How A/NZ partners can help Google win the cloud war

Tech giant outlines blueprint for partner success as channel plans become reality on both sides of the Tasman
Ash Willis - Head of cloud partners and alliances JAPAC, Google Cloud

Ash Willis - Head of cloud partners and alliances JAPAC, Google Cloud

Google Cloud has outlined its priorities for partner success across Australia and New Zealand (A/NZ), as the tech giant turns channel aspirations into market reality.

Speaking to ARN at the Google Cloud Summit in Sydney, the vendor outlined the framework in which cloud can be delivered through the channel, with partners front and centre of local enterprise ambitions.

Spanning independent software vendors (ISVs); system integrators (SIs); born-in-the-cloud players; developers; consultancy firms; managed service providers (MSPs); global system integrators (GSIs) and telecommunications firms, the Google Cloud ecosystem is as varied as it is deep, housing a contrasting but complementary collection of partners.

Today, a Google Cloud partner is specialised, collaborative, a developer of applications and a builder of code. But crucially, on occasions, cut from a different cloth.

“We have recognised that we require a different type of partner to take us into the future than what we have had in the past,” Google Cloud head of cloud partners and alliances Asia Pacific and Japan, Ash Willis, told ARN.

“If you look at some of the channel partners we’re bringing on board into our ecosystem, that really helps demonstrate this approach.

“We’re working hard to on-board those partners and they are also recognising that we now have enterprise credibility. Customers are now asking for Google Cloud solutions which is driving a huge amount of conversations.”

In taking on the role of local and regional channel chief six months ago - following a career spanning Amazon Web Services (AWS), VMware, Hewlett-Packard, Citrix and Express Data - Willis has observed a changing partner ecosystem, an ecosystem that continues to evolve at a rapid rate.

“Not long ago, GSIs were that ones that carried out the big deals, SI covered the medium deals and telcos had a role to play also,” he added. “But I think we’re starting to see that ecosystem change now.

“We’re seeing some relatively small SIs that have deep technical capabilities engage with some incredibly large customers, not just here in Australia but also on a global basis. And we have partners locally that have expanded their business globally based off our enterprise customers.”

Willis’ appointment aligns with long-held plans by the tech giant to build a cloud-centric channel locally, in a bid to lure the enterprise onto the Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

But despite a drive into the large end of town, the vendor is adopting a quality over quantity approach within the context of the channel.

“Our strategy is not to have tens of thousands of partners,” Willis explained. “We want to pick the right partners that we can work with to meet the needs of our customers and help them be successful through Google Cloud.

“But at the same time, we also want to ensure that our partners are successful. A lot of vendors can make the mistake of forgetting that a partnership is two ways. We want to be conscious that we partner in the right way to deliver the right outcomes to our customers.”

Conversely, Willis was quick to stress the importance of large strategic players currently operating within the Google Cloud ecosystem, but emphasised that as the channel evolves, the role of the partner evolves in parallel.

“They have a role, but not necessarily the same role that they have played over the last 10 years,” Willis explained. “Customers are not just demanding technical capabilities, but also project governance, managing financials and a whole range of services which more established partners have great expertise in.”

In short, Willis is building a broad ecosystem of partners housing different skill sets and capabilities, lending the tech giant to different types of alliances across Australia, such as Intuit, an accounting software provider targeting small businesses.

Rick Harshman - Managing director of JAPAC, Google Cloud
Rick Harshman - Managing director of JAPAC, Google Cloud

“We’ve done some great work with Intuit and they have a strong presence across the small to medium business segment,” Willis added. “We’ve worked to leverage Google technologies within the Intuit platform to drive better outcomes for small businesses. We hope this is the first stage of a much more interesting partnership.”

Specialist skills

In a bid to compete against AWS and Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud is encouraging specialisation across the channel, rewarding partners that are laser focused on providing unique and differentiated solutions to customers.

