As part of ongoing efforts to promote the progress of cloud, Canadian AWS Premier Consulting Partner TriNimbus Technologies hosted an event this June aimed at building awareness of DevOps and other advanced approaches to cloud-based computing. Focusing on the financial services sector, the Canadian Executive Cloud & DevOps Summit 2017 featured presentations from a range of tech innovators, including Farm Credit Canada, Sequence Bio, Klashwerks, NuData Security and Amazon Web Services, who described new culture, new services and new technologies designed to optimize IT service delivery. For example, Klashwerks director of R&D Dan Crawford outlined his company’s transition from the “Technology Treadmill,” where apps deployed on AWS required ongoing maintenance and upgrade, to Lambda, the event-based AWS serverless computing platform that automatically manages the compute resources needed to support customer code. For his part, AWS Canada director Eric Gales shared notes on the evolution of Amazon’s DevOps culture, and the event concluded with a panel discussion on cloud security risk and mitigation.
According to organizers, the purpose of the Summit was to provide a forum for networking and the sharing of ideas, as well as learning opportunities for IT professionals that are implementing cloud technologies. If only one in a continuum of events planned by TriNimbus to help cloud adopters develop cloud strategy or dive deep into the technology weeds based on use of the AWS platform, it represents a good example of AWS use of partners to extend its platform.
Three keYs: building ecosystem through myth, momentum and models
Seize the day with the right model: TriNimbus has been in business for five years, “an eternity in the cloud world,” observed Chief Cloud Officer Jarrod Levitan. In 2008, Levitan “saw the future” and began to shift from management of a software business built on AWS to the Vancouver launch in 2013 of TriNimbus, a company that helps other organizations take advantage of the AWS cloud. The company’s decision to focus exclusively on building expertise in the AWS service was a function of current options. At that time, Levitan explained, “there weren’t other choices in terms of cloud providers to partner with; AWS was far and away the leader in this space.” For several years since, TriNimbus served as the AWS beachhead here in Canada: “were doing AWS in Canada before AWS even had a location in Canada,” Levitan noted. Though AWS had Canadian customers, it had no presence in the country: “we were their Canadian connection; their feet on the ground; we were AWS Canada before they arrived. So, we were responsible for the region in terms of data, and really pushing hard to make it happen.”
Today, TriNimbus occupies a unique space in the Canadian cloud marketplace. While many reseller organizations have wrestled with issues in cloud resale – both transition from transactional to subscription-based pricing, and commoditization that has squeezed margins – TriNimbus sells AWS as part of client engagements but does not rely on this business. “Resellers don’t get any value from reselling AWS. Clients can go with a credit card and get it themselves so there’s zero value in it,” Levitan argued. Instead, the company has developed a services portfolio that allows it to re-add the “V” in “VAR”; TriNimbus operates as an SI, a provider of consulting and code services (infrastructure and platform code re-write) to help customers migrate to the AWS cloud, and for clients looking to outsource day-to-day management, as a provider of managed services. Its long history with AWS, means the company is the most experienced cloud enablement partner in Canada, and its army of software engineering experts is increasing along with business. TriNimbus currently has 60 employees at locations in Vancouver, Toronto and Macedonia, and expects to reach 90 by year end.
Support partner success to build momentum: A good deal of TriNimbus business comes from companies that, much like Levitan’s earlier software venture, built their own technology on AWS; software companies that that were born on AWS and derive their income form technology remain a key component of its customer base. In the last year or two, however, TriNimbus has begun to see more enterprise interest in AWS, a shift that AWS itself has looked to encourage as it transitions from more single focus on the developer community to the design and marketing of higher value enterprise class services.
Levitan believes that a lot of potential users in the enterprise space are “just getting their feet wet now.” However, the enterprise segment, including public service, which is more likely to have requirements around data residency, is the group that is most likely to see real advantage in AWS establishment of its Canadian Region last year. So far, TriNimbus cannot attribute current growth to the launch of local resources, but expects that interest will progress to real market momentum in 2018. According Levitan, “it was not possible to have a conversation with some public-sector clients until the Canadian data centre was in place. Now the door is open to more serious discussions around adoption and procurement that are necessary before they can consume cloud.” Other segments in which TriNimbus anticipates new interest in AWS cloud include the financial services sector (hence the focus of Summit), and mid sized Canadian businesses. It is here that TriNimbus expects to find a sweet spot for its value-added AWS expertise: “Anyone can go out and spin up a few servers,” Levitan noted, “but to really take advantage of cloud you have to know what you are doing, and this is very different from knowing what you are doing in a traditional world. Cloud is different – people who think they can just take the IT department and put it on the cloud are really fooling themselves. There are a lot of mindset changes that must happen in order for organizations to start taking advantage of cloud. Our differentiator is that most of our architects and our team were previously software engineers. Because of our background, we relate much more to Infrastructure-as-Code, and that’s essentially what the cloud is.”
As is the case for all AWS partners, TriNimbus does not receive preferential pricing, only the volume-based consideration that is available to all users. There are no partner discounts in return for partner activities, such as the achievement of certifications, the establishment of reference accounts, etc. Even so, TriNimbus sees many benefits to partnering from a marketing perspective. Alignment with the AWS brand provides clear advantages that will become more evident going forward as Levitan believes that “the market as a whole has not yet realized how powerful the platform is or how much they are going to need it.” In addition, as a ‘Premier’ partner, TriNimbus “has more access to AWS, to AWS expertise and to ongoing activities. There are absolutely benefits from a marketing perspective, and a benefit to being the only one.” And in return, AWS benefits from the distribution of expertise that can help new businesses onboard to its platform and expand the use of cloud, in addition to activities like the Summit that see TriNimbus serve as a vehicle for platform promotion.
