Partners to drive transition to cloud

CloudsLAS VEGAS — As the world continues to make what could arguably be called the biggest IT transition in history, it will be channel partners that drive the adoption. At VMware Partner Exchange, cloud computing was clearly top-of-mind, and executives from the virtualization vendor assured the more than 4,300 partners in attendance that they were going to continue to be a partner-led organization, particularly as it begins to add more focus to the emerging SMB market.

Virtualization is the underlying technology that is helping to drive adoption of cloud computing technologies, and that begins at the desktop level. During a partner panel in front of media and analysts, Steve Kaplan, vice president of the data center virtualization practice at Presidio, desktop virtualization is the entry way to the cloud.

Partners seemed fairly enthusiastic and optimistic about their future, which isn’t surprising considering the dollar figures VMware executives were throwing around during the general session keynotes. In 2011, VMware’s total revenue was $3.77 billion, a 32 per cent increase over 2010. Additionally, Scott Aronson, senior vice president of global channels and alliances at VMware, quoted a Forrester figure that estimates the private cloud opportunity alone to be worth $41.5 billion by 2015.

But how is VMware doing in the eyes of its partners?

“I think they’ve done an excellent job bringing in some speakers to put some context around ‘will there be a place for the channel,’ and I think there will be, for sure. People are going to have to change,” said Tim Lewis, vice president of sales at ITEX Enterprise Solutions, a Kanata, Ontario-based VMware partner, which has a significant business in the federal government space but that is looking to expand more into the SMB market.

Unfortunately, the SMB market (even in Canada, where the vast majority of businesses are SMBs) is a challenging space to tackle, Lewis explained. Even as VMware makes a strong effort to offer incentives to partners who drive new business into the SMB market, Lewis noted that doing so is difficult because the rewards for sales staff are so much greater in larger customers.

“It’s always been a very expensive space to try and support from a sales perspective. One of the challenges is to find a sales professional who can articulate the business value proposition of virtualization, let alone cloud computing. Once they’re ramped up and skilled up and ready to go,they want to take on bigger clients,” Lewis explained.

Like other vendors over the last several years, VMware is trying to entice its partners with accreditations and monetary incentives, but Lewis said it’s a challenge that’s yet to be solved.

“Maybe cloud computing will change all that,” he said.

One of the reasons Lewis attended Partner Exchange this year was to find out more about the SMB opportunity and how he can further build out his business around smaller customers. Aronson noted during his keynote that virtualization is a top priority for SMBs, providing ample opportunities for channel partners.

Lewis said he was pleased with the strategic direction of VMware, as well as its focus on having a channel-led sales organization.

“In terms of their commitment to ongoing education, they have programs for resolving channel conflict that are very concise and very well executed. And that’s not a universal theme amongst all partners,” Lewis said.