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AWS Audit: MSP partners reveal how they passed

Amazon Web Services has devised a stringent third-party audit process that channel partners must pass to become a designated Managed Service Partner. Here's how to make it through.

Bill Saltys likens going through an Amazon Web Services (AWS) audit to become a Managed Service Partner (MSP) to running a marathon.

"It was a grueling interrogation," said Saltys, vice president of U.S. operations and business development at Apps Associates LLC, only partially in jest. The MSP achieved Premier Consulting Partner status at AWS in October.

The AWS Managed Service Program was started in March 2015 and offers partners benefits to migrate customer workloads and deliver AWS cloud services. What differentiates the program from other certifications is it requires an independent, third-party audit. Prerequisites are stringent: you must be an Advanced or Premier Consulting Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN), have billings of $25,000 per month in AWS revenue and have AWS certified staff and provide customer references.

There are an estimated 25 partners that have achieved AWS MSP status.

The AWS audit process starts well in advance of the actual visit from an auditor and Apps Associates' personnel gathered information based on a checklist they received ahead of time. This task involved providing documentation of continuous training, resources and project forecasting, said Thiru Sadagopan, vice president of cloud infrastructure services at Apps Associates. "It's not just a technology-focused audit," he noted.

Another facet was "reviewing design artifacts from different customer implementations -- how you handle security, network activity, basic monitoring functions?" Sadagopan said. The company was required to show specific examples from previous customer engagements.

Apps Associates also demonstrated the internal IT processes it built to ensure that customers' infrastructure has been configured properly as well as the tools used and how it generates value for clients. In other words, "How do we make sure the customer isn't spending more than they need to for what they're running on AWS and minimize cost? That's been a fundamental philosophy for AWS all along," he said. Other areas of focus included security and demonstrating there are regular touchpoints with customers from status reports and quarterly reviews, Sadagopan said.

It is not something a partner can easily accomplish.
Thiru Sadagopanvice president, cloud services, Apps Associates

The audit also addresses governance: how feedback is collected from customers and how the MSP engages with them. "We had to show examples of status reports, quarterly biz reports, customer satisfaction surveys to show volume of activity and service requests; how you follow IT compliance," he said.

The audit took an entire day and Saltys said Apps Associates had three team members, including Sadagopan, devoted to collecting, reviewing and preparing documentation beforehand, which took about five man days.

The cost for the audit was $3,000, he said.

The most challenging part was the administrative aspect and going through the checklist and gathering the required information, Sadagopan said. Because of the "level of maturity in what we do … we didn't have any gaps to fill. We hit every one of our mandatory requirements from AWS," he said.

A comprehensive process

Datapipe Inc. has also achieved AWS Premier Consulting Partner status and was the first to go through the audit process, said David Lucky, director of product management, who provided overall directional involvement. He said it was a very comprehensive process that dealt with everything from how the company architects an AWS infrastructure down to a level of detail including its hours of support.

"They [the third-party auditors] wanted technical competencies to be validated … so they interviewed some of our support personnel," he said, adding that preparing for the audit took a month. The auditors also spoke to between three and five Datapipe clients. "That may be why the process took little longer, since we had to coordinate with customer schedules."

The auditors wanted to hear about Datapipe's processes for customer migration and what workloads were involved, the planning for the migration and how to do it to the Amazon cloud. They also asked questions about how Datapipe operates and provides support and reporting: "How do you run your environment in terms of monitoring capabilities and optimize Amazon's environment for the client with whatever tools you use to do that?" Lucky asked.

Tips for getting through an AWS audit

Datapipe had one person act as a full-time project manager for a week or two to pull together the required documentation, he said. "Because we have been an Amazon partner, we were well positioned to work through that process."

The AWS audit is "not something to take lightly," Lucky said. The reason they were able to get through it relatively easily is because they were already a longtime premier consulting partner "and had developed processes around how [they] handle events and incidents, so we had a level of documentation, otherwise it would be rather daunting."

It's also helpful to have staff with a high level of competencies and training. "We do a lot of expenditure around training and continual training is key -- not just one time," he said. The speed with which Amazon rolls out new products and features requires partners to stay current with training, Lucky noted. "Amazon wants to see … that you're utilizing the latest products to utilize the cloud efficiently."

"The point I would emphasize is it's not like a certification test where you can prepare, study and take a test," Saltys said. "It's an audit, so you have to provide … customers and concrete evidence."

It is critical to prepare properly, Sadagopan added, and make sure you provide all the sample data points requested and that the right people are there to walk the auditors through the tools used.

"Be organized, clear, crisp and precise," he said. "It is not something a partner can easily accomplish. There is a very deep technical focus. … You need to have done those kinds of work. An AWS audit is not for someone who has just started an MSP business."

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