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CRN Exclusive Interview: Meet Nutanix's New Channel Chief

Rodney Foreman, a veteran of IBM who last led channel efforts at Informatica, is taking over channel leadership of the hyper-converged infrastructure powerhouse.

The new channel chief at Nutanix told CRN he's planning to grow the business by evolving the hyper-converged infrastructure powerhouse's channel program to better help partners displace rival technologies.

Rodney Foreman, who started in the position earlier this year after a stint leading channel efforts at Informatica and a long career before that at IBM, said his team is crafting a long-term strategy to better enable partners and help them seize on the natural competitive advantages of Nutanix's technology.

"This product portfolio we have at Nutanix is really on the leading edge of what customers are doing in the way of innovation in their data centers," Foreman told CRN. "It's refreshing for me to be in a company that's providing innovative technology to customers, and not technology that's dated and not where the market is headed."

[Related: Partners 'All-In' On A 2018 Nutanix Software Offensive As Sales Continue To Surge]

Hyper-converged is becoming a highly sought specialization in the channel, Foreman said, driven by customer demand for flexible private clouds. Nutanix does a majority of its business through partners, so wants to be innovative with the program it offers them.

The company's partners often have pre-existing relationships with large distributors, which also help bring to market products from vendors such as Citrix Systems, Splunk and SAP. That creates natural synergies with those software companies.

"There's a lot of overlap in the partners we will work with because we provide the platform for those applications," Foreman said. The distributors aggregate solutions for which Nutanix wants to be the most robust, scalable platform, he said.

Since joining Nutanix, Foreman has been talking to partners he knew from back in his IBM days. He wants their input in evolving the program to provide a more consistent way for partners to see revenue and profit, while delivering the best enablement to reach the market and effectively sell the company's products.

Nutanix is already growing faster than 40 percent, but the San Jose, Calif.-based company sees its channel as a vehicle to increase that pace of expansion, he told CRN.

"With some of the innovative things I'm thinking about doing in the channel, we'll grow at a faster pace. We're just hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can do in the channel," Foreman said.

The strength of hyper-converged infrastructure lies in the speed and scalability with which it can be deployed, and the flexibility it delivers to customers choosing a multi-cloud, hybrid strategy.

"If a customer wants to run on AWS and one day switch to another cloud platform very quickly, we provide that capability," he said.

But Nutanix's program needs to make sure partners effectively deliver that message to enterprises unfamiliar with the technology.

"To be competitive in the channel, you constantly have to evaluate where you are in comparison to your competition and make sure all aspects of your program are competitive and consistent," Foreman said.

"I think over time we'll be revising the program so that we can offer more incentives and offer some focus items to drive the partners," he said. "Partners allow us to reach more of that market so the program needs to support that."

In the past, Nutanix hasn't done enough to help partners win new customers by challenging their legacy infrastructure solutions, Foreman said.

The program changes to come will tackle that goal of displacing rival technologies through lead-passing, enablement, and tiering structure, he said.

The three-year strategy Foreman and his new team are crafting encompasses the entire partner ecosystem, including VARs, value-added distributors, global systems integrators, as well as the OEM partners and ISVs that use Nutanix as a platform.

But Nutanix is more concerned with enabling the current base of partners than adding many more, he said.

"The goal is to have quality partners that we enable and support with marketing and sales to deliver great results. We have some of the top partners in the industry already, we just need to make them more productive," he said.

Ira Horowitz, vice president of alliances at Trianz, in a way followed Foreman to Nutanix.

Trianz was familiar with Foreman from his work with IBM and Informatica, and Horowitz said he always found him to be "a channel champion." When Foreman accepted the job at Nutanix, the global solution provider based in Santa Clara, Calif., first seriously evaluated the technology, and found a solution ideal for its cloud practice.

Customers are hedging their bets with hyper-scale clouds, often entering contracts with multiple providers. The technology offered by Nutanix can bridge those environments, Horowitz said.

Foreman, through programs he spearheaded in the past, was an advocate for rewarding partners who differentiated their practices through technical training, sales and excellence in delivery. Horowitz expects him to do the same at Nutanix.

That's appealing to a solution provider like Trianz that likes to take advantage of enablement opportunities to get up to speed quickly, but then drive customer acquisition and engagements on its own.

Foreman "fights to put the channel in front, fights to recognize the value of what that ecosystem brings to the organization, and he builds a program that really incents, drives and rewards the partners who are building the value-add," Horowitz said.

"No channel is without conflict. I've always found Rodney to be fair, even-balanced and approachable."

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