Blog March 21, 2019

Choosing the Right Azure Partner for Your IT Business

In the IT services business, experience is everything! Your clients expect certain services, wish for others, and downright demand even more. While no one company or person can be an expert in every single area of the IT space, the partners that you select to work with can make all the difference in the world.

Tools, resources, and basic requirements change almost constantly, but rarely congruent with having the qualified personnel on staff to handle each progression. While we all strive to provide continuing education for our teams and ensure that they have that up to date knowledge, the fact remains that clients in today’s business climate expect a “one-stop shop” for their IT and infrastructure needs. And adding the right human and technological resources to address every nuance, every need of your client base is a fool’s errand.

So what happens if these limitations prevent clients from receiving the services they need from you? At best, your clients become “co-clients” with companies in direct competition with you. At worst, they churn off entirely to a provider that can potentially deliver on their requests.  More and more the market is consolidating around diversified providers that offer holistic, 360-degree solutions.

Nowhere is this more evident than with what appears to be a near-insatiable appetite for cloud infrastructure. Clients and customers across the board are turning to Microsoft Azure.

Azure is a big part of Microsoft’s business and is a prime example of exactly how key Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is becoming. The breadth of services offered by Azure is startling in volume; from virtual machines to data management and from web-servers to storage, most any infrastructure service you require is available from Azure. What’s more, Microsoft doesn’t offer merely adequate or average technology. Time and again, the offerings from Azure prove to be at the top of the market for cutting-edge technology.

However, choosing Azure has some downside, most notably that it can be very complicated and difficult to use. The power of Azure cloud services is in many cases matched by the complexity of dashboards, configurations, and optimizations.  If you don’t have an experienced Azure navigator on your side, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and overmatched with regard to getting the most out of your cloud infrastructure.

The good news is that a growing ecosystem of managed services companies offer Microsoft Azure consulting, engineering, and management services. But this can create a new problem entirely:  how do you know who to partner with?

Start With Azure Experience & Expertise

Providing a highly reliable, scalable, and low-cost infrastructure, Azure is always focused on improving its efficiency and innovating its services. And that’s exactly what you have to do for yourself and a value that you have to seek in your partners.

One way to accomplish this: team up with the best strategic business partners that you can. It’s important to know their work experience, reputation, quality of work, customer reviews, etc.

Your partnerships directly reflect on both you and your business. Part of your success will rely on the experience that your customers have with those partners and if you’ve taken the time to carefully select them, then your reputation should be enhanced by the partnership. However, if you are careless in your search then it’s possible that your reputation will be damaged by them.

Azure experience and expertise are paramount today.

By Gartner’s estimate, the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) market isn’t showing any signs of slowing down in the foreseeable future and is expected to reach $83.5 billion by 2021.

In their recent Q4 FY 2018 earnings report, Microsoft reported that Azure generated revenue that grew at 89% compared to Q1 FY 2017. This growth follows the impressive 97% growth that they reported in their Q4 FY 2017 earnings report, which marked a growth rate that was almost double that of AWS.

While AWS has been viewed as the leading provider of public cloud infrastructure for quite some time, Azure is quickly gaining ground in application workload. Measured by application workloads, Azure currently holds 29.4% of the installed base.

Your Azure partner needs to offer a proven track record, and not simply with basic clients and systems. Different Azure managed service providers have different strengths… and different weaknesses. Finding a company to work with that complements what you do well with what they do well can be the kind of partnership that reaps rewards for everyone.

Conversely, choosing a partner that offers overlapping services or that lacks the resources needed to fill the gaps in your own service portfolio is a waste of both time and of energy. When you couple that with a partner that offers the Azure services and expertise that you need, no matter what size your company is, that partnership can be virtually invaluable.

While it’s true that everyone has to start somewhere, when it comes to your IT business and your client’s satisfaction, partnering with “newbies” to the Azure world isn’t often a wise decision. While the Microsoft certification process is lengthy and in-depth, a partner with experience means they are less likely to be “experimenting” on you or your clients in an attempt to learn more at your expense.

Your Partners Have the Necessary Skills

The lack of a solid partnership with a provider that has the Azure experience and expertise that your clients deserve is doing both they and your company a disservice. And while you might think it common-sense to work with people that have talent and skill, you might be surprised at how often Azure providers lack both.

The biggest reason for gaps in service or ability is because the Azure landscape changes so rapidly, with new services being added on a regular-basis. Even with that being the case, a partner with an extensive set of certifications can be a great way to vet not just present capabilities, but also the willingness and speed with which they can become experts in new and necessary skills.

There are five Microsoft Azure Certifications path for five different roles:

  • Azure Fundamentals
  • Azure Administrator Associate
  • Azure Developer Associate
  • Azure Solution Architect Expert
  • Azure DevOps Engineer Expert

Being Azure certified means that your partner has completed certain requirements and acquired specific skills for the following tiers (examples):

  1. Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)

Solutions Associate

MCSA: Cloud Platform

MCSA: Linux on Azure

  1. Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)

Expert Level

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

  1. Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD)

Meet the globally recognized standard for developers

MCSD: Azure Solutions Architect

Each tier has multiple certifications, such as: Azure Fundamentals, Azure Administrator, Azure Developer, Azure Solutions Architect, Azure AI Engineer Associate, Azure DevOps Engineer, Data Management and Analytics, MCSD: App Builder, MCSA: Azure Database Development, and many more.

Microsoft requires that you receive your AZ-100 Certification before you’re allowed to take the AZ-101 certification, and you have to clear both of those before proceeding to AZ-102. In that way there is an easily understood path about qualification and skill level.  Use that to your advantage when choosing a partner!

