Cisco Poised To Launch New Cloud Computing Channel Programs

Cisco Senior Vice President, U.S. and Canada Partners, Jim Sherriff Thursday said the networking giant is poised to launch new cloud computing channel programs at its partner summit later this month.

Sherriff said partners will see a Cisco "deep dive around cloud" with new programs aimed at giving partners multiple cloud computing opportunities that range from building clouds to operating clouds to reselling clouds. "We'll put out a comprehensive plan at the Partner Summit (Feb. 28- March 3 in New Orleans)," he said.

Sherriff made the cloud computing comments in an interview with CRN after a keynote session at the annual sales kickoff for NWN, the Waltham Mass. headquartered $263 million national solution provider which grew its Cisco data center business by a whopping 601 percent last year.

Sherriff said the cloud computing opportunity is "intertwined" with the massive Cisco data center offensive which Cisco estimates as a $45 billion opportunity. "A big portion of that is going towards the cloud," he said. Cisco sees the cloud computing opportunity separately as at least another $10 billion opportunity.

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Sherriff told the more than 200 NWN employees that Cisco is focused flat out on solution providers like NWN as its cloud computing route to market. "We are not confused on whether we are going direct or trying to compete with you by building an outsourcing business or compete with you by creating our own cloud offerings to squash any opportunity you might have," he said. "Our go-to-market strategy is through you. It has been like that for 15 years and it will continue to be like that."

That no-holds barred channel commitment could be a big differentiator for Cisco in the cloud computing market transition given the identity crises that some of its competitors face building out their own services businesses. What's more, Cisco has a successful track record of adapting its channel model to new emerging markets.

Sherriff, in fact, stressed that Cisco is "uniquely positioned to help drive market transitions" like cloud computing with partners like NWN. "We see those market transitions and what it means in terms of the potential to add value and create value for your customers," he said. "We do things that help you grow and help you grow profitably."

Sherriff's comments on the cloud opportunity echo those of Cisco Senior Vice President Worldwide Channels Edison Peres, who told CRN last fall that Cisco partners become more relevant as a result of the cloud.

Peres said at the time that Cisco partners will be seen as cloud resellers, cloud builders or cloud providers, and that the lines between those categories will continue to blur. "Many partners see cloud as a threat, and many see it as an opportunity. We see it as an opportunity if you're proactive in how you evolve your model, because the mix of revenues is going to change," Peres said at the time.

Next: Helping Partners Drive Market Transitions

Sherriff, who oversees a staff of 800 employees charged with helping drive partner market transitions, said Cisco is committed to providing incentives to help partners move to new markets like cloud computing, virtualized data center, video solutions and collaboration. He said one of his top priorities is to have Cisco act as a "catalyst" to allow partners "to move faster into new markets and help you build the capabilities you need."

Sherriff said his team is working on sales and practice enablement tools and aimed at doing just that. "This will be an area that we shift more of our resources into," he said.

"It is extremely important that we get to those market transitions together quickly," he said. "So we will continue to shift more and more of our focus and architectural capabilities to help you build both the sales and the practice capabilities you need to be best in class in those new market transition areas."

Sherriff pointed to Cisco's VIP (Value Incentive Program) rebate, a nine year old program aimed at providing partner rebates in new emerging markets. "It is the envy of the channel industry in terms of its impact on profitability," he said.

Cisco has also put together dozens of memorandums of understanding investments under which it "puts skin in the game" to help partners make market transitions, said Sherriff. We will continue to do those things where we will be putting skin in the game," he said.

Sherriff also promised to "streamline" Cisco policies and processes around programs like Cisco's Opportunity Incentive Program (OIP) deal registration program so that partners are spending more time in front of customers and less time on channel processes. "I have people in my organization who spend more than 50 percent of their time just processing OIPs," he said. "That's very important, but I think there is a way for them to bring more value. We have to streamline the process."

Finally, Sherriff said that Cisco is refining its two primary go to market models (Co-Led vs. Partner Led). He stressed that there are different "processes" and "expectations" around the partner led model. "You'll see us start to specialize a bit more in terms of these two different engagement models," he said. "There really are different expectations and different ways we can bring value to you to help you get more traction in the marketplace."

Chad Berndtson contributed to this article.