4 Ways Companies Make Money Selling Cloud Services

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1 4 Ways Companies Make Money Selling Cloud Services The growth of cloud services over the past several years has been nothing short of spectacular. Companies that have traditionally provided IT software and services have been forced to adapt their business models to the new reality of cloud. That means supporting consumption-based, pay-as-you-go billing while reducing friction for customers that want to purchase products and services. The ease of buying services directly from cloud providers has also led to a compression of the margin available to third-party software and service providers. Companies that traditionally had a healthy business from the resale of software and services, and particularly hardware, have been forced to re-evaluate their business models in light of the new realities of cloud. At Orbitera, we have helped a wide variety of software and services providers build profitable businesses centered around cloud services. We ve helped these companies unlock additional margin and grow revenue while minimizing the operational burden of both. In this paper we will lay out in descending order of importance the top four ways that we see companies making money with cloud services. This is not to say these are the only ways to make money as a channel provider or ISV in cloud, but these are the top four. In addition, we only consider packaged services; SaaS is not included here. Limit Overhead The cloud moves fast. How fast, you ask? Consider the difference between ordering a server five years ago and ordering one today. Consider the steps one probably had to take before cloud to get a server into their colo or hosting center: Go to an on-line order form (hopefully), or pick up the phone and call a rep Purchase a server Wait for it to get shipped it to a colo facility Wait for someone to plug it in Configure it The preceding steps probably took at least a week, sometimes more. The lag gave you time to deal with the operations of your business prepare an invoice for a customer, acquire software, and bill the customer accordingly. If your customer is purchasing a server or a cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), there s only one step which is to go to the AWS console and provision a server. It takes about five minutes. The convenience is great from the customer perspective but creates a new level of operational overhead that can seriously eat into profits. Consider the case of creating a bill for your customer. AWS will provide you with all the details you need to do so, but with hourly billing and blended rates, you will either have to build a system to integrate with Amazon s billing or deal with these things manually. Without automated systems, you will need to hire people to manage this. As customers scale up, it will eat into your margins and limit profitability.

2 Thus, you should automate everything you can to limit overhead. The important thing here is that the rest of the ways to make money will mean nothing if the overhead of running your business is unsustainable. Overhead means nothing without revenue, however, which is why we rank this one at number 4. Accurately Calculate Volume-based Discounts for Customers Cloud services are consumption based, which means that you pay for what you use. What this means for most cloud providers is that as you use more, you pay less (volume discounts). As a reseller of cloud services, this provides an excellent opportunity to add margin to your business. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, it s crucial to ensure that you are providing the proper discount to your customer. Let s use the example of bandwidth to illustrate this point. Let s say you have five customers, each using ten Terabytes of bandwidth: The cost for this bandwidth if each customer was purchasing it directly from AWS at 12 cents per Gigabyte would be $6,144. However, this is not what you as the reseller would be billed for the usage. AWS provides a discount over ten Terabytes. The actual cost as a reseller would be nine cents per Gigabyte for any bandwidth beyond the first ten Terabytes. Thus, your total cost for this 50 Terabytes of bandwidth would be $4, This is a difference of $ In our example, this adds 25% margin to the bandwidth we are selling to our customers. At scale, these margins have a significant impact on the bottom line. To take advantage of this profit opportunity, you must be able to calculate exactly which tiers your customers fall in for each charge they incur. At scale this must be automated, or the margin will be lost dealing with the complexity of billing for these services. 2

