Brokers and aggregators: Gartner’s Bova considers a cloudy channel

Tiffani Bova

Gartner's Tiffani Bova speaks at the 2010 VentureTech Network Fall Invitational

The move of more and more technologies towards the cloud will lead to entirely new models for channel organizations, channel analyst Tiffani Bova told attendees at the VentureTech Network Fall 2010 Invitational in San Francisco.

As cloud picks up steam, Bova, vice president of research for worldwide indirect channel programs and sales strategies at Gartner, said she sees the emergence of two new and distinct groups of solution providers.

The first of those groups is the cloud broker – a group of solution providers that will represent and resell cloud-based technologies from vendors. But where things really get interesting, and margins potentially increase, is in the cloud aggregator role.

The difference, Bova said, is simple but dramatic. A cloud broker offers BPOS, WebEx, or any of a variety of cloud-based technologies. But a cloud aggregator packages up BPOS, WebEx, hosted VOIP and hosting services, and voila! “You create collaboration-as-a-service for your customers,” Bova said.

But just how different is the cloud world from the more familiar IT world?

Bova said what it looks like may depend on your standpoint to begin with. For the average infrastructure-centric IT solutions provider, “very little changes from your world today” when you look at private cloud, Bova suggested. What mostly changes is the physical location of the technology you’re managing. For this group, things “get a little shaky” when you start looking at pubic cloud. On the other hand, public cloud could be “very  profitable” for those who have a model that’s more reliant on professional services. It’s all about understanding how the cloud interfaces with your own value proposition.

“Do I think you’ll go out of business if you don’t embrace the cloud? Absolutely not. Do I think you will have to be competitive and think of your business differently? Absolutely,” Gartner told VTN members. “You have to pick where you want to be when you grow up. Think out to 2013 and figure out where you can be most successful.”

Bova also addressed a question she gets often, the threat of the cloud as the latest (and greatest?) threat to disintermediate and devalue the channel. Bova’s response? Like the direct threat, the Internet threat, and many other threats before, the channel will adopt to the cloud, shift its own message and value proposition, and carry on. She suggested that the makeup of the channel community is going to shift over time, but that ultimately, the reseller, VAR and solution provider are going to remain important in the market, particularly as long as the midmarket and below remains “fairly underserved by the vendor community.”

Bova said that solution providers have to choose how they get involved with the cloud. And to borrow from Rush, even choosing not to decide is still making a choice. “Develop your own cloud strategy – and that may be ‘I’m not going to have a cloud strategy.’ But have one,” Bova advised attendees. And whatever you choose, stick with it regardless of the ebbs and flows of hype around the cloud in the vendor community and the media. “Pick your battle, figure out where you want to be, make sure you have the right relationships, look for customers and employees in different places.”

And to help along that journey, she advised solution providers to both increase their investment and expertise around virtualization of all types, including server, storage and desktop. She also suggested that solution providers consider taking on some cloud-based solutions in their own business, even if on a trial basis, to better understand the benefits and challenges their customers can expect if they make similar moves.