Microsoft Azure partners benefit from vendor's enterprise foothold

Proponents say Microsoft's existing customer base, brand, mature channel and other factors position Azure as the top choice among IaaS providers.

In the world of cloud computing, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are the heavyweights. IT solution providers with cloud practices tend to work with both but invest more heavily in a relationship with one or the other. AWS partners assert that they've chosen the number one leader in cloud computing, but Microsoft Azure partners have found that a partnership with the vendor offers its own advantages.

"It's easier to recommend Microsoft because customers know Microsoft. It's an easy in. That dynamic with the customer alone has leveled the playing field because Amazon has traditionally competed in price, and objective people like Gartner are certainly Amazon fans," explained Terry Hedden, CEO, Cloud Guru, an advisory services firm based out of St. Petersburg, Florida. "Objective people might view Amazon as having a superior product, but that doesn't give them an advantage because they don't have the relationships that Microsoft has."

Those relationships bode well for IT channel companies looking to partner with a cloud services provider. "Microsoft has a very mature channel organization that has established deep partnerships with MSPs, VARs and consultants, and that helps them compete. … They are a known quantity," Hedden said. "[Partners] that go in with Microsoft have a huge advantage. They don't have to be permitted to be at the client site."

Gartner named both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure leaders in its May 2014 Magic Quadrant for Infrastructure as a Service, but AWS is the favored of the two. While Gartner lauds AWS for its thought leadership and innovations in the cloud space, the analyst firm has this to say about Microsoft: "Microsoft's brand, existing customer relationships, history of running global-class consumer Internet properties, deep investments in engineering, and aggressive roadmap have enabled it rapidly to attain the status of strategic cloud IaaS provider."

If [customers are heavily involved in] Active Directory and SharePoint, there's a lot of upside to go to Azure because of integration and ease of use.
Scott Sweetvice president and Microsoft service line leader, Capgemini North America

According to Hedden, this all makes Azure the default cloud choice for IT solution providers -- particularly those that are already Microsoft partners. "Because of [Microsoft's] history, you almost feel that you have to represent Microsoft. Amazon is an optional step for the channel. Net-new firms have more objectivity in that, but 99.9% of IT service firms have a longstanding relationship with Microsoft," he said.

Scott Sweet, vice president and Microsoft service line leader for Capgemini North America, had this to say about being a Microsoft Azure partner: "Frankly, my perspective is Microsoft is willing and able to partner with systems integrators to provide additional services around Azure. They work with Capgemini to provide a broader set of capabilities for the clients that are using Microsoft to get the most out of their investment in the Microsoft platform."

Sweet also commented on Microsoft's commitment to the cloud: "You have the investment from Microsoft, and the investment goes all the way down from the CEO. He knows it's not a nice-to-have; it's a must-have, and it's not just a direction, but sets the tone for how businesses can stay competitive and transform themselves by providing a better customer experience for their users," Sweet said.

Sweet said customers don't usually come to Capgemini with Microsoft Azure in mind, but Microsoft's foothold in the enterprise can help seal the deal. "They say, 'We need to reduce costs, be more agile, respond to business faster, spin up and down the environment, and pay only for what we need.' … If they're [heavily involved in] Active Directory and SharePoint, there's a lot of upside to go to Azure because of integration and ease of use," he said.

Sweet added: "Once we start having the conversation around Azure and the benefits around it, and long-term strategy from a client growth perspective, they typically don't challenge the Microsoft direction necessarily, unless they've totally been burned by Microsoft in the past."

Being an Azure partner gives Capgemini the ability to offer solutions at a competitive price, Sweet said. "Being [a Microsoft Azure] partner means we can … help our customers be more successful, more competitive in the marketplace and be able to transform themselves by leveraging Microsoft."

Josh Waldo, senior director of cloud partner strategy in the Worldwide Partner Group for Microsoft, said, "Many Azure Circle partners also sell Office 365 and leverage things like Active Directory services in Azure to provide customers a total value much greater than only the platform itself."

But the opportunities are not limited to the cloud. As a Microsoft partner Capgemini can offer customers other Microsoft solutions, like business intelligence and big data. "That to me is the most value we have from a Microsoft partnership perspective: Bringing the right solutions to our customers at the right time," Sweet said.

That said, Capgemini doesn't limit itself to working with Microsoft Azure. "We want to make sure we're giving the client the right solution from a business need perspective, and then we'll sort out what that means from an infrastructure and cloud provider," Sweet said.

About the author:

Crystal Bedell is a freelance writer specializing in B2B technology.

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This was first published in July 2014

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