“The days of a partner offering everything to everyone is becoming harder and harder,” Willis said. “It’s difficult to be a generalist but at the same time provide the depth that customers want and need.

“That doesn’t mean that those partners won’t exist, but I think that we’ve already seen a lot of consolidation around the SI space. Today, even mid-size customers have half a dozen or more relationships with different technology providers.”

As a result, Google Cloud is requiring partners to not just invest in specialisation once, but on an ongoing basis, in recognition of emerging technologies flooding the market.

Specialisation therefore creates a need for collaboration within the channel, as partners seek to form ecosystem alliances to take niche solutions to market.

“We’re seeing more coopetition than pure competition,” Google Cloud managing director of Asia Pacific and Japan, Rick Harshman, told ARN. “Technology is moving too quickly for you to just draw such a hard line in the sand.

“Those hard definitive statements used by companies competing so hard against one another is coming to an end.”

For Harshman, situations are now arising where large partners engage with smaller, boutique providers to meet the new demands of the customer.

Likewise, ISVs are gaining prominence across the market, as the appeal of being global from day lures application builders to the cloud.

“Asia Pacific creates a really interesting opportunity when you think of technology partners,” Harshman added. “Because it’s not just going to be for the big players such as SAP or Red Hat.

“For example, more than 3,500 ISVs operate across India alone - consider the regional and global ambitions that can be achieved through the cloud.”

Harshman outlined a reality where developers and application builders can expand globally through Google Cloud, bringing new solutions to customers and markets across the world.

“If ISVs partner with Google Cloud and develop offerings as part of a global cloud-based solution, that creates a strong business proposition,” he added. “An ISV could have tens of thousands of customers which creates multiple opportunities, which is a key area of the channel that we’re promoting.

“It’s our role to understand who the consulting partner is but also who the ISV partner is within the customer equation. Because once we have that broader picture then we can be more prescriptive in terms of how we solve customer challenges today and also as they evolve.”

Gaining ground through GCP

Google’s increased push into the channel follows the launch of GCP in Australia only two months ago, with Sydney becoming part of the nine regions, 27 zones and 100 points of presence comprising the global GCP footprint.

“There’s been substantial customer uptake since launching locally,” Harshman said. “We’ve obviously had a number of customers running on Google Cloud for years but there was a high level of demand in the region locally, and we’re thrilled to finally be able to deliver on that demand.”

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As of September 2016, Taiwan represented the only Google Cloud region across Asia Pacific. Yet following a surge of investment, Sydney, Singapore and Tokyo locations have since been launched, with Mumbai following soon.

“That’s a tremendous amount of momentum which in turn has helped create new demand across these markets,” Harshman added. “We’re meeting demand and continuing to create demand.”

Relative to the channel, the local launch allows local partners to now offer businesses the ability to store their data within Australia – a factor that likely held back a number of potential enterprise and government end customers from adopting Google’s cloud services.

“Depending on the workload, having a local region is important,” Harshman added. “But also, a desire to be able to move quickly, to scale and to utilise data and analytics are also crucial factors.”

Despite the promise of cloud however, coupled with everything the platform entails, Harshman said only five per cent of all workloads globally currently reside in the skies.

“That means 95 per cent of the opportunity still resides in the data centre, which creates a tremendous opportunity not only for Google Cloud but for our ecosystem of partners,” he added. “But what will be important is how we work together to be able to provide the transformation that organisations are looking for.”

In drawing on customer feedback, Harshman said businesses today demand flexible and open cloud platforms, platforms that prevent lock-in and promote innovation.

“It’s about being a true open cloud and supporting open source because most enterprises want to know how we can support hybrid and multi-cloud environments,” Harshman added. “There’s not one enterprise customer that will work with one end provider, they want to know how they can work across multiple providers.”

And for Google, and its expanding cloud platform and channel, enterprise is key.

During the past 12 months, the tech giant has staked its claim as a serious cloud contender across the enterprise, backed up by an expansive list of heavy hitting customers migrating to the skies.

