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.
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.
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.