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UK Cloud Awards Q&A: Tech Data's Dwayne Earl

Software business unit manager on the future of cloud

Man holding cell phone with IoT images surrounding it

UK Cloud Awards sponsor Tech Data's software business unit manager, Dwayne Earl, thinks the cloud can benefit everybody, from vendors to resellers to customers. He talks with Cloud Pro about how the technology has evolved in the last five years, why it's important, and what challenges remain to those yet to adopt cloud services and products.

What does cloud mean to you and what benefits do you think it brings to businesses?

Most businesses already understand the benefits the cloud brings in terms of providing greater scalability, flexibility and improved control. To Tech Data, the cloud is now an integral part of our own and to every reseller's services portfolio.

We enable them to offer and deliver solutions and the cloud is becoming an important part of every reseller's offering. For example, we have been successfully enabling resellers for the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP) programme and we're now creating a complete Microsoft cloud ecosystem that will enable partners to deliver the vendor's software stack along with complementary solutions, quickly and efficiently through our integrated StreamOne cloud platform.

All of Microsoft's cloud-based solutions, including Office 365, Azure and Enterprise Mobility Suite, are deliverable under CSP and Tech Data has recently signed pan-European partnership agreements with four leading providers of complementary solutions - NetEnrich, Spanning, OneBizz, and Mandarine. We plan to make additional services available over the next few months.

This means resellers and MSPs can offer the full range of Microsoft solutions alongside complementary offerings through a single management portal, and make use of the monitoring and billing capabilities of our platform to manage their customer accounts.

Do you think the UK cloud industry has an advantage over other geographies? Are we excelling?

In the UK, we are certainly seeing accelerated uptake of Microsoft solutions and many more partners becoming involved in the CSP programme. Microsoft is leading the way amongst software vendors and that's giving end-user customers and the channel the confidence to push on with wider cloud adoption. The UK market is developing at a healthy pace and we see it accelerating over the coming year as customers become more comfortable and assured about cloud services.

What else do you think needs to be done to champion innovation in the UK cloud industry?

Vendors and cloud services providers are generally doing a good job promoting their services and encouraging customers to migrate to the cloud. Microsoft is very much leading the way in this respect, encouraging both resellers and end-user customers to move in this direction. Tech Data is supporting them in those efforts and we're making excellent progress.

There is perhaps, not so much a need to champion innovation, but to ensure that customers feel entirely comfortable and reassured that cloud services will deliver the same levels of availability and security as they have experienced from on-premises solutions. We need to encourage knowledge development, understanding and excellence in execution. Experience is extremely powerful - once they have used cloud services and gained enough confidence, organisations will accelerate their adoption of cloud services.

Please can you provide a bit more detail for those not familiar with your company?

Tech Data is a £23 billion worldwide IT products distribution business. As one of the world's leading distributors, we have an important role to play in educating, enabling and supporting resellers to develop their cloud services capabilities. We have developed the Tech Data Cloud as a complete end-to-end ecosystem that enables resellers to access, power and master the cloud.

Our cloud proposition enables resellers to advance their knowledge, build confidence, develop real value-propositions and deliver cloud services to their end-user customers. It provides access to the very best infrastructure, platform and software services, along with tried-and-tested solutions bundles and appropriate add-ons and promotions.

Resellers can simply offer our cloud portfolio via StreamOne portal, using it to manage all provisioning and billing. They can also integrate its functionality into their own e-commerce environment and offer our portfolio under their own brand.

Our Cloud Pro enablement programme is designed to suit both partners who are new to selling cloud and those who are already involved. This collection of resources and tools support businesses in making a personalised Cloud Mastery journey with Tech Data, providing access to a cloud expert to assist with business planning on-boarding

We offer a 'gap analysis' to help resellers understand their current state of 'cloud readiness' and a complete set of learning and enablement resources to transform their business into one that is ready to deliver hybrid IT and cloud services.

In addition, we recently launched our Advanced Cloud Services, which enable resellers to offer Microsoft cloud options as a white-label service under the vendor's Cloud Service Provider (CSP) programme.

As mentioned earlier, we are also building a complete cloud ecosystem around Microsoft solutions. We have recently signed pan-European partnership agreements with four leading providers: NetEnrich for advanced cloud services across assessment, migration, management and operations services for data centres, network, unified communications, cloud, and security operations; Spanning, a Dell EMC company, for Office 365 back-up; OneBizz for Microsoft ERP, CRM and productivity software; and Mandarine for instructor-led online training that drives user adoption.

