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What role do Distributors have in Cloud Computing?

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By Luke Wheeler

News hot off the press this week was the announcement from Westcoast – a major UK channel distributor – that they have teamed up with HP to build a cloud service for channel partners.

It’s reported that Westcoast’s HP cloud platform will offer their core customer-base of IT resellers and service providers, the ability to resell on-demand cloud infrastructure (IaaS) and software (SaaS). The idea being that resellers can go-to-market with comprehensive cloud offerings, without carrying any of the burden of major capital expenditures or systems management headaches. As Michael Clifford, Director of Cloud Computing, for HP United Kingdom & Ireland, confirms: “Owning, managing and utilising a data centre frightens many resellers. HP Converged Cloud will enable Westcoast to demystify cloud for its resellers and make high quality cloud services easily available to anyone wishing to offer them.”

A warehouse full of the physical.

Whilst of course Westcoast won’t be closing down their conventional model of distributing physical tin any time soon, this bold strategic move is symptomatic of a sea change in IT consumption – one that favours flexibility, on-demand provisioning & utilisation, fast deployment and ubiquitous accessibility. It’s fair to say that with every virtual cloud server purchased, that’s potentially one less physical server moving off Westcoast’s warehouse shelves – so when the market goes away from you, you have to move to catch up with the market.

In the same way that major hardware & systems manufacturers have relied on Distributors to manage channel customers, product education, credit and logistics – there is good reason to believe that such a role can continue to be of importance when it comes to selling virtual cloud services. Sure, there are some stark differences and fresh challenges in what the job entails, but at the end of the day what the reseller wants is access to a product, to know how it will benefit their customers, to make money on it, and to be comfortable in knowing “it will just work”. All of this can come from cloud.

Distribution is in an enviable position when it comes to benefiting from new technologies. Their customers are the trusted interface between the business user and the technology, and its a proven relationship model that can be somewhat isolated from the industry hype and immune from fads and marketing spins.

The channel could ultimately be what stands between cloud computing becoming the ‘defacto’ standard way of doing things, and it being a neat toy for ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’.
What matters in this grassroots relationship is RoI and tangible operational and business benefits – and subsequently the quiet majority of businesses will take cloud only as and when it offers them these key things. The channel could ultimately be what stands between cloud computing becoming the ‘defacto’ standard way of doing things, and it being a neat toy for ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’.

In essence then, that is the challenge for Distribution as it moves to cater for virtual product distribution. The ‘big idea’ that the likes of Westcoast are pursuing isn’t about the cloud itself – its about continuing to enable their customers to succeed. If they focus too much on the cloud itself or tie themselves in knots trying to price-match Amazon, Azure, Google and the big players, then the opportunity – and indeed the channel – will gradually slip away.