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Cisco's Growdon suggested a number of "critical success factors" for partners to embrace to maintain momentum in the data center. First, he said, Cisco partners should adopt a unified data center sales approach, meaning the ability to sell products and services that touch each unique aspect of a data center, ranging from storage to networking to applications and beyond. Growdon said the way in which partners can achieve this, and break down the various data center "silos," is to on-board a data architect, or somebody who can weave together disparate data center technologies and clearly communicate the value of that process to clients.
"You have to have individuals that are data center architects that have that ability to go across those silos and construct solutions that incorporate and work with each piece of that silo," Growdon said.
What's more, Growdon said Cisco data center partners should be vigilant about forging partnerships with other vendors in the data center space, particularly in the areas of storage and orchestration. Many Cisco data center partners -- and Cisco itself -- already partner with storage and virtualization giants including EMC, NetApp and VMware.
Professional services and expertise around data center applications is also a must for partners, Growdon said, pointing to desktop virtualization software, SAP's in-memory HANA solution and big data applications as an example.
To help partners nail down these must-have skill sets in the data center, Growdon said Cisco will continue to offer data center-focused training resources to its channel, such as the Data Center Architect Scholarship program introduced at Cisco's partner program last year.
Looking ahead, Growdon said he sees a number of new opportunities in the data center that are there for Cisco partners' taking. Software-defined networking (SDN) is on the largest, he said.
"The advent of things like SDN coming into play or coming into more of the forefront, I think that’s one of those new things that, over time, will create many new opportunities for everybody involved in it, as well as our partner community," Growdon said.
Cisco's SDN strategy today is anchored primarily by its Open Network Environment (Cisco ONE), a portfolio of Cisco technology and open standards aimed at bringing enhanced programmability to the network. Cisco also touts overlay network technologies based on its Nexus 1000V Switch, which allows virtualized workloads to directly control network services.
Varrow's Nash noted that, while the SDN movement is one that will eventually open new doors for the Cisco channel, Cisco's SDN play, at least at this point, is "not crystal clear." That said, other networking vendors, like Juniper, haven't fine-tuned their SDN strategies as this point either, Nash continued.
Christian Rolland, practice director, converged network infrastructure at Technology Integration Group, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution also feels there's some ambiguity surrounding Cisco's role in SDN.
"It's really going to be important for [Cisco] to respond in the data center with a stark response or a new innovation jump to address some of the things we are seeing with software-defined networking," Rolland said. "They are really going to need to take a position."