The top executives at F5 Networks are fond of calling the company the "Swiss Army knife" of the data center, thanks to how its application delivery networking (ADN) products offer everything from application management to WAN optimization to application security to business intelligence and analytics, and work well in a range of vendor environments.
That flexibility, the company says, makes F5 channel partners ripe for the type of certification program that will brand them as high-value, high-touch consultants that can prepare enterprise customers for virtualization and the cloud with ADN as a focus technology.
Such a program, whose promise F5 has been touting for a while now, will finally come to fruition in the next two years, hot on the heels of F5's well-received sales and technical accreditation program, launched in January.
The reason for a certification overhaul, said Dean Darwin, F5's vice president, worldwide channels, is that F5's partner community has grown behind security partners, infrastructure partners and networking partners, but the paradigm shifts seen with virtualization and cloud are making it less easier to define which partners fit in which technology buckets.
"You've got all these market dynamics happening at the same time, so you either try to take each one of them and do it that way, or try to bring something of value to the channel, once," Darwin told CRN Wednesday at F5's Agility partner conference in Chicago.
F5's accreditation programs, he said, are modular, meaning that a security VAR can download the security training modules it cares about but can access modules to technology adjacencies F5 plays in if it so chooses.
"Enough size so it's not just a two-hour thing and we're done," Darwin said.
VARs, said Darwin and Steve McChesney, vice president, channel sales, Americas, need to think about their sales not as technology buckets but as business cases, because F5 technology can -- and should -- fit all over the data center.
"It's, 'Here's where a customer has an issue, here's how it was solved,'" Darwin explained.
F5 has had a certification program before, but the new program will use third party organizations for testing and will formalize the certification process more strictly than in the past. Through the program, F5 will look to create F5 security engineers, core engineers and optimization engineers addressing a range of different F5 competencies. The idea of an F5 Master Architect, Darwin said, will come to the fore.
As with the accreditation program, F5 won't charge partners for certification, meaning partners won't pay anything beyond the cost paid to the third-party testing organization.
That means millions that F5 puts into partner certification programs out of its own pocket. But it's money well-spent, Darwin said.
"The resources have been identified, the model's been built and the budgets have been approved," Darwin said. "There are several seven-figure numbers in that budget, and it's in development. I'm bullish."
Why not charge partners?
"If I can do something that adds to partner competency without taking away profitability, that's big," he said.
Judith Buckardt, president and CEO of Konsultek, an Elgin, Ill.-based solution provider and longtime F5 partner, said several members of her team had gone through F5's accreditation programs, and that the certification idea also held a lot of promise.
"They always had the technical piece and the engineering piece, but not the sales piece," she said of the accreditations. "I think it's great they have sales training like that, it's something that puts them above manufacturers who have sales training but is mostly just someone coming in and sitting down and talking."
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