Trying to make the cloud simple

Cloud computing offers significant benefits to enterprise users, not the least of which is the ability to provision IT services – software, hardware, services – when needed. It enables business and IT benefits include the ability to control costs, manage requirements, and purchase services on an “as-needed” basis.

Communicating those key value propositions is part of the challenge facing IT providers; as is sourcing, selling, delivering, and provisioning cloud services. All of which can be complicated for channel partners, as they face a fundamental shift in their business model. One time or repeat sales of hardware, software, even professional services, are relatively straightforward transactions. With cloud services delivery, there main layers of complexity exist: finding a cloud provider/solution, invoicing, and provisioning the service quickly and seamlessly.

Ingram Micro is trying to keep things simple with the cloud says Renee Bergeron is Vice President, Managed Services and Cloud Computing at Ingram Micro North America. Bergeron heads up a team which addresses many – if not all – of the challenges channel partners face in delivering cloud services.

“Consider, finding a vendor, sourcing the solution, integrating it into current systems and infrastructure, managing reoccurring and fluctuating monthly costs and support, negotiating contracts with vendors, dialing up and down the services can all be painful processes,” Bergeron explains.

“Ingram has taken care of the due diligence with every solution, examining and verifying each of the financial, technological, and enterprise architectural standpoints,” points out Bergeron. This includes assessing the cloud solution provider, to understand and verify its business practices.Looking at the cloud business model, “a couple of years ago, most of the end-users were buying directly from the cloud providers, which was empowering. But what has been documented, on their second and third cloud service, they start to see the overhead associated with dealing directly,” Bergeron explains. “And then if you find the right one, how do you customize and integrate it into all of the other systems the on-premise solution?” Bergeron points out that in 2010, Gartner found that only two per cent of the cloud business in SMB went through an aggregator like Ingram, but in 2013, it is forecasted to hit 20 per cent.

Ingram has, Bergeron explains, “a team of enterprise architects who test out the solution before we put it on the line card. We vouch for the vendor partner.”

Three key areas where Ingram Micro can help your cloud business:

1. Simplify the procurement process. “A reseller has to sign a contract with each vendor. Not everyone has legal counsel, or the impetus to negotiate fees and times and contract management.” Bergeron outlines, “they buy cloud services the same way they buy hardware and software from us today. They buy from Ingram, not from various cloud providers.”

2. Invoicing. “A lot of resellers have built a business on one-time invoicing. The notion of monthly reoccurring invoicing is foreign and their back-office systems haven’t been designed to do this. We help them with this. We can produce invoices for them, regardless of the number of vendors that are involved in delivering services,” explains Bergeron.

3. Provisioning and service management. “You are a reseller, and you are setting up some cloud services for your customer. Perhaps mailbox, hosted exchange, and then you want to put security – backup and recovery. Those three different solutions require three different vendors. We have designed and made available a single portal for our resellers, from which they can transact all of the cloud solutions. Basically, they can go online to our marketplace, where they can get all of information, marketing material, the education they need but then they can place their order and provision their service in real time. Back to back interface APIs with our vendor partners.”

“We offer a one-stop shop for our resellers with our comprehensive portfolio of vetted solutions and they buy through one contract vehicle on a single platform,” says Bergeron.

Ingram is thereby enabling simplified and straightforward delivery of cloud services for their channel community.

Today, Ingram has an estimated 3,000 resellers of cloud services in North America, and 41 vendors offering an estimated 103 solutions.

Twenty-two of the vendors are Canadian-based providing approximately 30 solutions.

Ingram announced 56 new cloud solutions a couple of months ago, and its services include collaboration, messaging, security, networking, unified communication, IP PBX, bandwidth optimization, device management, remote management and monitoring. The data centre is also addressed, including IaaS, backup and recovery, and virtualization. Additional cloud services include business applications, such as CRM and ERP.

“Our strategy is to find differentiated solutions, not just every solution,” points out Bergeron.Ingram’s cloud portal was launched in Oct 2011, in pilot mode, with a subset of customers to test and fine-tune the services. Since Ingram’s Cloud Summit this past June, more customers are joining the platform. “We have a couple of hundred now,” remarked Bergeron and expect, “additional adoption in October and November 2012,” when we should reach a couple of thousand users.

This is still “early days, as the volume of transactions is still relatively low,” reminds Bergeron. They have “a goal to increase functionality each quarter, and the feedback from their reseller partners has been positive, with the key benefit of being able to manage cloud services, when they weren’t able to do that before.“

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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