Monthly Archives: September 2012

Since the late 1990s I've been working intently on trying to buck a trend. A trend that saw a lot of the larger IT vendors going direct or hiding behind large distributors who didn't themselves offer a huge value add to the lifeblood of computing - the reseller channel.

Many of you who read this blog, or get it emailed to you every day know me of old.  A percentage of you took a gamble or a hunch and bet on me in 1999/2000 onwards and became SmoothWall resellers, joining the three tier platform I invented on the back of a fag packet based entirely on hard done research in the channel. I remember when I suggested a three tiered reseller platform to my fellow directors with a minimum buy in level from resellers they thought I was mad but I needed to add value and perceived ranking and I needed a global partner network I could rely on for growth in areas where representation was low or non existent. It also gave me the ability to grow my company, conceived and started in my back bedroom, as a global player with world reach.

However that is exactly where my own ability to take praise stops. Everything I've ever learnt or understood about the channel and reseller partner growth and evolution I owe to one man I've never spoken to or met in person, but who I studied intently and who I worked for/with indirectly as one of his partners. He's never really understood or given the credibility in the market he deserves yet he did more for British IT than many will ever realise and he changed my life and my ability to push and promote the goods and services I was creating. I've never stopped learning from his capabilities and vision and sharing some of his story with you today will take you to the next level of where I want to see the IT SME servicing reseller and partner channel start to re-invent themselves.

Graham Wylie is the chap I'm talking about. He was one of the founders of Sage Software in my part of the world, the North East of England. So there was an added reason for me listening to him straight off the bat there. Graham, like my mother, went to Newcastle University and wrote what would become Sage Line 50 originally launched for CP/M on the Amstrad and later on PC. I was a huge 4GL nut and after leaving Uni used to write and develop stuff for Sage Line50 and Line100 selling to accountants all over the UK but predominantly in North London. From 1981 to 2003 Graham and his fellow directors grew the company taking it public in 1989 and exceeding revenues of over £1bn before he retired in 2003 with a shareholding of £146m banked. An astute cookie. Graham is now chairman and founder of TSG sitting alongside someone else I look up to (as a Sunderland supporter) David Stonehouse, all still based in Tyne and Wear.

Graham's brainchild was to realise that Sage were good at one core thing. Writing software. Selling direct wasn't really sensible and had higher cost of sales so he came up with the Accountants Club to grow the company organically, before acquisitions and mergers became the norm. Accountants Club had the basis of a channel in IT parlance of small to medium sized IT service organisations  and accountants who signed up to a tiered approach to selling and themselves having the ability to modify the then underlying 4GL (pre Windows) basis for the Sage Line 50 and Sovereign (pre Line100) products and the approach worked. The organic reach of the Accountants Club meant that the relationships between the companies and accounts products to companies and bookkeepers alike for everything from bill of materials to sales order processing and invoicing meant Sage became the de-facto go to standard and revenues rolled in.

Graham Wylie with aplomb and flair and a canny sense of capability had created a posterchild example of how you grow organically, profitably whilst looking after with a duty of care the needs of the people in his employ but also in the first national then international company he had created in the form of that valuable and intrinsic reseller community. So in 2000 when I was looking at a way of combatting Lawrence and our lack of experience at running a sales organisation to cope with the massive demand we had I did what I knew. I sat down and worked out how Graham did it, something I'd seen first hand in the mid 1990s. Creating on the back of it the drive and focus that became the initial and original SmoothWall reseller community globally - a programme that still generates multi million dollar revenues today and has a massive reseller focus worldwide.

I've never stopped learning from Graham Wylie - and I take the same approach he did now to Cloud working with resellers to arm them with the ability to get the understanding and core extensibility and value added capabilities to begin assisting companies get the best out of their opportunity in Cloud and virtualisation.

Over the next two weeks I'm going to be writing about what I think the IT reseller community and service provider community could and should be doing better, how I am intent on changing things to empower them with the power of Red Hat and our reseller and partner channel and to try and inspire new resellers looking for revenue opportunities to give them the correct approach to working with us to build organically strong successful partnerships.

