IBM continues its quest to become the vendor of choice for managed service providers to build their data centres around, a strategy that sees Big Blue view MSPs as both a class of partners and a class of customers.
Engaging with MSPs has been a pet project for current IBM channel chief Marc Dupaquier since well before he moved into his current role. In fact, he said it was four years ago, when he was serving as general manager for IBM’s midmarket business, that the company started to recognize MSPs as “golden nuggets” in the marketplace, and started to invest in approaching this then-emerging class of solution providers.
“These were small companies with very high IT needs,” Dupaquier said. “We’re doing better with them every year, and we’re learning a lot in the process, and developing very specific offering for them.”
He says the evolution of its PureFlex and NextScale systems have made them popular offerings amongst MSPs, and the company is eyeing ways to make more of its hardware and software lineup more attractive to a wider variety of MSPs.
One of its MSP-facing initiatives is what it calls “Frame Ahead” pricing for IBM’s XIV storage systems. Under that model, MSPs are charged part of the price for the storage array when it’s ordered and put into use, then are charged the full price of the system when they reach full utilization. But when they do reach capacity, Big Blue ships a second XIV to the MSP for a dollar.
“It’s a great solution for them. They’re always one ahead,” Dupaquier said. “If you don’t grow, you never pay, so we take the risk.”
The company is eyeing a similar model in its server business, both with Intel-based servers and its own Power 8 servers, which for the first time are now focused on scale-out.
The company has also worked to change it contracts with MSPs, because Dupaquier notes “the traditional IBM contract didn’t work” for many MSPs. “Most of my contracts with them today are one-off contracts,” he said.
Despite the focus over the last few years, Dupaquier said IBM still has a lot of work to do in terms of specifically targeting MSPs.
“We put a rod into the water, and we got a few fish with it, but we never targeted before,” he said. “I’ve told my team that what they’re doing is working, but we have to learn from – what bait’s working, and what kind of fish are we getting?”
The answer, for now, is largely a smaller fish, but one with a pretty heavy appetite, particularly around applications. So IBM is focused on bringing them into “a bigger ecosystem” that includes more of IBM’s ISV partners, and the application knowledge they bring. It’ also changing how it approaches these MSPs.
“Typically, we don’t see them as an end user for us, but as a sell-with and sell-through partner,” Dupaquier said. “Many of them are becoming cloud service providers, and we’ve helped some traditional IBM resellers become cloud service providers for System I applications.”