It's been two years since Extreme Networks named a new CEO, Oscar Rodriguez, and began a painful process of restructuring the company and reinvesting to make sure it was focused on the right things.
Now, heading into the company's Partner Summit next week, the $322.7 million company is on stabler ground financially, and Extreme partners are more optimistic than they've been in years, buoyed by new programs and motivated behind a largely new Extreme management team that intends to double down on the channel and push heavily into data center, BYOD and the education vertical where Extreme is particularly strong.
"We've been an Extreme partner for nine years, and the last couple, with Oscar coming in, we've seen rejuvenation," said Bill Smeltzer, executive vice president and CTO of Focus Technology Solutions, a Seabrook, N.H.-based solution provider. "They've always been a good partner of ours and one of our more profitable partners -- good about protecting our margins. But Oscar and the team have made a strong commitment and they've done what they said they would commit to."
Under new channel chief Theresa Caragol, who joined Extreme as vice president, global channels in April, partners will see significant more emphasis on channel enablement programs and marketing -- two areas many Extreme partners saw as lacking in recent years, even with the company maintaining its long-held reputation for strong Ethernet switching and data center technology.
For starters, Extreme recently convened its first-ever global partner advisory council. It consists of 14 members, including a handful each from the EMEA, Latin America and Asia-Pacific regions as well as a healthy U.S. and Canada contingent. Members are appointed for two-year terms.
"Extreme was a pretty decentralized organization," Caragol told CRN in a recent interview. "But we have a global approach to growing the data center business, as well as our campus business, so it's so important for our partners to be represented as one entity, and help us prioritize the biggest areas to help them grow their business."
Smeltzer is on the council, as is Gordon Martin, president of Peak Uptime, a Tulsa, Okla.-based solution provider.
"What you're really seeing is them avoiding the segmentation that can occur with geography, but also trying to get the people together that really would give them direct and specific feedback," Martin said. "I'm seeing this as another indication they're listening to what's going on in the markets, but also looking to get the insight. Extreme has always had a great technical product and they've been known for that, but the fact is that this marketing engine that's very dependent on their channel partners is now getting attention."
According to Caragol, Extreme's partner program itself also has evolved into more of a globally representative offering, with more streamlined ways for partners to receive, track and use marketing funds.
In addition, Extreme is adding what Caragol described as a data center growth fund -- an incremental percentage to partner rewards provided for data center-specific customer opportunities. It also will keep up with programs such as its recent Flip The Switch promotion, which rewards partners and distributors for switching out competitive equipment for Extreme products.
Shortly after Caragol joined the company, Extreme surveyed its global partner base and came back with 85 percent of respondents saying they understood Extreme's strategy and vision -- proof positive, she said, that Rodriguez and his team have done a better job with market focus.
"To have it that high based on where the company was two years ago is a big win for us," she said. "Partners like our ability to interact. With our size, we can give them that close touch that they just aren't getting from other vendors."
Expect Extreme's channel leadership team to continue to expand along with Extreme's corporate team -- Caragol has made a number of key hires and expects to confirm more in the next few weeks.
And along with its ongoing recruitment of data center-centric partners, Extreme plans to "rationalize" its partner base, Caragol said, and cut underperforming solution providers. Extreme has well north of 700 total partners but less than half, about 300, are active and considered strategic in the Extreme ecosystem, Caragol said.
"If they're not willing to lead with us, we're going to need to talk about whether we're strategic with each other," she said.
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