But the majority of that channel isn’t, as yet, doing any Azure business at all, instead focusing exclusively on Software-as-a-Service products like Office 365 or SharePoint, according to Rocco Seyboth, vice president of products at BitTitan, a Microsoft technology partner based in Kirkland, Wash.
“One area [Microsoft] is having trouble is finding use cases for these partners who understand email and documents well, but might not have expertise around some of the Azure use cases like application development,” Seyboth told CRN.
[Related: BitTitan Introduces MSPComplete Platform For Selling Microsoft Cloud Services]
To address that challenge, BitTitan has created an Azure Starter Kit that enables just about any partner to quickly begin generating revenue by selling Azure — without hiring new technicians, stepping out of their business or really even learning much about Azure — by tackling two “low-hanging fruit use cases,” Seyboth said.
First is migrating SQL 2005 databases that Microsoft soon will stop supporting. The second is migrating from Amazon Web Services unstructured data sometimes called “blob storage.”
BitTitan has packaged tools to automate those two tasks with a discovery tool, HealthCheck for Azure, that assesses the feasibility and economics of migrating existing workloads to the cloud.
The Azure Starter Kit was added to BitTitan’s MSPComplete platform in December.
HealthCheck for Azure can be deployed inside a customer firewall. It analyzes physical and virtual machines, looking for workloads that are compatible with the Azure environment and ready for migration. The tool also offers pricing data — instantly creating a return-on-investment report partners can present to their clients.
“For partners not accustomed to having conversations with customers about Azure, we made that conversation really easy, because we know what workloads can go to the cloud and we know how much money they will save,” Seyboth said.
In April, tens of millions of SQL 2005 on-premises databases will no longer be supported by Microsoft. Compounding the challenge, “there aren’t more than a couple hundred partners worldwide for Microsoft that are experts in migrating databases,” Seyboth told CRN.
With just a few clicks, the SQL migration tool solves a “huge problem for customers, a huge problem for Microsoft,” he said.
While some users might choose to migrate to an on-premises SQL 2014 database, Azure SQL offers a cloud-based solution that will “save customer tons of money and they’ll never have to do another upgrade like this again.”
And as Microsoft and Amazon do battle, one Microsoft initiative is to get partners focused on the broad use case of “blob storage” — heaps of unstructured data sitting around on file shares.
“Azure Starter Kit helps partners and customers attack that by migrating AWS blob stores to Azure blob stores,” Seyboth said.
That migration capability should appeal to organizations already using Office 365 for email, or SharePoint. Some were Microsoft shops that years ago put their data in Amazon’s cloud because Azure at the time didn’t have the same capabilities, or couldn’t match the price.
“That’s not the case anymore,” Seyboth said. “Azure has the same functionality as AWS, competitive pricing and better interoperability with other Microsoft cloud applications.
“But there’s not a lot of partners out there today who know how to switch it over,” he said.
Randall Crippen is a cloud architect at Comparex, a large IT consultant based in Leipzig, Germany, that opened a U.S. division with headquarters in Dallas about a year ago focusing strictly on Microsoft’s cloud.
Comparex already uses BitTitan’s email migration tool for Exchange Online migrations. The company is also using HealthCheck for cloud readiness assessments.
“The tool really allows us to gain insight into what’s going on in somebody’s infrastructure and capture the utilization of those resources,” Crippen told CRN. “And by doing that, we can more accurately portray what that environment is going to look at in an optimized state, rather than just a cookie-cutter approach.”
It’s sometimes difficult for large providers like Comparex to develop practices offering line-of-business solutions typically requiring high degrees of customization, like database migrations. The Azure Starter Kit — especially the SQL tool — creates the possibility of scaling that practice by removing a level of complexity.
“Any tool that makes it repeatable is going to be interesting to larger organizations,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity in the market, and also a lot of confusion around it.”
Seyboth told CRN another important feature of the starter kit is a trove of material that educates partners on how to take advantage of the three business opportunities it creates.
“We have to teach partners how to do some of these things and make money with them,” he said.
The kit provides online content instructing partners on running assessments with HealthCheck for Azure, teaches how to activate a blob storage account, and shares information about SQL 2005 end of life.
BitTitan has an expansion for the starter kit planned for release in May. That one will move beyond selling and onboarding to creating managed service offerings around Azure, Seyboth told CRN.