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The size of the cloud services market may be in dispute — Gartner predicts it will surpass $56.3 billion this year and hit $150 billion by 2013, while IDC finds the market far smaller, believing it won’t pass the $42 billion mark until 2012 — nobody disputes that it exists and that there is opportunity for the channel. Enter San Diego-based Nirvanix, which has been selling its cloud storage service direct to the Fortune 100, and is now looking to the channel to extend its reach to the Fortune 1000 and beyond.

When Nirvanix was launched, the capability to expand into the channel was built in, said Geoff Tudor, co-founder and SVP of Business Development. The privately held company offers secure, scalable, and cost effective cloud storage to customers via the Nirvanix Storage Delivery Network and Nirvanix CloudNAS.

Tudor said over the last 18 months he had been approached by a number of resellers and ISVs selling into the enterprise market who were concerned about maintaining their relevance and margins as the cloud became more significant.

"They have approached us because they are looking for a vendor in the cloud who specializes in serving the enterprise market," he said, and where they could "get a piece of the annuity stream on a monthly basis."

Launching this week, the Nirvanix Channel Partner Program is intended to help solution providers who already sell storage services to the Fortune 1000 capitalize on the growing interest in cloud services. In addition to providing its partners with tools, training, support and resources, program benefits include marketing support with a library of Nirvanix presentations and collateral material to co-brand and educate customers on cloud storage, as well as financial incentives.

Selling cloud storage isn’t easy, said Tudor, so Nirvanix will co-sell with its partners to help them get a couple of wins until they feel confident of doing it on their own. "Once they are proficient, we give them a margin typically in the teens per terabyte."

The company has four very large partners lined up, including Nth Generation Computing Inc. ( "In looking to add cloud storage services to our portfolio, we found only one that was market-tested and ready for immediate integration," said Dan Molina, Chief Technology Officer of Nth Generation. "Nirvanix enables enterprises to supplement their existing storage infrastructure with cloud storage to reap the benefits of lower costs, maximum performance and increased flexibility. By adding their services to our solution portfolio, we are well positioned to provide the benefits of cloud storage to our enterprise customers."

Tudor said Nirvanix is looking for resellers already selling storage into the Fortune 1000. It is taking a vertical approach, starting with government, media, bio-pharma and education. He believes engagements will typically start with a referral that Nirvanix will close, and pay a piece of the deal to the partner. "If they bring the customer, they’ll get a much higher piece of the margin."

There are a number of companies already in the cloud storage space, or trying to enter, said Tudor, including Amazon, Microsoft and EMC, but most of them are focused on the developer, not the channel, or are offering the equivalent of a box. "In terms of a true enterprise-oriented solution, we’re the only one already shipped into named accounts."