Partner Ecosystems: Shaping the Future of Cloud Computing

Article by Nitin Mishra



There is a massive transformation happening in the enterprise datacenter business. Virtualization is changing the way applications are delivered and managed to dramatically improve cost efficiency.

Technology service providers are now realizing that a bigger benefit exists in extending virtualization across computing, network, and storage layers. This is because such a widespread virtualization enables a comprehensive datacenter transformation that further improves efficiencies. However, the fact remains that many datacenter architectures are still built around complex, heterogeneous silos of servers and storage systems that result in poor utilization and captive resources.

The biggest headache for service providers is that these key resources require multiple provisioning toolsets, data management processes, and teams to manage them. Add to this the massive growth in the amount of data and the limitations on the power, cooling, and space front and all it does is exert tremendous pressure on the responsiveness of IT departments.

Anyways, if this sounds like your organization, you must also know your top priorities right now – and that is to boost efficiency and reduce costs. The discussion has shifted from ‘whether’ you’re going to virtualize and transform your datacenter, to ‘when’ and ‘how’.

Fortunately you don’t have to wait. By using the combined strength of technology service providers like Cisco, NetApp, and VMware, you can realize a virtualized dynamic datacenter today. Together, these players provide virtual infrastructure software and unified storage, server, and network technologies that can be deployed to meet your unique business requirements.

These technologies are integrated, interoperable, and in use at datacenters around the world. All three companies have a powerful global presence and have built a ‘partner ecosystem’ on a shared virtualized data center vision since 2003.

What is a ‘partner ecosystem’?

There isn’t much change in the concept of “ecosystem” since Webster’s first defined it in 1935. However what has changed dramatically over the years is our understanding of the potential that such a concept represents when applied to traditional business concepts of partnering.

What determines the health and success of an ecosystem is the interdependence of the members that form it. It is a highly-collaborative and complexly-orchestrated community. When applied as part of a business strategy, an ecosystem creates a partnership environment where the combined strength of the group is far greater than those that can be realized by any individual organization.

We are seeing such an ecosystem develop in the cloud computing space, where cloud enablers and solution providers are hard at work collaborating to get their solutions and platforms ready for the wave of growth that’s coming in the future.

So, what exactly is a partner ecosystem in the cloud computing space?

In simple words, it’s like the marriage made in heaven and executed in the technology industry. In a partner ecosystem, various partner entities – like Cisco, NetApp, and VMware as we talked about in the above example – bring their technologies and products together and back this with their combined strengths in integration, technology consulting, services, sales and marketing.

The result is a win-win situation for all entities, and a-one-stop shop for customers, backed by a single SLA and a single point of support.

This trend of partner ecosystem in cloud computing has rendered obsolete the long-used concept of complete vertical integration coming from one organization. Today you have the product and technology players. Then there are experts in the areas of middleware, SI, and in the application space.

The benefits of such partner ecosystem are tremendous for clients. For instance, here is the simplification of delivery (for the customer) that happens in a collaborative environment.

Gone are the days where the complete vertical integration came from one organization. Today you have product and technology players, and experts inthe areas of middleware, SI, and in the application space.

In India, companies like NetApp work closely with SIs, telcos and cloud aggregators who deliver cloud services. It assists their technical operations team to use its assets “in an efficient manner” so that they “deliver more by using less storage capacity”. This is what it calls the “technical enablement”. Beyond this NetApp works with the service provider’s marketing team for demand generation. It executes joint marketing events for creating platforms to create demand generation for these services and even offers a development fund for service providers. And finally, it does a joint go-to-market with the service provider (from the sales perspective). Partners in the ecosystem may also bundle and cross-sell each other’s offerings.

