Cisco has for some time now been urging partners toward the idea of selling architectures versus specific products and technologies. Behind that idea, Cisco's channel partner program is getting a long-expected makeover.
Cisco on Monday confirmed three new architecture-based specializations in the categories of Borderless Networks, Collaboration and Data Center. The changes to the program primarily affect Cisco Gold and Silver level partners, who starting in August 2012 have new certification requirements with those architecture specializations for maintaining their status.
Under the current partner program, Cisco Gold partners need four technology-based specializations, in categories such as security, wireless LAN, routing and switching, or unified communications. Silver partners need two, and Premier partners already get Cisco's Express Foundation Specialization.
Under the new program, Cisco Gold partners will need to attain all three new architecture specializations, and Cisco Silver partners will need a minimum of one architecture specialization, to couple with a technology specialization. Cisco Premier partners can choose to have an architecture specialization or keep the Cisco Express Foundation Specialization to maintain their status with Cisco.
It won't all happen immediately, stressed Ricardo Moreno, senior director of strategy, planning and programs at Cisco, in an interview with CRN. Existing Cisco partners will have between 16 to 28 months to certify on the architecture specializations, which don't become mandatory for partners until the date of their Cisco partnership anniversary beginning August 2012 through July 2013.
According to Cisco, getting certified under the architectures will also be a little cheaper and less time-intensive than many partners are used to.
For a new Cisco Gold Certification, the cost of attaining certification is $50,000 less than the cost of the technology-based certifications under the current program, Cisco argues, because it'll require less lab time than in the past and also rely on more online training.
"That's based on partner feedback," Moreno said. "We removed a lot of the training that was not as relevant for certain requirmements."
Total training hours, according to Moreno, have also been reduced by 25 percent. What's more, Cisco will also offer $5,000 in Cisco Learning Credits to each of the first 500 partners to complete the recertification process.
"We don't do evolutions of this magnitude very often," Moreno said. "It's been about a year since we started talking about it and since then we've been working with partners so we can evolve towards it. Partners do that a lot: they see the market, follow the transitions and help drive it. A number of partners already play at the architectural level."
The certification application period begins in August 2011. It's not that partners' technology certifications will become null and void, Moreno explained; partners should connect with their Cisco representatives to learn how their existing statuses and levels of training will be credited toward their new certifications. But Cisco Gold and Silver Partners won't be able to badge themselves as such if they don't re-certify by the deadlines.
The level of investment needed to re-certify will depend on partner levels and the partner's current standing with Cisco, he added.
"It's about giving partners options," Moreno said. "They can go deep, or they can go broad."
In addition to the new, architecture-based certifications, Cisco has also updated its Learning Partner Program, whose members train partners, engineers and networking experts on Cisco curriculum around the world.
Specifically, Cisco Learning Partners will now use the program in one of two tracks, Learning Partner Associate and Learning Partner Specialized. The former is focused on core technology training and preparing end-users for certification, and the latter is for providing training to map users into the new Cisco Architecture Specializations.
Cisco's Learning Partners now number 450 in 130 countries.