Who Cares What the Cloud Is Made Of?

The new Powered by Intel Cloud Technology aims to promote the inner workings of the data centers that drive cloud computing. But is putting a vendor’s brand ahead of your own a good idea for service providers?

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In a bygone era, the little blue "Intel Inside" swirly stood as the tech industry’s version of an Underwriters Laboratories logo, a badge that assured hardware buyers and sellers they were getting leading-edge processor technology. Intel Corp. would like those days back, thank you very much.

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In this age of cloud, with infrastructure largely decoupled from business computing, the speeds and feeds that once dominated enterprise IT conversations have been relegated to quaint trivia. That’s what cloud computing was supposed to do, after all: allow us to worry less about how things work and more about what they do. The shift in focus is only a concern if you’re in the business of developing and selling the guts of the systems that make the cloud tick.

In an effort to get some of its mojo back, Intel has launched a Powered by Intel Cloud Technology program. The marketing scheme is doling out badges to cloud services providers as a way of letting the world know what’s under the data center hood of some of the largest cloud providers. 16 CSPs are already on board and displaying the Powered by Intel Cloud Technology badge in their sales and marketing materials.

The program raises two questions: First, does anyone other than Intel really care what processors are used in a data center that supports cloud services often three/four times removed from the end user? And second, even if users do care, is it wise for solutions and services providers to muddy their own value-added branding efforts by introducing a vendor’s attention-grabbing moniker? Haven’t we been down this road before?

To the first question, Intel issues a resounding yes. End customers, the company says, are clamoring for a way to weed through myriad CSPs and find those best suited to improving service performance, reliability and security, and maximizing ROI. Naturally, Intel believes the cloud services based on its underlying infrastructure will win that battle if the customer is duly informed.

“Much like when choosing a car, the type of engine that runs a cloud service dramatically affects performance and efficiency,” said Jason Waxman, vice president of the data center group and general manager of the cloud platform group, at Intel. “Cloud customers want to know what technology their applications are running on because it has direct impact to their business. For the first time, users will have the transparency to select the technologies that are optimal for running their applications in the cloud.”

It’s a reasonable argument. But here’s where Waxman’s analogy falls down. Back in the early 1980s, Chrysler made a cool little car called the Dodge Omni (aka the Plymouth Horizon). If you’re reading this in the U.S. and you’re over 40 years old, you either had one or knew someone who did. It was notable for being the first American made front-wheel drive four-door with a transverse-mounted engine. But here’s the thing: Over the years some Omnis and Horizons shipped with Peugeot engines, some with Volkswagen engines, still others with Mitsubishi engines. Did anyone know or care much about this? Not really.

Quick, who made the engine in the popular 1998 Kia Sportage crossover? If you said Mazda, you win… and you’re probably an editor for Road & Track magazine.

According to Intel, however, “End users are increasingly looking for more insight into the performance, capabilities and cost trade-offs of the many instances that CSPs offer so they can get the right size and type of performance matched to their specific workloads.”

That seems unlikely for all but a narrow group of very specific clients with arcane needs. Still, Intel has convinced 16 CSPs to sign up for the Powered by Intel Cloud Technology program. In the U.S., Intel has commitments from Expedient, Rackspace, CenturyLink’s Savvis, and Virtustream.

In fairness, Intel isn’t asking something for nothing here. As part of the program, Intel is promising to drive direct marketing campaigns and participate in co-marketing activities with its CSP partners in the program to educate customers about underlying cloud technologies and their impact on things like applications performance and user experience.

The rest of the list includes: Canopy in the U.K.; Cloud4com in Czech Republic; CloudWatt, Online.net, and OVH in France;  KIO Networks in Mexico; KT in South Korea; Locaweb, UOLDIVEO and UOL Host in Brazil; NxtGen in India and Selectel in Russia.

Which brings us to the second question. Is it wise for partners to conflate their brand with a vendor’s in an effort to ride their technological coat-tails?

At The 2112 Group, we’ve consistently counseled partners to lead with their own brands and minimize their reliance on vendor branding as a way of maximizing the perceived value of their solutions and services. For many years it was far too easy for channel partners to hide their lamp under the vendor basket, a practice that left many in the lurch when the services model usurped the transactional channel. When a partner ignores or plays down the power of their own brand in favor of a vendor’s brand, they diminish the value of their expertise and their service quality.

Not just a bad idea in the long-term, there’s also evidence that leading with vendor brands doesn’t work very well in the short run either. As our 2013 Channel Perceptions study points out, solution providers don’t see much value or positive results from vendor-led marketing programs. While the vendors themselves championed their branding efforts, scoring them an 8 on a 10-point scale for their ability to drive sales, partners were far less enthusiastic , giving such programs only a 6.5.

In this new services era, business clients associate the value of a service with the company that provides it. The solution provider is the brand the businesses are banking on and need to trust. No vendor badge is going to change that.

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