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Criteria for selecting an AWS partner

Enterprises moving to public cloud often seek the help of an experienced integration partner. But with more than 1,000 choices to filter through, do you know what to look for in an AWS partner?

Enterprises that move applications to AWS often wonder if it's best to go it alone or enlist the help of a partner...

or integrator. While each organization is different, it can be beneficial to incorporate a hybrid approach -- using an AWS partner in concert with in-house IT staff.

In earlier days, Amazon Web Services' (AWS) affiliation with external partners was not common knowledge, so asking them about which local vendors would best meet your needs was the only way to reach out. Now AWS' website lists more than 1,000 technology and consulting partners that have a strong knowledge of the AWS ecosystem. The problem now is finding the right one among all those choices.

Which type of AWS partner do you need?

The AWS Partner Directory is chock-full of integrators and partners, and that list has grown exponentially over the past five years. So, when it comes to picking a partner, it's important to remember there are two types: consulting partners and technology partners.

Consulting partners. These vendors help with a hands-on, customized project in the traditional outsourcing model. Enterprises work with a consultant to define the project, but then the consultant takes the lead. This group encompasses traditional integrators, such as Accenture, Wipro and Datapipe. While these companies have global, on-premises environments, their customers have pushed them to use the AWS cloud to become more knowledgeable about the technology.

The AWS list of consulting partners also includes smaller boutique companies such as 2nd Watch and 8K Miles. Many of these companies moved their workloads to AWS because it helps them build businesses better without having to invest in hardware. Using AWS cloud on all fronts -- for internal business needs as well as their customers' needs -- means these integrators know the technology inside and out.

Enterprises might find it easy to continue with seasoned integrators; however, small startups might want to look to smaller boutique shops that can help them take advantage of every aspect of the cloud. But large enterprises shouldn't dismiss these smaller boutique vendors, because they often have the most hands-on experience with the AWS cloud.

Technology partners. There are more than 700 companies in this group, all of which deliver management products on top of Amazon APIs. Some technology partners offer an option to bolt management on top of the AWS cloud and cloud security.

The list of AWS technology partners can be a bit confusing because the vendors offer services that work on top of AWS. They are listed here, however, for more exposure in the AWS community.

The AWS partner page lets users filter through vendors according to specific guidelines. Geographical location is one guideline; enterprises should choose a consulting partner that's located within close proximity to them. When looking for consulting partners, it helps to have a clear definition of your needs. The key is to understand exactly what you need and match a partner to those requirements.

Three guidelines for vetting partners

After enterprises decide which type of AWS partner they need, it's time for them to compare them according to three criteria: experience, cloud focus and communication skills.

Experience. The AWS partner you choose should have experience in your specific needs. Look for at least three case studies (the more technical, the better) to see whether a potential partner has met your needs in the past, and ask for references from its previous clients. An overwhelming number of case studies that demonstrate deployment, scalability and other technical elements are available.

Cloud focus. The number of new AWS partners that have popped up over the past few years is impressive; however, a closer look shows that many still rely on traditional hardware to run their products. While these companies can demonstrate years of experience in their particular areas, they might not have the experience with cloud that you need.

Don't be afraid to ask a potential partner to show it has actual experience with customers in the AWS cloud. This includes its showing how it uses multiple components of the AWS cloud -- not simply one instance and an on-premises server. Ask questions about automation and scalability; a true AWS partner will have experience delivering its own offerings in the cloud.

Communication skills. AWS partners need to speak the AWS language. They must be able to describe their work using AWS terminology and product names, such as instances versus servers. They also need to demonstrate a familiarity with modern practices such as automation, DevOps and continuous integration. This is very important in terms of judging a partner's maturity. Partners that have reached that level of cloud maturity are already well established within the AWS ecosystem.

Getting comfortable with your AWS partner

Once you begin a relationship with an AWS partner, the vendor should suggest that you start with a proof of concept (POC). If the partner is mature enough and has the basic capabilities and components (i.e., scripts and methodologies), it won't mind running a POC on a very narrow scope of work. The initial engagement should not last more than three months, but it will set the stage for a possible long-term relationship. This also goes for complex projects that include compliance and automation.

As for technology vendors, request a few features to decide whether a premium package is right. It's better to start small and grow as you go. This approach will help you gain from the engagements while eliminating the risks of vendor lock-in. If necessary, short-term engagements will provide an "out" if you see the relationship is not working.

Be sure to acquire the necessary skills to close the gap with outsourced vendors. Knowing which questions to ask will save you time and money in the long run. And if you are stuck in your search, don't hesitate to communicate with your local Amazon rep and ask for a few recommendations.

About the author:
Ofir Nachmani is a business technology advisor, blogger and lecturer. Ofir's extensive experience in the world of business technology has made his critically acclaimed blog, IamOnDemand.com, the go-to guide for modern technology startups and developers in the world of cloud computing. Today he advises organizations, leading them through new IT market modifications, while building and executing a modern go-to-market strategy.

This was last published in August 2014

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