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certifications validates a company’s technical experience in developing and maintaining applications for Azure. Candidates are tested on their mastery of the platform’s software development kits (SDKs), their knowledge of code-level application security, as well as their judgment in choosing the right Azure services for apps.

Partnering with certified Azure professionals ensures that you are getting the desired and required skills, experience, and expertise.

They Can Design the Azure Solution that Meets Your Clients’ Needs

Designing and building a solution that addresses your business requirements is rarely a one-time endeavor. Often, the infrastructure will need to change and evolve as often as business dictates — or any time that Microsoft releases new features that can improve things for your clients.

At this point, if you don’t have the expertise and you’re not prepared to take on the work involved to keep up with that demand, it makes sense to turn to certified Azure Architects that do possess the expertise using Azure at scale. This, of course, is where a strong partnership can pay big dividends. However, you also want a partner that incorporates best practices for that scalability, as well as for security and reliability and can design and build a solution specific to your clients’ needs.

Because technology continues to evolve, your strategy needs to be fluid as well. As such, you need an Azure partner that offers your clients a staged approach that includes continual improvements to their Azure configuration beyond the initial design.

They Have a Stellar Track Record on Security

Not to bury the lead when it comes to Azure partnerships, but security should be your paramount concern. Most anything else that negatively impacts client infrastructure can be remedied and damage can be mitigated. Not so when it comes to security and safety. Data, applications, intellectual property…without question you have to protect client property. That means that your Azure partners have to be rock-solid themselves when it comes to security and stability in the cloud.

To ensure a global infrastructure that is as secure as possible, Azure configures infrastructure components and provides services and features such as the Identity and Access Management (IAM) service that can be used to enhance security and manage users and user permissions in a subset of Azure services and to ensure secure services, Azure offers shared responsibility models for each of the different type of service that they offer.

Azure runs in geographically dispersed data centers managed, operated, monitored, and administered by Microsoft operations staff that has years of experience in delivering the world’s largest online services with 24 x 7 continuity. Microsoft’s data centers comply with key industry standards, such as ISO/IEC 27001:2013 and NIST SP 800-53, for security and reliability.

That means that your Azure partner may be responsible for the security of the following:

Data in transit

Data stores and data at rest

Operating systems

Applications

Policies & configuration

Credentials

The management of the secure global infrastructure by Azure provides a trustworthy foundation for enterprise systems and individual applications, but your Azure partner needs to take security as seriously as you, your clients, and Azure do.

Establishing high standards for information security within the cloud, Azure has a comprehensive set of control objectives, ranging from security through software acquisition and development, to security organization and employee lifecycle management. This global infrastructure is subject to regular third-party compliance audits and your clients are going to expect this dedication to security across the board.

Additional security expertise can actually open even more doors for your business if you choose the right partnerships. Other security features you should look for in an Azure partner:

PCI, HIPAA, FedRAMP, SOX, NYS DFS, HITRUST Compliance

Security Monitoring & Incident Management

Secure Network Architecture Design & Maintenance

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery

Emergency Security Patches and Critical Security Updates

For example, your partner having an understanding of which components are supported in HIPAA and PCI environments can prevent costly mistakes AND create the potential of healthcare-oriented clients for your business.

They Have a Team of Experts

Unfortunately, having a single individual that is Azure certified just isn’t enough to meet the demands of the Azure infrastructure. Enterprise-grade infrastructure requires a team that must continually evaluate new Azure features and assess how they could impact your clients’ configurations.

Not only that, a lone technician simply cannot provide the monitoring, security and Azure expertise that you need on hand and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year in order to avoid interruption of your clients’ services. Having a team of certified Azure experts that are monitoring and optimizing the infrastructure that runs your client’s applications is paramount and allows you and your clients to focus on what’s important — growing the business.

Choosing an Azure partner that has a team of experts available also ensures that your clients’ needs are continually evaluated to recognize when those needs evolve and determine how new Azure features and services can help meet them. This also puts more highly-trained eyes on the entire process and provides the resources necessary to thoroughly examine the Azure environment and accurately identify any and all opportunities to optimize it for the benefit of your clients.

They Already Have a Great Reputation

Of course, online reviews are fantastic and you should definitely take the time to research and see what actual customers are saying with regards to any partners you consider working with. However, you should also look to see what peers and industry publications are saying, what awards potential partners have received, and even what their employees are saying on sites like Glassdoor. Furthermore, it’s an excellent idea to ask for references, case studies, and real-life work examples before solidifying any partnership with an Azure provider.

They Do Business Around the World

Local businesses are great, but your clients are likely spread throughout the country, if not the world, and you need an Azure partner that can provide them the support and expertise they need, when they need it. No matter how large or how small or where they are located in the world, each of your clients share the need for secure, reliable, responsive and affordable solutions. And is often the case, emergencies rarely happen right in the middle of the business day.

The Right Recipe for a Successful Azure Partnership

When it comes to your IT business and the demands of your clients, experience is everything. Yes, it’s an excellent idea to develop your in-house cloud skills, starting with Microsoft Azure. But if you’re waiting to build the skills in-house that you could easily acquire from the right partner, then you’re missing out on perhaps the largest technological sea-change of this generation. Businesses of all sizes are moving to the cloud at an accelerating rate and the opportunity to support them is significant for any managed services provider.

As the saying goes, “Imagine the future.. then go there and wait for everyone else to catch up.” The future of managed services is in the cloud. And the right partnership can take you there.

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