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This company built a thriving small business on Amazon Web Services, but worries it's getting squeezed out in favor of larger partners

Business Insider logo Business Insider 7/19/2021 blin@businessinsider.com (Belle Lin)
a man wearing a blue shirt and smiling at the camera: Eric Dynowski, the chief solutions officer of AWS consulting partner Deft. Deft © Provided by Business Insider Eric Dynowski, the chief solutions officer of AWS consulting partner Deft. Deft
  • AWS IT partner Deft is one of only 49 Amazon-certified managed services providers in the country.
  • Deft exec Eric Dynowski told Insider AWS made the program more selective over the past three years.
  • The result is smaller firms have a harder time competing with the likes of Accenture, he says.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Back in 2013, Chicago-based Deft - a 150-person managed service provider (MSP), essentially an IT consulting firm - made a big bet on Amazon Web Services, focusing its business on helping customers move to and manage the retailer's market-leading cloud computing platform.

Eric Dynowski, the firm's chief solutions officer, told Insider the decision to join Amazon's partner program as an MSP made all the difference in helping it survive and thrive. AWS offers partners benefits like marketing resources, featured placement on its website, and crucially, customer referrals.

Getting access to that program, however, requires that partners pass an intensive audit of their technical and business acumen, overseen by AWS. Indeed, AWS only certifies 49 MSPs in the United States, ranging from giant consulting firms like Accenture and Infosys, which have hundreds of thousands of employees, to much smaller firms like Deft (formerly ServerCentral Turing Group).

Deft's initial audit was no trivial matter, especially for what was then a small three-person business. "We felt frustrated at times we didn't have the same resources that a larger firm had in order to pull it off," Dynowski said. "We decided to pursue it because if we could fulfill the needs of the audit, we would be a better company," he later added.

Eight years later, Dynowski still believes that its investment in AWS paid off. But over the last three years, he says, Amazon has been slowly making the MSP program more selective - in a way that he fears makes it harder for his relatively small firm and those like it to pass muster and stay in the program. An AWS spokesperson declined to comment on any changes to its MSP audit process.

Partners like Deft are vital to the cloud computing industry, with the Big Three cloud providers Amazon, Microsoft, and Google all relying on them to help customers do the heavy lifting of planning and executing a shift to the cloud - a specialty that's particularly valued among customers who have limited IT resources of their own. Deft later expanded its business to include Microsoft Azure.

To stay in the program, Amazon partners need to pass a new audit every 36 months, plus a less-intense renewal every year, meeting any and all updated requirements each time. Failing to pass the audit means getting booted from the MSP program, and all the crucial support that comes with it.

According to the third-party firm AWS uses to run the audits, a company going through the process for the first time needs three to 12 months to prepare, going down to one to three months after that. Though the AWS website doesn't list fees associated with the audits and program, a November 2020 blog from AWS partner VMware says the fees are $4,500 annually, plus $3,000 for each full audit, not including applicable travel fees.

Beyond the time and money, Dynowski says, the issue is that the requirements get more stringent and specific each time: The audit itself comes with 50 pages of requirements, all of which must be pored over for what he says are frequent changes. He says that meeting the requirements has often meant adding significant new technical capabilities.

"If anybody's been an MSP partner for any length of time, they know to keep their eye out for the audit framework they're going to release every year," Dynowski said. "And if you've been in it and you're sitting around thinking you're good, nothing's going to change, that's on you."

That dynamic, he says, favors the likes of large, legacy consulting firms like Deloitte or Accenture, which have more resources to throw at the audit process.

"Most [MSPs in the program] are larger than us with maybe a handful of smaller companies that were like ours, and came up with a way to weave the audit process into the fabric of how they run their operations," Dynowski said.

Still, to Dynowski, the changes are a natural and logical result of the maturation of the over-100,000 strong AWS partner network. Amazon needs a way to "classify those partners across what their capabilities are," he said, and when AWS salespeople send customers to an MSP, it needs to be someone they can trust.

"They don't want to refer you through to somebody that's going to do a bad job," he said. "Because if they do a bad job, it reflects poorly on AWS services."

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