From The Editor | June 7, 2010

Cloud Summit: Why Do You Care About The Cloud?

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By Gennifer Biggs, security, storage, and managed services editor

On Monday, June 7, Ingram Micro's first Cloud Summit, folded into its annual Seismic conference in Dallas, kicked off in front of more than 200 partners. The next three days is dedicated to discussing ways for MSPs to launch into and prosper with the cloud as well as advice on furthering managed services success in other ways.

VP of Services for Ingram Micro, Justin Crotty, welcomed the group and offered his insight into the cloud on Monday morning. "We're here to give you a better idea what you need to focus on in the next 1 to 2 years or so in order to grow," explained Crotty. "What I hear from some in our industry is that the cloud is coming and the channel is dead – I just don't believe that is true. These solutions are not going to sell themselves; you are a viable and valuable part of the process." Crotty reiterated his common assertion that ease of acquisition doesn't equate ease of implementation, and drove home the point that MSPs need to leverage their experience to add value to cloud offerings.

Crotty touched on the drivers behind cloud adoption (we've heard these before, but just in case you weren't paying attention: economic benefits, shorter implementation time, scalability, ease of management, access for SMBs to higher functionality) before tackling the inhibitors to adoption. While some are perception issues (security and end user adoption), two stand out as issues MSPs will need to articulate answers for: interoperability with legacy systems and adaptability and customization.

How do you do that? Remember that cloud solutions are often open API, extremely flexible, and, with the right expertise (read: yours!), can be integrated with legacy solutions to provide fully customized solutions. Most cloud providers will openly admit – just as Peter Coffee, Salesforce.com, did to me last night over dinner – cloud solutions won't answer every need and they won't fit every customer. So learn how to make cloud solutions interact with those unique applications your customers need and you'll find a profitable niche.

Another message delivered by Crotty has less to do with technology than good business sense. If you dive into cloud and add those hosted tools to your toolbox, the cloud can become a differentiator for your IT business. But the only way your customers – or potential customers – know that is if you market yourself and your solutions as unique (your brand). "Cloud is about solution architecture, integration, process, marketing, branding, and selling – not technology," stressed Crotty, adding that the ability to market your own brand – your unique selection of skills, experience, and solutions – is key to success as the cloud starts to further impact the channel.

He points out the characteristics of successful providers apply to the evolution of cloud just as they do for other trends. Successful solutions providers take action – they develop a plan for how they will integrate and offer cloud and they move quickly forward with that plan. Those MSPs with growth arcs you envy? They understand the difference between a product and a service, and further understand they offer a service that is unique. That is what they create their identify around, and marketing around. They invest time and effort in their brand and it shows. "The brand your customers care about is you, so develop it and exploit it," advises Crotty.

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