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NetApp’s Flinders: New Partner Sphere Program Will ‘Meet The Needs Of All Types Of Partners’

Joseph F. Kovar

‘Partners will know where they stand in the program and [have] a road map of what they need. We want to make this a predictable process. We’re realigning the program under one umbrella while keeping it flexible so we can add more value for partners,’ says Jenni Flinders, senior vice president of NetApp’s worldwide partner organization.

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Jenni Flinders, senior vice president of NetApp’s worldwide partner organization

Storage and hybrid cloud technology developer NetApp Tuesday unveiled a completely revamped channel program aimed at incenting and providing benefits to partners regardless of which part of the company they work with.

The change comes as NetApp has significantly changed its technology to meet the needs of on-premises, cloud and hybrid workloads but has not kept up with the changes in how it works with channel partners, said Jenni Flinders, senior vice president of San Jose, Calif.-based NetApp’s worldwide partner organization.

“We have a holistic program coming to meet the needs of all types of partners,” Flinders told CRN. “We’ve had a channel program for years. But our portfolio has expanded significantly over the last couple years. So we had to expand the program.”

[Related: NetApp CEO George Kurian: Pure Storage Boss’ Comments Inaccurate]

The new program, called NetApp Partner Sphere, takes into account that NetApp’s channel partners have moved deeply into cloud and hybrid multi-cloud technologies, Flinders said.

“Our cloud go-to-market allows us to work with partners to provide cloud-based solutions to their customers,” she said. “NetApp is the leader in hybrid multi-cloud with our storage and other portfolios. We are making it easier for partners to also be leaders and more easily engage with their customers.”

The program is slated to formally launch early in NetApp’s fiscal year 2024, which starts in May, giving partners time to meet the requirements, Flinders said.

NetApp has been cloud-focused for years and has been in the forefront of introducing the idea of the hybrid cloud to businesses, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering and NetApp enablement at General Datatech, a Dallas-based solution provider and longtime NetApp channel partner.

“I like what NetApp is doing,” Woodall told CRN. “NetApp has to align its partner program and capabilities to what the market is gravitating to. And the market has moved past what traditional partner program frameworks did.”

NetApp Partner Sphere is a three-tiered program that is based on where partners stand with NetApp, Flinders said. At the approved level are new or developing partners. The preferred level is for more experienced partners. And at the prestige level are global, multi-cloud channel partners, she said.

The program consolidates multiple NetApp channel programs into a single program and is aimed at accelerating partner growth through solution competencies and services validation, she said.

“We are shifting away from specialization towards partner competencies around cloud solutions including data and application modernization, hybrid cloud solutions including cyber resiliency and converged infrastructure, and AI and analytics,” she said. “Partners will be given time to learn the new competencies, which will be aligned around our go-to-market strategy.”

To take advantage of the program, NetApp partners can get certified for a number of services, Flinders said.

These include project-based integration for deployment to hybrid clouds, Keystone subscription-based services for service providers and MSPs, and both project-based and subscription-based life-cycle management, she said.

NetApp provides the tools and support needed to get those certifications, she said.

The competencies and certifications required will be updated versions of what is currently available, so the process will not be totally new for partners, Flinders said.

“Some partners will be ready at the launch of the program,” she said. “And partners will know where they stand in the program and [have] a road map of what they need. We want to make this a predictable process. We’re realigning the program under one umbrella while keeping it flexible so we can add more value for partners.”

NetApp Partner Sphere applies to storage and non-storage partners alike, Flinders said.

“That’s the reason for the new program,” she said. “We used to have several programs, but we’re now consolidating everything under one program.”

NetApp Partner Sphere is going beyond most other vendors’ programs, Woodall said.

“Traditional partner programs are more like a bolt-on to what the vendor is doing,” he said. “If a partner passes the certifications, on paper they look like any partner regardless of actual capabilities. NetApp is helping partners understand that to be successful, there are things you need to be competent in. NetApp is making it clear that to be at the highest tier, you need the competencies. So there are a lot of requirements that were not there before.”

Because the full launch of NetApp Partner Sphere will likely be in fiscal 2024, the company is giving partners plenty of time to meet the needs of the new program, Woodall said.

While General Datatech will likely enter the program at the prestige level, achieving that level is in itself should not be the goal of every partner, Woodall said.

“Sometimes you look at programs and think not being at the highest level means a company is not important,” he said. “But NetApp is showing partners what they need to be successful. In this program, I see a fairly well-thought-through migration for partners. You can’t look at it and say you have to be prestige. It’s a journey. NetApp is providing ways to get the competencies. Partners can choose how to do it.”

Partners should see where they are as a partner and work with NetApp to align themselves with what they need to grow, Woodall said.

“The difference here is that NetApp is saying, ‘This is where we’re going, and these are the investments you need. We’re going to lay out a path for you,’” he said.

Joseph F. Kovar

Joseph F. Kovar is a senior editor and reporter for the storage and the non-tech-focused channel beats for CRN. He keeps readers abreast of the latest issues related to such areas as data life-cycle, business continuity and disaster recovery, and data centers, along with related services and software, while highlighting some of the key trends that impact the IT channel overall. He can be reached at jkovar@thechannelcompany.com.

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