The cloud? It's a no-brainer today. But think about this: Channel partners like Arterian bet on Microsoft's cloud strategy long before the rise of Azure and Office 365. Did those early bets pay off -- and how have partner opportunities evolved since the early days of SaaS and IaaS? Seeking answers, we checked in with Arterian founder Jamison West.
Rewind to 2009 or so. Microsoft was struggling to transform a clunky hosted software suite called BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) into the eventual Office 365. At the same time, Microsoft was one year into the Windows Azure build-out, and the platform (now known as Azure) wouldn't arrive until February 2010.
Amid those and other question marks -- involving security, compliance, performance and more -- many customers were still wrapping their arms around on-premises servers. Most VARs and MSPs in 2009 were doing the same.
Coming Into Focus
Despite all those question variables, Jamison West began to see the future. His 20-person business, which has roots that stretch back to 1995, had a couple of clients on BPOS -- before Microsoft's Office 365 launch in 2010. By late 2013, Arterian transitioned roughly 80 percent of its clients to Office 365. And that early business is now extending to SharePoint in the cloud. "We see significant demand to do more with SharePoint, and we're backlogged on projects there," said West.
Still, SharePoint and Office 365 are only part of the cloud story. Arterian has also paid close attention to Azure's evolution amid Microsoft's ongoing war with Amazon Web Services.
For starters, Arterian moved its own infrastructure -- including the ConnectWise and LabTech Software automation and monitoring tools -- into Azure in 2014. "We tested for a couple months, and have since moved a couple clients to Azure as their primary (and in one case only) infrastructure platform."
Looking ahead, Arterian is closely tracking Skype for Business and Microsoft's continuing PBX strategy. When replacement features truly come to fruition "the game changes," notes West.
Partner Learnings From Azure
No doubt, thousands of VARs and MSPs now understand the basics of Office 365 reselling. Azure, meanwhile, remains more of a mystery for many partners. But Arterian kicked Azure's tires before most partners were taking IaaS out for a test drive.
So how has Arterian's strategy evolved with Azure's expansion? West points to directory services:
"The initial opportunity, in my opinion, was VM’s for servers that couldn’t move to a SaaS platform such as Office 365. For example, we’ve put a couple client’s Dynamics GP servers in Azure VM’s. The evolution, however, has been how Microsoft has shifted the vision towards Azure AD and ownership of Identity. As soon as a client is on Office 365, they are on Azure AD. With Windows 10 you now have true AD in the Cloud capabilities. Game changer. I knew that was coming a few years ago, I am pleasantly surprised and how quickly and how well it has arrived."
Evolving MSP Mindset
As he moves more customer workloads into Microsoft's cloud, West is also weighing the continued evolution of his own business.
"Our vision is not around IT support; it is around driving success for our client’s business," says West. "We are shifting our delivery to much higher value technology help."
At the same time, Arterian has branched out from its HP hardware relationship to sell Microsoft Surface devices. "We're pretty excited about that, and it’s going well."
Why all the Microsoft-centric bets? Perhaps the results provide the answer. Arterian received Microsoft's SMB Champions North West Area Cloud Partner of the Year at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference for 2015. It was the third honor in the past five years.