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So you want to be a cloud partner?

If you want to partner with cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, Nutanix, or VMware, what should you know about each?


Technology vendors increasingly rely on partners to deliver their services and products to customers. It makes sense on several levels, encouraging long-term relationships with customers while reducing some of the vendor's risk yet still expanding their reach. Often, vendors prefer to stay in the background and, instead, empower armies of consultants, resellers, and implementers to deliver.

This logic is particularly true for cloud providers, where scale, flexibility, and specialisation make it possible for partners of all sizes to compete and collaborate. The greatest demands from customers tend to reflect the cloud's most appealing offerings.

"Looking back over the past year, Infrastructure-as-a-Service has been the primary drive," says Ilana Baragwanath, SMB channel sales manager at Microsoft South Africa. "We have seen that the data and AI business is now growing faster than the infrastructure business, which shows that in the coming year, this is where the opportunity will lie. Areas of data with the highest growth are around analytics, as many customers are modernising their data estate."

Others note the relatively young age of South Africa's cloud market. There are many more niche roles vendors look to fill, especially as demand grows towards emerging technologies. Even minimal IT providers can benefit as vendor partners.

Whether you want to consult for a vendor's solutions, resell products, offer training services, be a one-stop integration shop, provide managed services, or focus on exciting emerging tech – there is a place for your business in a partner programme.

Yet prospective partners often have to comb through mountains of information and arcane offerings before working out what might be best for them. In most cases, says Michael Wilson, VMware's senior manager, Sub-Saharan Africa channel, it's worth calling the vendor you'd like to partner with.

"I would love to say it's a simple process becoming a partner of any vendor. But how I usually start when I meet new partners is to ask them for a quick 15- to 30-minute call, to talk them through some steps."

Still, knowing a bit before picking up the phone is useful. For this article, I’ve compiled information from local public hyperscale cloud providers and some hybrid cloud specialist vendors.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft sparked South Africa's cloud enthusiasm with a highly public launch of local Azure servers. Partners can join via the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) and selfnominate on the Cloud Enablement Desk for a consultant to contact them. Upon becoming a partner, they can advertise on Azure Marketplace and AppSource. MPN is the centre of all Azure information, including a curated resource library, transformation readiness assessments, cloud practice playbooks, operational readiness guides and toolkits.

Azure partners can specialise in general areas – consumption, hosting, distributor and learning – as part of Azure's cloud competency programme. They qualify for silver and gold partner tiers, depending on their competencies. To ensure that it can accommodate partners of varying size without overt favouritism, Azure provides different programmes for speciality partners, including independent software vendor programmes, emerging partner programmes and managed services programmes. Partners can also focus on advanced specialisations, including analytics, DevOps, Linux, Kubernetes, hybrid cloud management and virtual desktops.

Azure Services partners can operate in any location, but commercial partners are limited geographically due to import/export laws. Solutions published on the Azure marketplace can be sold globally.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Arguably the originator of commercial public cloud, Amazon's AWS is a dominant force in the local and global markets. Prospective partners can join the Amazon Partner Network (APN). Here they can access the AWS competencies tool or work with AWS' partner sales to find the right fit. APN provides a considerable amount of partner resources, including a builder library for technical explanations.

Broadly speaking, AWS distinguishes partners in two categories: consultancy and technical. Consulting partners have two paths: AWS Independent Software Vendor (partners who run software on AWS) and AWS Consulting Partner Journey (professional, consulting, or managed services to help design, architect, build, migrate, and manage workloads). AWS divides its partner tiers accordingly. Consultancies have Select, Advanced, and Premier tiers: Premier partners completed numerous competency programmes and several successful AWS projects. Technical partners have two tiers: Select and Advanced, and can also apply for specialisation status.

AWS puts a lot of effort into helping customers connect to the right partner. Thus, classification and completing competencies are crucial for standing out. Qualifying partners can improve their prospects through programmes such as the APN Customer Engagement Program (collaborate with AWS sales teams) and AWS Solutions Consulting Offers (vetted partner solutions for common business and technical problems).

