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Green House Data on becoming a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP

The task of becoming a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP, under a Microsoft partner program launched in 2018, is rigorous and time-consuming. Just ask Green House Data.

Green House Data's recently announced status as a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP capped a six-month process of self-assessment that transformed the company.

The task of becoming an expert managed services provider tested Green House Data, based in Cheyenne, Wyo., in a number of areas. To qualify for the program, a partner must generate at least $100,000 of Azure-consumed revenue each month, possess an active Gold Cloud Platform competency, have a Cloud Solution Provider contract in place and provide four customer references, as well as meet other criteria.

Once those prerequisites are met, the task of obtaining expert status intensifies. Microsoft Azure MSPs must work through a checklist that spans areas including managed services procedures, security, cost management, cloud migration, tooling and automation, cloud operations and service management. Compliance with Microsoft's checklist is confirmed through a two-day, third-party audit.

Thomas Burns, CTO at Green House Data, said the checklist compelled the company to examine "specific processes, policies and procedures that align with Azure infrastructure as well as … the supporting activities related to being able to effectively execute a managed service around that IT infrastructure."

Microsoft bills the process as time- and cost-intensive. Since the Microsoft Azure Expert MSP program launched in July 2018, 49 companies have obtained the expert title. That's out of a population of more than 64,000 Microsoft cloud partners. As an expert MSP, Green House Data joins companies such as Accenture, DXC Technology, IBM and Rackspace.

Becoming a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP

Green House Data put leadership in place to organize the months-long task of fulfilling Microsoft's requirements and preparing for the audit. Burns served as the project's sponsor, while Daniel Deter, manager of information security at the company, was the project lead.

With the leadership in place, Green House Data staffed the project with a cross-functional team, with half the members coming from Green House Data's managed services organization and the other half coming from the company's Enterprise Advisory Services group. The latter organization, which provides Microsoft-centric professional services and consulting, stems from Green House Data's 2018 acquisition of Infront Consulting Group.

Entering the pre-audit phase, Burns said he felt the most comfortable with Green House Data's managed services approach and its documentation of policies and procedures. Yet, the company wasn't fully prepared to breeze through that aspect of the audit.

It did transform our company.
Thomas BurnsCTO, Green House Data

"We found we had some work to do," Burns said. Specifically, the company realized it needed to develop a few business key performance indicators (KPIs) that it didn't have in the past. Addressing those KPIs "pushed us into a better position today," he added.

Indeed, the process of meeting Microsoft's expert MSP criteria changed the organization.

"It did transform our company," Burns said.

Green House Data had been operating in siloes to some degree, Burns explained, noting the previously separated managed services team from Green House Data and the Infront Consulting team. The expert MSP project, however, sparked the realization that "we have a ton of crossover" between the groups, with one side having expertise the other lacked and vice versa, he added.

In light of the project, Green House Data restructured itself to better pull together the company's managed services and Enterprise Advisory Group personnel. The managed services team, focusing on IT operations, is in a position to identify a customer problem that requires repeated manual resolution, Burns said. That recognition may uncover an opportunity to move the customer to a new platform that provides automation or build a new service that innovatively resolves the problem, he said. That's where the Enterprise Advisory Group's professional services come in.

"The IT operations guys … identify the challenges and issues the customer is facing and integrates with the professional services team," Burns explained.

MSP expert benefits

Microsoft points to differentiation as one benefit for companies that make it through the expert MSP process. Expert-level MSPs gain top priority in Microsoft's referral engine. Such MSPs also move to the front of the line for co-sell engagements and leads. From a sales and business development perspective, expert MSPs can receive support for developing new practices. Other perks include training and participation in monthly calls with Azure engineering, according to Microsoft.

Wendy Fox, senior vice president of marketing at Green House Data, said she believes Microsoft Azure Expert MSP status will become the "gold standard" for working inside the Azure environment. And she suggested the program has more to offer.

The expert MSP program "is still relatively new, and [Microsoft] is still rolling it out," she said. "We haven't seen the full impact in the market."

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