CHANNEL PARTNERS — As the distinction between information technology and telecommunications services becomes increasingly muddier, U.S. businesses are asking agents, VARs and other channel partners to deliver a greater number of sophisticated applications, services and solutions.
“No enterprise wants to buy from 10 different companies. No business wants to," said Larry Walsh, president and CEO of The 2112 Group, a New York-based consulting company specializing in channel strategies. “Nobody wants to have complicated sourcing."
At the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, in a discussion hosted by the Cloud Convergence Council – a group of telecom and IT vendors and resellers formed by Channel Partners and The 2112 Group – Council moderator Walsh and other professionals on Sunday afternoon explored opportunities and challenges in the rapidly converging IT and telephony markets.
The panel focused predominantly on that seemingly ubiquitous and somewhat ambiguous concept of “cloud computing," which research giant Gartner has defined as “a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies."
Walsh said nearly every business is using some form of cloud services. However, channel partners don’t necessarily have the expertise today to service the market.
A survey of 189 solutions providers conducted by Channel Partners and the Cloud Convergence Council found that one in five channel partners is losing a sales deal because it does not offer the cloud services that a customer wants, Walsh said. Businesses also may be confused by cloud computing – a term that encompasses everything from offsite storage to VoIP to disaster recovery services.
“I think the industry has made the cloud very complicated," said Lori Cornmesser, vice president of service provider channels, Juniper Networks.
Companies are probably more interested in discovering how cloud computing can help them grow their business rather than understanding the technological nuances. But channel partners with little IT background may face a steep learning curve and significant costs in order to articulate the value of cloud computing and deliver a solution that is properly designed.
One panelist said a channel partner can’t simply sell cloud computing on the fly by retrieving a quick quote on the price of a service – the solution must be engineered properly over a potentially vast infrastructure.
The cloud is a “network," explained Ron Culler, CTO of Secure Designs, a provider of managed Internet security for small and midsized companies. “It’s a huge network. It’s a gargantuan network."
And the demand to support such Internet-based networks is rapidly escalating.
But does that mean telephony agents should move abruptly to sell cloud computing solutions?
“I think the challenge is trying to be all things to all people," said Juniper Networks’ Cornmesser in response to a question as to whether the IT and telephony channels can remain within their respective comfort zones and still succeed. “I’m not confident you can try to do both. I think you have to choose."
However, end-user businesses may be finding it harder these days to distinguish between IT and telecom solutions providers. The Channel Partners/Cloud Convergence Council survey found that the IT and telecom channels are delivering similar services, most notably disaster recovery and business continuity cloud services. IT providers also are beginning to offer cloud-based voice services.
Still, telecom agents remain apprehensive when it comes to cloud computing, conceded Andrew Pryfolge, president and CEO of master agency Terrapin Solutions.
The move to the cloud “requires significant investment in time and money and learning and surrounding yourself with people who are getting this," he said.
As part of that learning process, the Cloud Convergence Council strives to explore the convergence of IT and telecommunications through cloud computing. The Council’s sponsors include CA Technologies, Catalyst Telecom, Juniper Networks, Motorola Solutions and PGi.