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Richard on stage, photo courtesy of Phil Rudge
So I'm currently on the road for Red Hat again. Six weeks of travelling, planes, trains, automobiles and maybe even a camel this time. Am in London in a rented ex LOCOG apartment on UK leg of the Red Hat Partner event. Next week I'm in Portugal on event duty, I'm in Egypt, Spain and Amsterdam in short order after.

Richard captured on camera by Phil Rudge
Tonight I thought I'd reflect on some of the stuff I've seen and heard and also muse / ponder on the position of suppliers and partners in the evolution and growth of Cloud. As I travel around I will be recording using my mobile rig and doing a lot of podcasts and interviews as well as posting pics.

If you want to listen to this it's sub 10 minutes and tries to paint an aural picture of the state of the nation from a partner perspective as well as level some of the playing field. If you are a Red Hat partner who couldn't get to tour maybe this will help you with some adlib non scripted perspective of my take on tour and Cloud tech.

  Download this podcast here in MP3 format or OGG format

I am delivering the Cloud Keynote and CloudForms decks at Partner Summit in London tomorrow and Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt on the 2nd and 3rd October. I'm in Lisbon next week for the Evento Linux 2012. I'm in Barcelona for VMWorld and also for Linuxcon and I'm in Amsterdam for Structure. I'm in Switzerland for various events and podcasting and I think I have a trip to Germany and one to Helsinki coming up soon.

Either way I'm living out of a suitcase for the next six weeks or so. Will be business as usual on the podcasts and blogging, I have some lined up for the next few weeks or so until the end of October.

Life on the road isn't all it's cracked up to be, will update the Flickr photostream as I travel and find some cool stuff to write and podcast about.

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There is no doubting the fact that as a lot of enterprise organisations and institutions who have for many years been wholly reliant on silo led computing platform architecture feel a little overwhelmed (or underwhelmed in some parts) by Cloud. Cloud the buzzword de jour, the spin. The undefined re-invention of IT. I see it a lot, and I hear it more. There seems to be this "Tough Love" battle of hearts and minds where the positioning of new IT enablement and design becomes more than technology refresh or even attrition to a position where Cloud becomes just part of the paradigm shift to doing more with less, or getting more for your dollar as you plan and procure your IT spend. It could even, if you outsource some of your current IT mean you spend less with your incumbent provider as you are able to identify and skill requirements and platforms internally with the people who understand your business the best - your current staff rather than hired consultants at arms length.

Cloud will, be under no illusion, also make those service providers and industry service providers increase profitability by being able to create elastic easily consumable cloud services that become stock catalogue items that sell themselves without sales people needing to push the hard sell. If that provider has the right services they become an asset and a building brick for growth - providing people want them. Where demand is met with intelligent solutions in Cloud there is a marriage made in heaven.

Last year, before I transitioned into this role as one of two Red Hat "Cloud Evangelists" I worked alongside the EMEA sales team in Cloud as their technical solutions architect helping providers stand up Red Hat platforms for customers to burst out to or to bring enterprise workloads too. It was enlightening because here was a software and services company working with the provider channel to build context extensibility into providers rather than just providing an OS or middleware capability. Real world business engineering (or re-engineering if you'd prefer to view it in that context) for both provider and enterprise customer alike to build a two way Open non-vendor locked in example of how we envisage those longterm hybrid and public workloads transitioning to Cloud. And then on the back of it building the provisioning and engagement model to assist customers to be able to just slot in as and when they felt the demand and push to do so. Getting over the "tough love" argument by making Cloud business as usual and easy to consume for both consumer of services - and the provider.

Tough Love - The Provider Angle

Service provision at any tier you can define as being able to take a blended approach of solutions and services that customers want or need to be able to contract. With Cloud it's been hard for the service tier. A massive over emphasis on the hypervisor, on the provisioning and management and the self service element of the equation has left many now with an expensive overhead in the form of the ongoing licencing costs and ownership costs of proprietary technologies and layered or tiered infrastructures. Ken Hess and Jason Perlow of ZDNet explored this when discussing HyperV vs VMWare and there are a lot of other analysts who are now realising that at some point you are left in a position where that most basic cost of Cloud in the public or hybrid tier has to be passed on in the form of the contractual cost to the customer.

