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How AWS partner status helps cloud-savvy MSPs differentiate themselves

Cloud-focused channel partners can take advantage of a recently launched AWS program that offers business, marketing, education and training benefits.

As managed service providers (MSPs) and their customers recognize the value of managed cloud services, it becomes increasingly important for cloud-savvy MSPs to differentiate themselves.

Customers also need assurance the provider they're choosing understands the nuances of cloud and will truly deliver a managed service. That's where partnership programs like the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Managed Service Program come in. This program offers an AWS partner a mix of business, marketing, education and training benefits. Those benefits include free usage credits for proof of concepts, the opportunity to be promoted as an AWS Managed Service Partner and price reductions and subsidies for training classes. The program was launched in November 2014, and the following March, AWS announced its first group of approved partners. 

"What we see in the market is that companies have a lot of interest in using the cloud, but there's a lot of complexity in it," said Mark Randall, director of sales and marketing for Sydney, Australia-based Bulletproof, a managed cloud service provider.

"Companies have challenges re-architecting for the cloud and supporting it in a way that is secure and highly available. We have tried to fill that gap with the managed AWS service, and we've found that's resonated with customers in the market."

Bulletproof is part of the AWS Managed Service Program, which recognizes companies in the Amazon Partner Network (APN) for their deep AWS knowledge and ability to proactively monitor, automate and manage their customers' environments in the Amazon cloud.

"Managed Service Partner is like an endorsement of your membership level. It's like an extra badge if you're a Boy Scout," said Jamie Begin, founder and CEO of RightBrain Networks, an Ann Arbor, Mich. based MSP. "It means we've reached a certain level of competency with this, and part of that is a deep knowledge of one particular area."

RightBrain Networks performs 99% of its managed cloud work on AWS, whether it be application development, application migration, consulting or training. "We're broad in a very narrow niche," Begin said.

AWS partner benefits

Being an AWS MSP partner offers a number of benefits. "We have a positive relationship with the AWS sales team. They see value in how we assist their customers. That's played a big part in the success that we've had with Amazon," Randall said.

AWS partners have opportunities to participate in Amazon marketing events, conduct lunch-and-learns and sponsor Amazon summits, he said.

"There's a close collaboration between our team and the AWS direct marketing team. … They keep us updated so that we can make sure we're focusing our efforts in a way that is amplified by the marketing AWS is doing," Randall said.

Dan Newton, COO of Datapipe, a Jersey City, N.J. based MSP, appreciates the two dedicated AWS technical account managers that are available to Datapipe 24/7.

"They have a good overview of our clients, the architecture we've deployed, and they know our requirements in terms of supporting our clients," he said. "If we have questions or there is new AWS functionality that we need to get up to speed with quickly, the technical account managers help with that as well. They are tied closely with our department managers and help both the relationship side with AWS and with providing a joint client face to our customers."

Audit requirement helps qualify experienced providers

The requirements for becoming an AWS Managed Service Partner include APN membership and a minimum AWS monthly revenue of $10,000. Recently, Amazon added the passing of an independent third-party audit to its requirements.

"This is something I'm super happy to see," said Begin. "The issue I'm running into is there are a lot of traditional MSPs in the space that know the future is in the cloud. They put AWS on their line card, but their business model has not evolved. They're simply viewing cloud as somebody else's data center when there's a very different way of approaching cloud."

Newton said the AWS audit was similar in format to the security and compliance audits Datapipe normally undergoes for its clients, but in addition to security and compliance, the AWS audit "also focused on our skill sets and what we can bring to clients in terms of value," he added. "We spent a lot of time focusing on our capabilities with AWS, talking about our solution design capabilities and focusing on our governance processes and our security wrap-around that we provide for all of our solutions and getting into more of the detailed technical capabilities like our ability to manage a customer's compute from [Amazon's] Elastic Compute Cloud."

Only a handful of U.S.-based Amazon partners have been through the auditing process, but Newton and Begin gave it their approval.

Audits can be time-consuming, take a lot of effort and be challenging to get through, Newton noted. "AWS did a good job of making it rigorous but not onerous. We got through it well. It was quantifiable and evidence-based. We've received positive reactions from clients and potential clients," he said.

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