Stakeholders in the cloud ‘partner ecosystem’

As per Cloud Times, a wide set of players are converging on the cloud partner ecosystems, including:

  1. Web and Cloud Masters
  2. Virtualization and Automation Software Specialists
  3. Enterprise Software Specialists
  4. Pure-Play ISVs
  5. System integrators
  6. Service Providers
  7. Equipment Makers in the computing, PC, handset/device, and network equipment spaces
  8. Web VAPs
  9. Aggregators

These partners combine to provide not just cloud technology support, but also services like sales enablement, demand generation, joint marketing events, go-to-market services.

Partners in the ecosystem may also bundle and cross-sell each other’s offerings. For instance, a technology vendor may sell the services of a systems integrator. It may use its own channel for this purpose. Apart from using or selling each other’s products the partners might also go in for a revenue sharing arrangement for the product or service that’s delivered as a whole to the customer.

An example is VMware. The virtualization technology pioneer works with service providers and has established its own partner program called VMware Service Provider Program (VSSP). It is positioning VSSP as a framework that allows service and hosting providers to consume VMware virtualization solutions in a way that aligns with their business model. Global Alliance Partners integrate their hardware and software with VMware technology, support their products running on VMware virtual machines and co-sell and/or resell VMware products. Cisco, AMD, Fujitsu, IBM, HP are few companies to name among VMware’s global alliance partners.

Ultimately, these types of partner arrangements are win-win for all entities in the ecosystem as some may not have the expertise in selling, or lack skilled manpower for L2 and L3 support. Such arrangements can also reduce their CapEx drastically.

Despite the heterogeneity, the accountability isn’t lost

Despite the fact that several heterogeneous service and technology providers come together to participate in a partner ecosystem for providing a one-point cloud solution, the accountability towards the customer isn’t lost. One of the partners becomes the single point of accountability and is responsible for quality of service and support for the customer. That means this partner is also liable for the performance issues of the products or services from other partners.

While this seems an onerous task given that one single partner has to manage the delivery responsibilities of other partners in the ecosystem, the life for the client-facing partner is made easy by the strong agreements and relationships that exist between partners. The ecosystem always works with a backup plan, and that take care of the accountability part.

Companies like Netmagic Solutions work closely with Application Providers (ISVs), technology partners and System Integrators (SI’s)to form a cloud ecosystem that simplifies a customer’s first step on to the cloud.

In an ecosystem of partners one of the players becomes the single point of accountability who is responsible for quality of service and support for the customer. That means he is also liable for the performance issues of the products or services from other partners. The key partner in the ecosystem manages this and backs it with stringent SLAs.In the ecosystem you need the virtualization fabric. You also need compute and storage fabrics. And you need a service provider who can tie all that together.

The future’s bright for partner ecosystems

The benefits of the partner ecosystem model for cloud computing is just being realized and appreciated. Now, with more and more business organizations lining up to experience the power of computing on the cloud, the industry is all set to grow by leaps and bounds over the next few years.

In fact, the respondents to 2011 Cloud Computing Trends and Best Practices Report by Hosting.com recently indicated that they have plans to increase implementation of database services, disaster recovery and application hosting within the cloud by 3 to 5 times over the next few years.

Such a rapid growth in adoption of cloud computing will act like a hotbed for partner ecosystems. With a view to provide efficient services to customers, we are likely to see service providers and their partners making it easier for businesses to cloud enable their applications and processes. Significant changes are also expected to be seen in channel programs and the way vendors and service providers sell cloud services to customers.

The setting up of greater number of partner ecosystems is not just going to benefit the service providers, it will also come as a great boon for the small and medium sized businesses, which will benefit tremendously from the collaborative efforts and lower combined costs of such partnerships. Of course, the issue of security in a cloud environment will be valid even in partner ecosystems, experts believe that such security will be on par or better than what’s available on the premise of a business organization.After all, it’s not just about the opportunity that cloud service providers have at hand. It’s also about their reputation that is at risk.

Overall, cloud is changing the way technology solutions are delivered to business organization. Now with the evolution of partner ecosystems, it is just turning its silver lining into a golden one.