Oracle

Oracle was a late arrival to the public hyperscale cloud market, but it has gained market share by focusing aggressively on its mainstay's enterprise markets. Partners start their journey by joining the Oracle PartnerNetwork (OPN) or contacting a partner assistance agent. Once enrolled, partners gain access to the Oracle Learning Library, which includes creating custom curriculums. OPN celebrates collaboration – partners can also submit library content and review member submissions.

Cloud partners can choose from three tracks: Build, Service, or Sell. They can also blend cloud tracks with the License & Hardware track to include on-premise products for a hybrid role. Partners can aim for five different tiers: Remarketer, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. The first tier, Remarketer, resells select Oracle products through Remarketer Authorized Value Added Distributors (VADs). Remarketers don't have to sign Oracle partner agreements or pay an OPN membership fee. Gold and higher tiers can offer the full Oracle stack and differentiate by their number of qualifying specialisations.

Oracle nuances its partner model through a designation called 'expertise', combining one of the abovementioned tracks with specific Oracle services or products. An expertise partner can showcase their business in the Oracle Partner Finder. Considered elite Oracle solutions providers, expertise standards can also differentiate them geographically.

VMware

VMware is not a direct competitor to the major hyperscalers, ending that era when it sold its vCloud Air service. But the brand is synonymous with fundamental cloud capabilities – particularly for hybrid cloud environments – and is inseparable from the public cloud market. Partners join the VMware Partner Connect Programme, which requires a flat annual fee regardless of the partner tier or size (though not applicable in markets such as SA). Once enrolled, partners can access many learning and marketing resources, including the Partner University.

Partners can select from three business models: Resell, Cloud Provider, and Services. Cloud Providers can additionally select between two models: License Rental and Managed Services Provider. VMware partners also distinguish themselves via three tiers. Those who meet solution competency status are Partners, while those with the relevant tier credits for an IT path are considered Advanced. Partners attain the highest tier, Principle, by also completing mastery requirements.

But these descriptions are only part of the picture. VMware has several partner programmes, specialisations, and different levels of partner competencies that include designation such as Master Services Competency. It also offers the VMware Cloud Provider Program, which lets partners access certain VMware SaaS services through a pay-per-use model.

Nutanix

Although not a hyperscale provider, Nutanix is cut from the same cloth. Created by former Google engineers who helped develop the hyperscale cloud model, Nutanix focuses on private and hybrid cloud environments. As with VMware, this puts Nutanix very close to the hyperscaler world. Acknowledging that the lines of cloud and IT provision have blurred substantially, Nutanix recently simplified its partner engagements into a one-stop-shop called the Nutanix Elevate Partner Program. Partners gain access to Nutanix University, where they can pursue training and certifications.

Nutanix offers several partner categories, although some won't apply to most channel companies (namely the Strategic Technology and OEM partners – typically major vendors). Global System Integrators are large implementers of Nutanix services with multiregional reach. Most aspirant partners will likely consider the Reseller, Consultancy and Training partner models.

Once a partner chooses a model, they can move through three tiers. Authorised Partners are at the entry-level, primarily gaining pricing advantages and access to the partner portal. The two subsequent tiers, Cloud Professional and Cloud Champion, are determined by specific competencies and unlock numerous additional benefits, including rebates and inclusion in Nutanix's Partner Locator directory. Nutanix plans to add partner specialisation groups.

>> COMMON TRAITS

The partner programmes featured in this article share several common traits:

Payment: Except for Oracle, none of the programmes featured here requires a base fee to join (VMware partners in some developing economies are exempt from base member fees). Most require membership fees for higher tiers and more exclusive business models.

Exclusivity: Typical of the dominating multicloud market, none of the providers expect exclusivity, and partners can collaborate with other cloud vendors. Some, though, emphasise the benefits of exclusivity.

Direct sales: All vendors that responded to this article prefer an indirect sales model and won't compete with partners unless absolutely necessary. Some offer collaborative direct sales models.

Size: Partners of all sizes are welcome to the profiled programmes. Competencies and certifications are more influential than headcounts.

Evaluation: Potential partners are more likely to be evaluated according to their competencies and market access than their revenue. But certain partner levels and qualifications require meeting revenue benchmarks.

Disqualification: A partner's disqualification is likely to be due to violating a code of conduct or prolonged inactivity. None of the featured vendors cited revenue as a significant reason for disqualification.
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