IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Now’s the Time to Advance to Azure 201

Taking a more expansive approach to Microsoft’s popular and feature-rich cloud platform can drive both SMB digital transformation and new revenue streams for channel pros. By Samuel Greengard
Reader ROI: 
MICROSOFT AZURE is a feature-rich cloud platform, but many channel pros are only leveraging a small amount of its capabilities.
TO GAIN AZURE EXPERTISE, select a few areas that can become specialties, such as ML, cloud management, and the IoT.
PRIORITIZE ONGOING LEARNING by taking advantage of free or low-cost training so that staff can sell and support customers.

ONE OF THE REMARKABLE THINGS about Microsoft Azure is the breadth of features it offers, from basic data storage and analytics to content delivery networks and Internet of Things integration. Yet many channel pros continue to rely on the popular cloud platform for little more than the basics: setting up and managing accounts in Azure Active Directory, creating virtual machines, and using SQL Server.

Moving beyond Azure 101 and developing deep expertise in features that can benefit customers and increase revenue is an opportunity to take your business to a higher level. “Those that find a niche that delivers value and makes them indispensable within their ecosystem are at an advantage,” says Eric Weast, owner of ECW Network and IT Solutions, a managed IT services firm in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

The Challenges

There are a number of reasons why channel pros underutilize Azure. For many, the sheer number of features and services—while impressive—quickly becomes overwhelming. According to research conducted by The Standish Group, 45% of features in enterprise applications are never used, and another 19% are used rarely. Microsoft Azure is certainly no exception. Weast estimates that the typical channel pro is knowledgeable about only 5% to 15% of the entire Azure platform. In addition, gaining expertise, including hiring and training staff, can prove challenging.

But it’s also easy to fall into a comfort zone and continue to offer the same basic services year after year. “Too often, the first port of call for channel pros is the same tools they have always used,” says Dan Scarfe, chief solutions officer of the Cognizant Microsoft Business Group. So, as Microsoft continues to pile on capabilities, the practical and technical adoption deficit grows for service providers and integrators.

Getting Started

Once you decide to go deep with Azure, start by selecting a few platform features that can become specialties, Scarfe says. Key areas like machine learning, governance, cloud management, and the IoT are good candidates, he adds, but there are many underutilized and commonly overlooked features in the platform as well. One of them is the combination of Azure Arc and Azure Lighthouse, which together “provide the fabled ‘single pane of glass’ across on-premises resources, Azure, and other clouds. It ensures they stay operational, secure, and governed.”

Gaining greater expertise in less flashy but highly practical areas can become a selling point for channel pros too, Weast says. This includes identity management, security services, conditional access policies, and knowledge about various fabric services for database delivery in the cloud. Likewise, focusing on seemingly mundane areas like Azure Migrate and Azure Site Recovery, combined with expertise in App Dev and Kubernetes, are ways that channel pros can differentiate, according to Eric Boyd, founder and CEO of consulting and training firm responsiveX. “The ability to manage workloads across clouds and devices is extremely important for organizations,” he explains.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard's picture

Samuel Greengard, a business and technology writer in West Linn, Ore., is the author of The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015) and Virtual Reality (MIT Press, 2019).


ChannelPro SMB Magazine

Get an edge on the competition

With each issue packed full of powerful news, reviews, analysis, and advice targeting IT channel professionals, ChannelPro-SMB will help you cultivate your SMB customers and run your business more profitably.