A number of different events have occurred recently which, individually, may not amount to much, but when put together maybe point to both a growing need within the user community, and a possible solution to its provision that is now emerging.
That need is for a way to fill a significant void in the total available market for cloud services – the VAR equivalent. Value-Added Resellers emerged in force in the late 1980s/early 1990s as a follow on of two main developments in IT, the arrival of the PC as a consistent, reliable and standardised combination of hardware implementation and core operating environment, commonly known as 'Wintel’ after its two leading technologies, Microsoft Windows and Intel processors.
Microsoft added two other key foundations: the ability for a wide range of individuals to learn how to develop programs, and a growing range of server platforms, targeting different operational capabilities, on which to run them. The key was that this was the perfect implementation of that old 80:20 rule.
The major PC vendors were able to add the Microsoft servers and development tools to their hardware and sell to an almost unlimited number of small software vendor businesses and individuals 80% of what they needed to build a system. All those businesses then needed was their own 20% of experience and knowledge of their niche (and usually very parochial) service areas coupled with the tools needed to develop the necessary applications.
Here was the basis for them to expand their market reach and/or increase the depth and quality of the services they could provide to their customers. It was also a way in which the vendors managed to seriously democratise the use of IT across most of the world. There were, of course, a large number of Managed Service Providers already in existence providing variations on a time-sharing model of large systems or acting as an intermediary between a customer and a compute resource, but they tended to want to stick to their known market of low volumes of customers paying high ticket prices. The VAR approach was almost the exist opposite.
The cloud should be the same, but...
It is also an approach that would seem to be tailor-made for cloud-based delivery, but there is something lacking – and ironically so. While the cloud has liberated many users from the economic prison of legacy, on-premise installations and their 3-year upgrade cycle, it has not released them for the claws of the technology itself.
As shown by a recent study by Forrester Research, on behalf of its client, Kantata, `a significant majority of decision-makers at Professional Service Organizations (81%) believe that customizing solutions to meet essential use cases like resource planning, collaborating with their clients, and maintaining visibility into project performance is costly and difficult to maintain’. Cloud delivery offerings, such as SaaS, are brilliant at making 'raw' tools available to the maximum number of users, but it does mean that every user risks having to get hands-on and down-and-dirty to make it fit their specific needs, as the study suggests:
The desire to spend less time and energy customizing horizontal SaaS platforms is driving more IT decision-makers to implement vertical SaaS solutions that are purpose-built for their organizations' specific needs.
There, in one sentence, is the basic need for the growth of the VAR community in the cloud space. They are starting to appear, but the issue is that there is still a gap for a common range of tools that can be used by third party niche market specialists across the whole diversity of market sectors. Until recently there has been no Microsoft-analogous service/capability – that old combination of Windows + the Microsoft Server range + applications packages + Visual Basic + service delivery and support; something to provide that important 80% that the VAR community needs to make it easy for them, and on which they can build their 20% of specific IP with at least a reasonable level of confidence.
Some specialist operations are already building valued added services, but they tend to be fairly narrow fields with a global reach rather than the more parochial targeting of many VARs of old, such as service and support for local accountancy operations. One such recently announced is Croppin, an agritech business that has introduced what it claims is the world’s first cloud for agriculture. It aims to provide enhanced decision-making based on data analytics, and globally proven crop-specific, crop and geography-agnostic machine learning models that can solve real-world agricultural problems and deliver value across the food value chain.
Such launches have been few and far between because the development has still required the vendor to build their own specific platform that provides the integration and collaboration needed between the many general purpose and specifically developed applications and tools involved. That means targeting high-ticket markets is essential to recover the development costs.
The right platforms are moving in
Until now, such VAR-oriented platforms have not existed, but at last that nettle is being grasped. One of the first to target it directly is Cohesity, a nine-year-old specialist in cloud-based data management that has started to spread its wings into data management, but the management of the processes that users need to exploit to work effectively with their data.
In the words of recently appointed CEO, ex-VMware COO Sanjay Poonen, the company now sits "at the intersection of three of the highest priority business issues – cloud, data security, and data management".
Now, it is moving into packaging them up as service that is well-suited to providing the 80% of capability and resource that the VAR community is likely to need. The company has its roots in secondary data management, offering services offering such as backup and recovery, disaster recovery, file and object services, data compliance management, security, and analytics. Until now it has ben targeted towards enterprise users looking to have it delivered as a service, self-managing it or working with one of Cohesity’s partners as the provider.
This year it has extended its range with a packaged version of its core offerings, known as Data Management as a Service, with the aim of simplifying the process of acquiring and implementing such services. Though initially targeted at enterprise and mid-sized businesses, Poonen has acknowledged that the service also provides the basic 80% of all service requirements on which a VAR can build that important 20% of specific, targeted IP:
We are now working towards providing what the VAR community requires in a platform.
This means the company itself will be developing additional tools and applications that have a wide, horizontal user-base so that the widest range of VARs can make use of them rather than build their own. It also will also be working with third party applications vendors to ensure compatibility and integration. Indeed, according to Poonen the company is already working with Microsoft to this end, and also to ensure it works with, and on, Azure services. It will start out being available on Amazon AWS, but the company has a high priority to get its availability spread around the globe, which suggests it will soon be available to run on other cloud service providers’ offerings.
Cohesity is not the first vendor to approach this requirement, and it certainly won’t be the last. But it is a market with has huge user need to be fulfilled, so the chances of its being a player are probably high, especially as it is coming to the job with an extensive background in data management, a factor of which the millions of small end user businesses will know little or nothing. It is then fair to suggest that a goodly number of the VARs supplying them will know little more about the technical detail of that subject.