uses Avaya's Network Portal as part of its managed services, “which has been very easy to integrate and implement. In the end [we deliver] what I believe is a superior solution for our customers," says Chris Illingworth, vice president of emerging markets at STL. Illingworth says STL's clients are increasingly seeking to migrate components of their IT infrastructure to the cloud for many reasons, ranging from ease of management to uptime guarantees to overall environment simplicity.
Simplicity is also a reason why channel partners might want to tap into the market for managed clouds. As IT infrastructure and services move to the cloud, it's a natural fit for MSPs to offer managed cloud services that can provide end customers streamlined provisioning, flexibility, and subscription-based payments. Delivering a managed cloud service "is a good opportunity for partners to have long-term relationships with customers that have gone to the public cloud," says Manoj Nair, chief product officer at HyperGrid Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based provider of an enterprise cloud service.
One of the challenges that public clouds pose for the channel is disintermediation, Nair contends. "Partners can upsell a cloud management service and multiple different IT capabilities that are on premise in a VMware environment, or off premise in Azure or AWS, and be able to manage, govern, and control all of those resources from a single point," he says. It is this kind of value-add, says Nair, that can lead to higher margins and the ability to provide more strategic-level services.
Egenera Inc., of Boxborough, Mass., offers Xterity Cloud Services that combine hardware and software solutions in managed private and public clouds. The concept is to provide the channel with a variety of IT components to create a cloud along with backup, disaster recovery, and migration services in one easy-to-deploy package.
As companies rely on applications; networking; and public, private, and hybrid clouds, monitoring becomes an important component to cloud operations. Vendors such as CloudHealth Technologies, Datadog Inc., and Verismic Software Inc. provide a range of monitoring and management capabilities: Visibility across cloud environments via alerts, metrics, usage stats, capacity, and the like are available in one place. The ability to automate workloads and analytics are important features to look for in cloud monitoring tools.
As with traditional IT, security is paramount in the cloud, but challenging given the distributed nature of cloud computing. One emerging security category is cloud access security brokers (CASBs): on-premises or cloud-hosted technology designed specifically to secure data and applications in the cloud that includes data loss prevention capabilities. Research firm Markets and Markets pegged the CASB market in 2015 at $3.43 billion; by 2020 it predicts it will exceed $7.5 billion. "CASBs are good for companies that are using a lot of SaaS applications," says Nair, who cites Netskope Inc. and Skyhigh Networks as among the vendors in the market.
Dan Thormodsgaard, CTO at Fishtech Labs, a Kansas City, Mo.-based cloud security consulting firm, says his company relies on Netskope to provide clients with governance, policies, and controls for SaaS applications. Traditional IT security products "have limited visibility into what is happening," Thormodsgaard says. By moving the security stack from the data center to the cloud with CASBs, "you have much greater control to see what everyone is doing."
For example, CASBs track which documents are downloaded, who clicked on documents, and whether an end user attempted to forward a document to a Gmail account, among other tasks. With SaaS, data sprawl can become an issue; CASBs are a way to establish controls and ensure governance in a centralized fashion.
Centralized capabilities for management, networking, monitoring, and security are key even as the cloud becomes more distributed. "Increasingly, we'll start seeing this notion of enterprise cloud services that will include capabilities like offering virtual machines, containers, application hosting environments, desktop services, analytics services, and security and networking integrated as part of it," Nair says. It will be typical in this scenario for companies to have access to all sorts of different cloud computing environments, and the channel can be instrumental in facilitating this model.
MEGAN SANTOSUS is a freelance writer and editor based in Boston.
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