Why have you decided to get involved with the UK Cloud Awards 2017?

We're very closely involved in carrying the flag - alongside Microsoft and other key vendor partners - for the cloud into the channel. As such, we feel it is important to support and encourage cloud services providers to deliver the highest standards of service delivery to customers. In doing so, they will all help to drive higher levels of confidence in cloud services and that in turn will lead to increased adoption and growth for the industry as a whole.

What key trends/challenges are you seeing with your customers around cloud?

In There are perhaps two stages to cloud adoption -the first is convincing end-user customers to adopt a service of some kind, so that they can gain confidence. Then, once they have that reassurance, to move more of their services into the cloud. The impetus provided by Microsoft's cloud-first commitment is playing a very important role at both stages, and many resellers are taking their first steps to delivery of cloud services through CSP.

That said, in the enterprise space, the move towards or adoption of hybrid infrastructures is now well underway and we'd expect to see that accelerating next year. The need to execute on digital transformation is driving more urgent exploration of what is possible and what can be achieved with IT now, and this is in turn driving the use of cloud services. Some IT services and applications are being moved across to the cloud completely, others are being given added scalability and extensibility, and some are being supported and made more resilient through the integration of cloud into the IT infrastructure.

How is your company helping customers address these challenges?

We're working closely with key vendors, such as Microsoft with CSP, on their cloud programmes. On educating and enabling resellers and supporting their delivery of cloud services through Tech Data Cloud and our StreamOne aggregation and management platform. We are seeing an increasing number of resellers engaging with us and helping their customers to adopt cloud services.

How do you think the cloud landscape has evolved in the past five years?

Of course, it's changed dramatically. Vendors like Microsoft are now entirely committed to the cloud and leading with their cloud offerings. That's taken us forward significantly, particularly over the past year. It has now become essential for resellers to offer cloud options to their customers. Cloud is becoming an integral part of the IT infrastructure and for IT suppliers, of their business mix. We are also seeing more sophisticated and tailored use of cloud services.

What do you think has driven this shift?

Initially, it was industry hype and the curiosity and desire that generated amongst end customers to explore cloud options. We are now seeing a firm commitment to cloud from key vendors such as Microsoft and its channel partners, and amongst end-users, a growing realisation that cloud services deliver real benefits. As more organisations look to transform themselves and harness the true potential of digital technologies, we'll see the use of cloud and its integration into the fabric of business systems and processes grow very rapidly indeed.

What other trends and patterns do you see around cloud computing and related technologies?

Cloud issues are becoming more intertwined with wider IT issues. Security is becoming even more important to customers for example, but the growing reputation and built-in security that is now being provided with solutions such as Azure, is giving customers more confidence. It's not so much that customers are concerned with the inherent security of cloud services anymore, it is more to do with the more sophisticated and advanced threats to data and the need to meet regulations, such as the new GDPR rules that come into force next year and for which all organisations must now prepare. There needs to be a more integrated and joined-up approach to security monitoring, detection and intervention. 

What role do you see cloud playing in business life a year or five years from now?

It will be completely integral to and part of the IT infrastructure - so much so that it will not be seen as any more external or different than virtualisation or storage area networking, for example. Cloud will by then, play a much greater role and in many scenarios, most or all the IT will be run in the cloud.

How can we prepare for such change?

We are paving the way for it now, certainly in terms of the services that are being developed and delivered. Tech Data is working with key industry partners like Microsoft to make sure that resellers are equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to support their end-user customers and become cloud services providers in their own right. End-user organisations are looking at how they can transform themselves and their processes - and cloud services will play a big part in giving them the agility and transformational capabilities they need.

Looking further along the line, how do you see cloud shaping the way we live and work in the future?

The rise of cloud services has been fuelled by the growth of mobility and both are now gathering momentum together. The cloud is already integral to the way we work and it will become increasingly prominent. From an end-user perspective, it matters very little whether the service is in the cloud or sits within a closed corporate data centre, as long as it delivers what they need. The cloud is inherent to the wider, more digitally-connected and mobile-oriented world we all now live in. It is a key part of the backbone that supports this more agile and dynamic way of interacting with other people, organisations and services.

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