3 Optimize Your Spend with the Cloud Provider The prior example showed the importance of accurately billing customers for their actual usage for volume-based charges. What about other things a reseller can do to reduce their charges from a cloud provider? The most obvious way to reduce your AWS bill is to purchase reserved instances. There are many ways for a reseller to take advantage of what is essentially an arbitrage opportunity. You can purchase reserved instances and offer customers lower prices. You can help customers manage their reserved instance purchases and share the benefits. Another option is to allow customers to manage reserve instances themselves and optimize the on-demand usage that is still available in your bill. Optimizing how you purchase and bill for reserved instances is essential to building a profitable resale business. No matter how you choose to help your customers with reserved instances, you will almost always have a level of usage across your customer base that is available to optimize via reserved instances. In this case, you will be purchasing reserved instances and not necessarily sharing the reduced cost with your customer. In another case, one customer may purchase more reserved capacity than they can use. This will be automatically applied by AWS to another customer s instance if available. You must be able to accurately bill customers based on a combination of on-demand and reserved instance rates to capture the additional margin that is available. Essentially, customers should only get a reduced rate for instances that they explicitly have purchased. Any other reserved instances applied to a customer s bill (purchased by the reseller or another customer) should be billed by the reseller at on-demand rates. To illustrate, let s take an example from AWS where a reseller has two customers. Let s call them Customer A and Customer B. For the sake of simplicity, let s assume all the instances in our example are m3.xlarge, running in US East the same availability zone: 3

4 Customer A is running two instances and Customer B is running 2 instances. Customer A decides to purchase two one-year heavy reserved instances. Customer A is then paying $0.074 per hour for their instances, and Customer B is paying $0.28 per hour. As the reseller, you are being billed ($0.074 x 2) + ($.28 x 2) =.708 per hour for these four instances. Now let s assume that customer A decided to switch to a different instance type. AWS will automatically apply the reduced rate to Customer B s instances. Thus, you would be billed ($0.074 x 2) = $ However, Customer B should still be paying ($0.28 x 2 = $0.56) per hour for their instances. Unless you as a reseller adjust their bill, they will enjoy a lower rate that they did not purchase. The difference between the two rates adds up at scale in our example it is 278%! There is actually more margin as well, as if Customer A was purchasing directly from AWS they would also still be charged for the heavy reserved instances they purchased. Adding this charge into Customer A s bill increases the margin to 378%! As you can see, optimizing how you purchase and bill for reserved instances is essential to building a profitable resale business. It is not enough by itself to build a sustainable resale business, which is why the next item is number one on our list. Package Software & Services Together Margins on cloud services are thin, and prices keep falling. What s more, it s fairly easy to buy cloud services directly from providers. The price squeeze makes it difficult to build a business on the margins from reselling alone. That s why the most important way to make money in the channel is to add value to the raw cloud infrastructure by bundling it with software and services. There is vastly more margin available when cloud is a component of a larger package. Packaging cloud services increases the value of those services and allows a provider to charge more both for the cloud services and the rest of the package. Cloud helps do two things when it s part of a larger package. It helps speed up the delivery of the service, and it simplifies the deployment of the package. Both of these things add value and that value can be built into the pricing of the offering. By packaging cloud services, it actually increases the value of those services and allows a provider to charge more both for the cloud services and the rest of the package. How much more? Our analysis suggests that a bundle can easily be priced as much as 30% - 100% above the cost of the individual components, especially when the bundle contains services or other value-added intellectual property (like templates, or a particular security configuration). Beyond this, pre-packaging cloud infrastructure and charging for it as part of a bundle allows a provider to price in the full usage of that infrastructure when actual consumption may vary. Consider a case where a backup solution includes 100 Gigabytes of storage. Chances are, the user will not use all 100 Gigabytes on the first day. Until they reach the limit, the difference is additional margin that falls to the reseller. This can add an additional 10% - 20% margin by itself. 4

5 Conclusion There is no silver bullet to building a sustainable and profitable business on a foundation of cloud infrastructure. The good news is that the pie is growing for everyone, and by solving some of the operational challenges that come with growth, there is significant upside for everyone involved. Whether you are a software vendor, system integrator, or value-added -reseller, the points above can be used as a roadmap to building your business in the cloud. Learn more about how Orbitera can optimize your cloud business at Orbitera is focused on solving the most complex challenges that come with the shift of enterprise workloads to cloud platforms. Our wealth of experience working at and with cloud computing providers, channel providers, and software vendors has given us a unique perspective that runs deep throughout the products we provide /2 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood CA

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