Guest Column | November 1, 2012

How Channel Partners Can Help Customers Take Advantage Of the Open Cloud

By Chris Rajiah, VP of worldwide partner sales, Rackspace

Cloud’s promise of revolutionizing the way companies do business is already a stunning reality, with business users and developers already able to deploy, configure and adapt IT faster.  But recent developments in open-source technology mean channel partners face a whole new competitive landscape.

Bye-bye, vendor lock-in
The availability of open cloud means customers have the freedom to change their cloud providers, or opt for a mix-and-match approach that simply wasn’t possible before. They have become empowered to choose features, services, price,s and locations purely based on the needs of their business rather than being restricted to what’s available on the proprietary technology platform that came with their cloud vendor. 

For example, Rackspace recently announced its Private Cloud Software - code name “Alamo” - powered by OpenStack, which makes it simple and easy for companies to install, test, and run a multi-node OpenStack-based private cloud environment.  Partners’ end users can now combine the capabilities of public cloud with the customization, reliability, and control of a dedicated environment without having to commit to a single vendor, because the software is based on open code, avoiding vendor lock-in. They now have a simple way to install an OpenStack-based private cloud in their own datacenter or with any other provider, and it can be deployed in minutes. 

Get ready for customers who are making the most of their new-found freedom – and the innovation it naturally encourages - when it comes to designing and deploying cloud-based apps.

With business IT end users able to change service providers in a minute, channel partners need to raise their game to make sure they are retaining their customers’ business. More than anything, it throws emphasis on acting as a super-smart partner who understands the new capabilities, and the possibilities those capabilities open up for managing and harnessing today’s business IT.

Channel partners need to be informed, involved, and in the weeds
Channel partners will not only have to be highly sensitive to how their customers are using cloud in terms of the amount of capacity being used. They will also need to monitor exactly how that capacity is utilized. That is necessary in order to help customers get the most out of the new capabilities available to them. For example, is your customer mostly using cloud capacity as a test environment? Are they only using it for certain segments of the business and not others because of, for example, security concerns? Cloud services come with tools that deliver reports at a fine-grain level, allowing for a truly detailed picture of your customers’ habits of usage, how they change, and how they might change. Great customer support involves proactively suggesting ways to make the most of cloud capabilities, and acting as your customers’ trusted advisor.

Of course, closely-customized and attentive customer service has always been a distinguishing feature in an industry whose products tend towards commodity status. In a recent survey of 500 IT decision makers who work for businesses or organizations that use cloud computing, conducted for Rackspace Hosting by McLaughlin & Associates, 75% of IT decision makers said they preferred a cloud provider with strong customer service and technical support, even if that provider had higher prices.

Education as a customer service tool
But open-source technology – where it’s easy to move away from a vendor who is not providing exactly what a customer wants, when they want, how they want – raises the game to another level. Education is important at every level, of course, while moving into this new service environment. The more knowledge and understanding you can absorb about the possibilities of open cloud computing, the better you can serve your customer. In fact, education is so important to us at Rackspace Hosting, we require partners to be accredited as part of our enhanced Rackspace Partner Program.

Many partners’ end users have understandable concerns about security, as well as ROI and the impact on their existing, internal IT department. Others are simply overwhelmed by the myriad of possibilities now available in the cloud, and need help focusing in on the best solution for a particular business challenge. You need to be able to give informed answers and patient, expert guidance.

All in all, if you’re committed to providing cloud services, you must adapt to the open-cloud model. Get ready for a lot more hand-holding and a relationship that involves learning the new paradigm, providing education, listening, and day-to-day support, in order to keep a competitive edge.