They are also missing a point. It's not just about the provision of Cloud it's about what you need to do with it when you get there as a customer, your development and deployment of architectures and infrastructures, your hidden ownership charges and your management layer on top. It would be great, and overdue somewhat for the likes of  GigaOM, Gartner and Forrester whose advice and guidance is read and given credence by many to now start thinking out the box and do more than just tickle Cloud ownership. There isn't one credible ongoing analyst piece around the service provider tier and frankly when I talk to people (people being customers and decision makers) the positioning of left and right mystical fluffy quadrants needs to align itself to physically adaptable IT planning and positioning not just thought leadership and marketing budgets.

For service providers building Open infrastructures on KVM and in the past on Xen (although we now see KVM as the de-facto standard) and who understand the need to use open components such as CloudForms and OpenShift into the mix they are at a major advantage. They are better armed to be able to offer customers a customisable onramp to Cloud adoption at a pace that meets the appetite of sceptical CIOs but also that then reacts accordingly when the consumption and demand for services from that fledgling customer increases at speed. The ability for providers to have that flexibility and capability with the likes of Red Hat at a engineering level, matched and married to a software stack capability across storage, the hypervisor (RHEV KVM), the secure capabilities afforded by SELinux and sVirt, Middleware OpenJRE power in the form of JBoss, Gluster giving them the unstructured kick ass big data story and then wrap it up with their own ability to ride on the back of CloudForms (and DeltaCloud by association) means an immediate IaaS capability. Then as the customers who are already smart enough to be using OpenShift Origin to build out their sandpit PaaS test capability or to have used OpenShift on AWS start to demand hosted PaaS for that provider to be able to do so with applomb.

Bolt on capability = revenue, the providers who think out the box attract and retain customers longer and become an essential part of the foodchain of Cloud.

Tough Love - The Enterprise / Institutional Customer

It's hard enough sometimes to run an enterprise environment at the best of times. The driving factors that push and promote the need for ever increasing attention to the needs of customers and consumers of your platforms and architecture are only beaten by the fact that from an accountancy perspective there is little to no elasticity in budgets that need to match or at least demonstrate an affinity for ambitions around elastic cloud. Now add on a new found skill as CIO. Contract negotiation at the most granular level. Signing an SLA is only made easier when you know what signing the solution with your Cloud Provider when you know 1) what you are signing up to 2) if you know what the problem is that you're trying to solve by engaging with the provider.

Bryan Che of Red Hat writes brilliantly about his"2nd Tenet of Evaluating Products - You Have to Know What Problem You Want To Solve". If it's the only thing you click on in this article then I recommend you do so as it's both thought provoking and influential in it's steering as a guidance piece. Bryan correctly argues that the comparison of two given cloud products or services are aligned to understanding the problem that the consumption or procurement of that service will deliver. You can't evaulate until that argument is understood and examined.

When we talk about Open Cloud it's an understanding that to succeed and get the best out of the utilisation of compute capability in a manner that affords an enterprise something very clear. Independent, capable, assured performance married with a commitment to a flexible future as you grow.

An open provider who demonstrates that the tough love in Cloud is part of their problem, not yours, is the one who can give you the flexibility and the core belief to get to the start line (never mind the finish line). The good news is the smartest way to achieve that goal is for that provider to base his platform capabilities on Red Hat Cloud technologies.

It's not just about the hypervisor and management - if anyone else tells you it is then it's time to talk to someone who understands the pressures and needs of your expected IT delivery programme. Make sure they're open, and make sure they use a certified supported open infrastructure married to a upstream that just happens to have millions of pairs of eyes examining its every release and move.

Pays to be open - but genuinely it's the toughest love and the most responsible you can be when delivering future computing.