Identify vendor myth with client success potential: AWS Canada director Eric Gales took centre stage at the Summit event, telling tales of Amazon retail’s transformation to an “Always Day 1” customer obsessed culture, where staff could easily spot potential for disruption, make quick decisions and focus on outcomes not process. To enable this Jeff Bezos vision, AWS changed from a monolithic, traditional platform in 1990 to a collection of Amazon services in 2002 that could easily communicate with each other over Web protocols. The new platform was accompanied by new work principles:
- Teams would expose data and functionality through service interfaces;
- Teams would communicate through these interfaces;
- No other inter-process communication would be allowed;
- It doesn’t matter what technology you use: HTTP, CORBA, etc.; and
- All service interfaces must be designed to support DevOps practices.
According to Gales (and others!), DevOps is not a process; it is a culture, designed in the Amazon case to support customer service. The practice of DevOps is open – there is no particular standard to which teams must conform, rather teams can optimize as they choose using Agile methodologies, scrum, daily or weekly standups. This approach is supported in the case of Amazon, and by extension, customers in the Summit audience, by the huge amount of automation that exists in AWS: “Time spent on operations is less time to spend on development; less time spent on development is increased risk of missing goals,” Gales added. In describing Amazon operational success, he pointed to scale – it manages over 50 million deployments per year, and has thousands of service teams across the organization building microservices, practicing continuous delivery in many different environments (staging, beta, production, multiple regions), practices that are carried over to AWS. Ultimately, Gales argued that innovation is enabled through digital architectures that decouple functionality into “smaller building blocks”: for example, each AWS page consists of 200 to 300 microservices that are built through DevOps process which involve input from developers and operations folk. To encourage successful DevOps, Gales advised: “encourage developers to participate openly in the automation of operations code; and embolden operation’s participation in testing and automation of application code,” and nurture the culture by:
- Encouraging a fail fast, lean quick mindset;
- Fostering innovation and accountability;
- Promoting open and honest sharing of lessons learned;
- Building trust across organizational boundaries; and
- Expecting that everything will be a work-in-progress.
The bottom line:
While offering multiple tips to better compute living that audience members could easily identify with, in his presentation Gales also pointed explicitly to AWS service automation as the foundation for innovation activity. But a multitude of readily available services beg the question that has dogged vendor/channel relations since the introduction of cloud services a decade ago: where does customer value lie and who provides it? “We absolutely believe in partners and partner ecosystem and the contributions they can make to help customers, whether they are a startup that will go straight to DevOps or whether they are trying to lift and shift, or whether they are trying to build a hybrid architecture for their applications. I see a big opportunity for partners, and we are focused heavily on helping partners who want to evolve their businesses, and scale their businesses to take advantage of this new era,” Gales explained. In his view, the AWS innovation engine, which pumps approximately 1,000 new services a year, presents no barrier to partners that want to evolve. “That innovation,” he argued, is in itself “an opportunity creating machine.” As example, he pointed to the AWS marketplace that houses 3,500 apps, providing creator/partners with ecommerce infrastructure and other services they can leverage for easy marketing, billing and distribution on a global basis. Other AWS “building block” services that are designed for vertical applications such as call centre (Amazon Connect), he claimed, offer a “whole array of opportunity” for partners who are able to configure these for a particular customer environment. In the end, these partners increase the range of customers that can assess AWS services, smaller organizations in particular that may not have been able in the past to purchase advanced technology but can now afford on demand, pay per use services. Gales calls this dual trickledown effect a “huge opportunity for partners because every single one of them will need intellectual horsepower to apply to a particular customer or a particular market or system.”
The question, of course, is balance. How can the partner plan a year out to create a value-added service that will not be consumed by the “opportunity creating machine”? In Canada, Gales advises partners to steer clear of infrastructure provision which is too ubiquitous, and instead to align innovation with specific business challenges, industries or capabilities that ISVs can evolve, taking advantage of AWS services that can be assembled in multiple different ways. “Just as with a bag of Lego, you can make many different things out of it, it’s the same with AWS,” Gales noted, identifying one of Amazon’s key responsibilities as making sure partners are aware of what is available. Going forward, Gales expects that meeting customer needs for digital interaction in the retail space, the need for cloud processing of massive volumes of data in the financial sector, lowering the cost of operation and speeding time to market generally are distinct “hotspot” areas that partners can look forward to addressing in the Canadian marketplace.
From a business perspective, Gales also pointed to support that AWS provides for companies looking to provide cloud services, such as accelerator programs that offer training, support and a credit pool that startups can draw on to launch. He also stressed the ‘like is like’ factor: “AWS is also provided on a subscription basis so there is no [financial] outlay…. So, companies do not pay [for AWS service] during prototyping, and only pay for what they use as they scale the business.” Once they are qualified, partners can also take advantage of additional programs, including service credits, aimed at helping them nurture specific customers.
Ironically, despite AWS interest in establishing relationships with organization that are ready to evolve with the cloud marketplace, the kind of value that Gales identified as a particular partner preserve strikes more traditional notes. Historically, as owner of the customer relationship, the channel partner delivered value to the vendor through its ability to service unique customer requirements. With an increasing number of horizontal services and vertical programs delivered automatically through the AWS platform today, the AWS partner in many ways returns to a traditional customer-facing role. Plus ça change, as AWS Canada will now need to work to build out numbers of AWS ambassadors who can, like TriNimbus, can “make it happen.”