Built by over 500 engineers, Google Cloud is now reaching customers across financial services, health, retail, media, energy and manufacturing, representing opportunities for specialist partners in the channel.

Local customers include Service NSW, News Corp Australia, Fairfax Media and Woolworths, alongside global logos such as HSBC, Adidas, and Spotify.

“We’re here to play,” Harshman said. “We have a huge focus on hiring and as part of that hiring, it’s helping to further drive our focus on the enterprise.”

Central to this has been the recent appointment of Colin Timm as the new director of Google Cloud across A/NZ, tasked with driving enterprise cloud adoption on both sides of the Tasman.

Effective 18 September, Timm - who replaces Renee Gamble in the role - joins the tech giant from Telstra, where he most recently served as executive director across the enterprise business, working with 1,000 of the telco’s largest customers across Australia.

“Colin brings a wealth of experience serving enterprise customers both in Australia and internationally,” Harshman added. “We are delighted to have him to lead the team as more and more Australian businesses come on board with Google Cloud Platform [GCP].”

As reported by ARN, Timm also managed operations and services for Telstra’s enterprise and government business, alongside stints at Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft.

Inside a Google data centre
Inside a Google data centre

Furthermore, technology partnerships will also be pivotal for Google in the years ahead, as illustrated through SAP now running its flagship products on GCP.

Designed to develop and integrate Google cloud and machine learning solutions with SAP enterprise applications, the agreement allows customers to run mission-critical SAP applications and databases, such as SAP HANA, on GCP.

With over 125 million subscribers on the SAP cloud user base, the SAP HANA platform houses over 5,200 start-up developers, alongside more than 560 partners globally.

“Having SAP as an established alliance partner is more important than just a rubber stamp,” Harshman explained. “With SAP, we’ve gone through a rigorous certification meaning SAP Hana can now run on Google Cloud.

“This is something that we didn’t have before - it’s significant and boosts our enterprise play. Also, our operating professional services team represents another key component to that strategy.”

Professional services

Key to capitalising on new and existing opportunities across the enterprise will be Google’s ability to provide professional services alongside the channel, in a bid to extract new levels of value through the cloud.

Specific to Google Cloud, the vendor’s core offerings span consulting, technical account management, training and certification, alongside advanced solution expertise.

“We realised there wasn’t a lot of best practice available in terms of how to carry out a lift and shift, or how to deploy a BigQuery implementation,” Google head of professional services across Asia Pacific and Japan Glenn Dreves told ARN.

“Our focus is based on building repeatable service offerings and as they mature, rolling them out to the partners. We work with partners to ensure they are comfortable with the repeatability of those offerings and then we move on.

“During this process we have partners working with us side-by-side, and they add complementary skills to provide value to the customer.”

According to Dreves, the offerings can be rolled out to large or small-sized partners, delivering a scale up or scale down capability for the channel as a result.

“We can also subcontract both ways,” he added. “When we’re working with large partners we might inject some expert services to help them come up with a plan.

“But also when we’re working with other customers, we might want to utilise a boutique partner to come in and focus on machine learning or data analytics for example. We’re working with a broad spectrum of partners and specialisation is a big part of that.”

Despite a need to provide professional services as a point of difference in the cloud, Dreves acknowledged the fine line between adding partner value and competing for end-user mindshare and dollars.

“We’re a very partner focused professional services organisation,” Dreves explained. “We’re focused on building IP and sharing that with our partners, and our goal is not to be engaged long-term.”

From a partner perspective, Willis said internal practices are in place to ensure the service remains complementary rather than competitive to the channel.

“We’ve not seen any conflict,” Willis added. “We spend a huge amount of time ensuring that we’re not even getting ourselves into situations that could be perceived as conflict.

“I’ve been very encouraged by how well our partner ecosystem have warmed to this additional technical capability that we’re building to help them be more successful.”