Azure partners must differentiate as Microsoft white labels cloud

Microsoft's move to white label Windows Azure means Azure partners must differentiate with services built on Microsoft Service Management Portal.

Sometimes generic products can be just as effective as name-brand offerings. More white-label clouds are popping up as large, pure-play cloud providers are realizing they can't cover the market sufficiently alone and they need their partners' help.

Microsoft announced at its recent Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference that it will white label Windows Azure for its Azure partners to resell -- a move that will let the partners offer an Azure-like experience for customers while using their own cloud or an Azure-branded one as their own.

This hybrid cloud strategy presents a unique opportunity for Microsoft cloud-provider partners to further differentiate and use their own services while still offering customers a familiar Windows interface and an Azure Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, experience.

White-labeled cloud benefits Azure partners, Microsoft

Microsoft's new Service Management Portal will enable Azure partners to use either their own cloud infrastructure or the Azure cloud to deliver Microsoft applications to their customers.

The move to white label Azure is an attempt by Microsoft to present a cloud operating system to the market that could rival VMware Inc.'s vCloud Director, said Dave Bartoletti, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "VMware has always had a strong virtualization footprint and has been able to establish public clouds compatible with its own software, but Microsoft hasn't been able to accomplish the same," he said.

By white labeling Azure for its partners, Microsoft will be able to compete with VMware in the hybrid cloud space because partners will be able to support Microsoft apps and tools in either a public or private cloud environment.

"White labeling Azure will broaden out Microsoft's cloud services and will allow [Azure] partners to offer a more end-to-end solution to their customers," Bartoletti said, noting that customers will benefit from lower costs in a smaller, Azure partner's cloud and will not have to learn a new platform. "Microsoft wants to make sure that its tools are used everywhere -- not just in its own cloud," he said.

Microsoft's focus might not necessarily be on competing with other large, pure-play cloud providers. Instead, it is following a natural progression of the cloud market, said Tom Nolle, president at CIMI Corp. "[Microsoft] is maturing their cloud business model," he said. And Azure partners have added value to Microsoft's overall cloud strategy.

Azure partners have to differentiate themselves from Microsoft

Microsoft is loosening its tight grip on its services as the company tries to reach more customers, and Azure partners must step up to differentiate their own offerings at the same time, said Amy DeCarlo, principal analyst for security and data center services at Current Analysis, Inc.

The extent to which the Service Management Portal will be customizable by Azure partners is still unclear, but Microsoft will be granting leeway to existing partners -- such as Apprenda Inc., a Platform-as-a-Service, or PaaS, provider -- to build on Azure in different ways, DeCarlo said. Security, pricing models and customer support will differ by partner, she said. "Partners will be able to label Azure as its own, but will be able to build out unique solution sets for their customers," she added.

To some degree, however, Azure partners will be competing with Microsoft, Forrester's Bartoletti said. Azure partners have never had the opportunity to use Microsoft tools in their own cloud environments. Cloud provider partners should focus on building applications and add-on services on top of Microsoft tools, and back these offerings with strong terms of service and quick response times, he said. "Azure partners could differentiate themselves if they were able to assure customers that they are most reliable for specific workloads, or perhaps the best provider at creating a private cloud for Microsoft SharePoint," he added.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, News Writer.

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