Last week, CenturyLink Cloud attended the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX and hosted a booth where hundreds of attendees stopped by to talk about the cloud. Besides seeking what one attendee called “the best t-shirt from any conference, ever”, most people wanted to have a discussion about how the cloud could positively impact their business. With over 15,000 attendees from over 150 countries represented, this conference offered us a prime opportunity to hear about the interests and needs of a diverse audience.

Over the course of four days, I noticed a theme among the conversations I had with software vendors, Managed Service Providers, consulting companies, and even Microsoft themselves!

#1 - We’re past the “cloud 101” discussion

It appears that a vast majority of technical staff now understand the basics of the cloud value proposition. There was no “what is this cloud thing people are talkin’ about?” types of questions from any of the attendees. Rather, the questions and conversations were more nuanced as Microsoft partners were trying to figure out how they could capitalize on the cloud, and where the cloud was forcing them to change their existing set of products and services. Most people understood that the cloud brings agility, and that it may not result in an explicit cost savings. It was fun to brainstorm and debate the merits of cloud computing for specific scenarios and workloads and help people find the right uses for cloud platforms.

#2 – The market seems interested in much more than CPU cost and massive scale

Price drops and eye-popping case studies dominate the tech press, but these conference attendees were more focused on looking at the whole picture. Cheap CPUs and storage are nice, but there’s a lot more to running applications in the cloud than that. Likewise, the stories of customers running 50,000 core clusters or scaling to thousands of machines are fantastic, but those represent a small fraction of the daily workloads being run by small and large businesses. Instead, I heard again and again that organizations are looking for all-up value in a maintainable package. Many were asking about flexible provisioning options (i.e. locations, VM sizes, application services), enterprise-class management options, and a monthly bill they could understand.

The partners and users we talked wanted solutions, not just components.

#3 - The reseller market is a huge, unaddressed space

CenturyLink Cloud was at the show to tout our Reseller Edition capabilities that let customers rebrand and white label our cloud for their own needs. A handful of other cloud providers offer some type of reseller program, but few offer a comprehensive – and lucrative – set of services for offering someone else’s cloud as their own. I spoke to many software vendors who have to send their potential customers elsewhere to get temporary infrastructure to try their software. These vendors were very interested in being able to offer software AND a globally distributed set of infrastructure to run it on.

I also heard numerous consulting companies complain about the challenges of migrating the infrastructure of small customers to the cloud. They loved the idea of being able to offer “their” cloud to their customers and centrally manage and maintain modern and legacy systems – including those running Microsoft software –  using the CenturyLink Cloud platform. Managed Service Providers were also looking to complement their existing product portfolio’s with cloud services and I saw that many of them are shopping around for a partner to collaborate with.

Building clouds is hard. Many smart companies have failed doing it. However, being able to rapidly white label someone else’s world-class cloud infrastructure is compelling and I heard that over and over again at the conference.

#4 - Usability matters

Cloud providers aren’t selling services, they’re selling an experience. Just about every cloud infrastructure provider is offering the same base capability to provision virtual servers. There are differences to be sure, but most providers are selling an experience delivered through programmatic APIs, web-based management tools, professional services, and a support organization. For the self-service options like APIs and web-based tools, usability is an enormous factor in the long-term success of the customer.

The easiest way for me to get people to stop at our booth was to do a demonstration of our platform. We are still one of the only cloud providers who features our software on our company home page. Why? Because we spend a significant amount of time crafting and optimizing a user experience that helps our customers quickly and efficiently provision and manage cloud assets. Organizations are asking their existing staff to maintain more (transient) infrastructure without adding new headcount, and we think it’s important to introduce thoughtful design and usability-focused enhancements wherever possible. The WPC attendees really responded positively to time-saving CenturyLink Cloud features like Group-based server management, server environment orchestration, server scheduling, global search, simple billing, and much more.

#5 - Cloud race is FAR from over

Some have said that we’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and I agree. Cloud computing is in its infancy and while leaders are emerging, the market is constantly expanding. CenturyLink Cloud was attending a Microsoft conference where Windows Azure and Office 365 were front and center, and we STILL had hundreds of people approach us about partnering with us on their cloud efforts. That’s not an indictment of Microsoft’s cloud, but rather a fantastic example of the diversity of customer needs and the ability of cloud providers like CenturyLink Cloud to address unmet demand.  I talked to VERY few people who had a fully committed cloud strategy and found that scores of attendees had workloads spread around different clouds, or were simply trying things out.

Want to partner with a successful, globally available cloud provider that delivers a well-engineered and easy to use platform? Give CenturyLink Cloud a try!