Brocade Eyes Networking Channel, Cisco

Storage vendor Brocade hopes to woo traditional networking solution providers as it builds out its partner program to accommodate last July's $3 billion acquisition of Foundry Networks.

This summer, Brocade will launch a new partner program around the fruits of the Foundry acquisition, which brought together channel- and OEM-friendly Brocade with Foundry, a company that focused mostly on direct sales. Brocade is launching the new program to step up Foundry's presence in the networking channel. Over the next few months, the company will be recruiting VARs and looking at its current roster of distributors, while possibly adding new ones, as it positions itself as the only end-to-end competitor to Cisco Systems. At the outset, the new networking program will be separate from Brocade's flagship partner program, with overlap being introduced over time.

Leading Brocade's networking charge is Barbara Spicek, newly named vice president of global channels, who is taking Brocade's channel chief spot after eight years in the company's partner sales organization.

In an exclusive interview with, Spicek said job No. 1 is for her to build out Foundry's channel presence as Brocade targets Ethernet VARs to complete the end-to-end story and take on Cisco.

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"The key differentiator for us is that the program will be more selective ... There are a lot of Cisco partners out there, but the reality is there are 15,000 plus in the U.S. and 1,400 in Germany and countries in the U.K.," she said. "The big markets are almost so over-distributed that it gets very difficult for the partners to make any margin."

Cisco could not be reached for comment.

And while the Brocade/Foundry alliance sees Cisco Systems as its main competitor in the end-to-end data center and networking field, Spicek said Brocade plans to start small, bringing only a handful of resellers and distributors into the fledgling Foundry program and limiting cross-selling and overlap to only areas where it makes sense for partners to offer the full product portfolio.

"We're not going to go wild and just sign up 50,000 partners," she said. "We're going to go very selectively because that in itself will guarantee partners more margin and more value."

Spicek continued: "I think one of the biggest issues in the industry right now is that channel partners don't see where there is profitability for them anymore, so by keeping it selective we're hoping to make it far more attractive for partners to join."

Spicek said her job over the next few months is to build a strong program for networking channel partners around the globe. Foundry's previous program was a single-tiered model fueled mostly by direct sales. Over the course of the year, Spicek said she hopes to build Foundry's partner base to a maximum of three to four distributors and 10 to 15 resellers in the first stage. The program is set to officially launch in the May to June time frame.

"Foundry has been going to market primarily through their enterprise sales forces and hasn't so much developed a scalable channel model," she said. "We really see the opportunity in building up a strong channel network as one of the major opportunities and synergies of the merger of the two companies. My job over the next month will be to introduce a very strong, competitive, very attractive channel program to the networking channel partners across the world."

And while many networking vendors such as Cisco, Hewlett-Packard's ProCurve Networking by HP and Juniper Networks are building out their partner bases with new data center-aimed products, Brocade is taking a different approach. Spicek said the Brocade program and its Foundry wing are separate for the time being, limiting overlap. Spicek said she's re-evaluating both Brocade's and Foundry's partner arsenals to determine the best way to proceed, while also investigating which distribution partners Brocade will bring in on the Foundry side.

NEXT: VARs Weigh In

That process, Spicek said, should result in a differentiated and profitable program where partners can focus on their core competencies.

"One of the biggest challenges [partners] have is that pure product margins are not profitable for them anymore," she said. "They're all looking to get differentiation in the program. They move to service, support, consultancy, software. What we're trying to do in the program is add specific elements to the program, like the ability to provide service and support, the ability to provide professional services and so on to add to the program attractiveness."

Spicek said it's still too soon to divulge all of the details of Brocade's pending network-centric partner program, but noted that partners will receive benefits through a value score card process, where solution providers earn pricing and margin incentives based on skills, certifications and training. They also will receive attractive marketing development funds offers, deal registration and demonstration products.

Adam Steinhoff, CEO and president of Steinhoff Consulting, a North Palm Beach, Fla.-based Cisco partner, said Brocade's entrance into the networking channel is interesting, but since most of the data center offerings his company specializes in focus on companies of up to 500, the Brocade/Foundry offerings might not be competitive enough for it to succeed in his target market.

"Both are priced above and beyond what my market would be willing to pay," he said. "But my answer to any vendor that wants to talk to me is 'Show me what you've got.' "

Mark Teter, CTO of Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based solution provider, however, has worked with Brocade for years and is looking forward to adding the Foundry piece of the puzzle. He said to succeed, Brocade will have to combine the two programs and target both networking and Fibre Channel infrastructure partners.

"It was difficult because Foundry had a direct sales model," he said. "We're really looking forward to being able to get into the networking opportunities. This becomes more interesting when Foundry and Brocade come together."

The Foundry-centric program, Teter said, will help him bring customers on board with the Ethernet-Fibre Channel convergence, a trend that he said will continue throughout the year.

"It behooves all existing Brocade partners to broaden their offerings," he said.

Teter, who also is a Cisco partner, said customers want a choice, and bringing Foundry deeper into the fold will better enable that. He said Advanced Systems Group has a long-standing Brocade partnership and a large installed base to work from to generate opportunities. That, coupled with customers looking to simplify vendor management and deal with fewer companies, makes it an easier sell.

"This offers a bigger reach into data center networks," he said. "Without the [Brocade/Foundry] partnership, we wouldn't have the program in place to go after these opportunities."

Opening up those new opportunities is critical, Spicek said, especially as Ethernet and Fibre Channel convergence becomes a hotter topic for VARs. But equally as critical is to build out a program that minimizes partner competition to ensure solution providers have a relatively equal slice of the pie. With the new Foundry-based program, she said, Brocade wants to ensure that partners are "not fishing in the same pool" and competing against thousands of other partners for deals.

Spicek noted that many networking solution providers are looking for alternative offerings, and Brocade, through its Foundry program, hopes to recruit some of them.

"There will be a lot of partners over there that have been working with Cisco for years and are very Cisco loyal," she said. "We will make sure in our approach to the market to try to attract those partners that aren't entirely satisfied that are looking for a clear alternative."