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Amazon tightens requirements on AWS managed service providers

Changes to AWS' program for managed service providers challenge MSPs to raise their standards through certifications, audits and customer input.

More stringent guidelines for AWS' managed services partners have two end goals: Make customers happy, but also weed out marginal companies that hitch onto AWS' increasingly lucrative wagon.

Version 4.0 of the AWS Managed Service Provider (MSP) Partner Program is now in effect, and new partners and those renewing their status must adhere to the updated requirements as of April 1.

Two changes stand out. First, the MSP program demands that staff with AWS Solution Architect certifications review all project-related designs and deliverables. Second, MSPs' public customer references must either be new or new projects undertaken with the MSP within the past 18 months. In either case, public references must use that partner's managed services for at least six months.

Other changes include a performance-based annual audit process. Among other things, the MSP must be able to show AWS that it executed at least five "launched opportunities" with customers in the 12 months prior to the renewal date. Finally, AWS will institute a more in-depth Full Audit process, which will be conducted every 36 months.

The rationale for the changes to AWS' MSP program is straightforward, AWS said in a blog post. The higher bar for MSP partners further recognizes their capabilities and gives AWS customers more confidence to team up with them.

AWS MSPs should feel the squeeze

What AWS wants from MSP partners in the revised program is reasonable and makes sense, said Frank Scavo, president of IT consulting firm Strativa in Irvine, Calif.

"In any partner program ... there [are] always small service providers that would like to claim to be something that they're not," he said. "AWS, like any OEM, is going to make sure their partner program means something."

The head of one AWS MSP took the program changes in stride.

Brendan Caulfield, co-founder and chief revenue officer of ServerCentral Turing GroupBrendan Caulfield

"The harder it is, the better. For me, I say make it as onerous as you can," said Brendan Caulfield, co-founder and chief revenue officer of ServerCentral Turing Group in Chicago.

This sentiment is common from MSPs engaged in a competitive market, but there is plenty of AWS-related work to go around, Caulfield said. To that end, while ServerCentral Turing Group has expertise in Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, it won't devote many more resources to those options, because AWS provides plenty of business opportunities, he said.

However, AWS could do more for MSPs with sales leads, Caulfield said.

"AWS is not a lead machine," he said. "The leads we're getting from AWS are coming from individual reps, not some uber deal desk."

That may be less of an issue for larger AWS MSPs, such as Cloudreach and 2nd Watch, he added.

Channel's role continuously shifts, as public cloud market grows

AWS trod onto its service partners' turf in late 2016 with its own AWS Managed Services. In the aftermath, MSPs expressed little worry about the move, which they viewed as something geared for AWS' largest customers and not a threat to their core business.

The channel is crucial to any technology vendor to put a local face on products and services and share benefits through collective marketing efforts. Still, the relationship is a dance with many steps. And as more money comes on the table, AWS managed service providers must stay on their toes.

Microsoft Azure is in second place for cloud market share after AWS. Channel selling has long been a major component of Microsoft's business model, with the vast majority of sales through partners, possibly greater than 90%.

In recent weeks, Microsoft updated its channel partner initiatives aimed at independent software vendors, resellers and MSPs. And a forthcoming licensing program will enable customers to buy Azure services directly.

For his part, Caulfield expressed little worry that AWS one day will scoop up a major part of the services pie.

"We have to keep one eye open on these guys, [because] they can do whatever they want," he said. "They have the deepest pockets on the planet."

But, despite that, AWS needs partners like Caulfield for the long term. "This is boots-on-the-ground, grind-it-out kind of work," he said.

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