Ciena Bulks Up Channel Program To Capitalize On Nortel Gains

Ciena on Monday confirmed a substantial revamp of its BizConnect partner program, which according to the company better supports the growth of its channel in the post-Nortel era.

Ciena entered talks to purchase Nortel's Metro Ethernet Networks (MEN) business in late 2009, part of an ongoing sell-off of pieces of Nortel that saw its former enterprise business division go to Avaya, among other moves.

The deal was completed, for an aggregate purchase price of $773.8 million, in March 2010, and gave Linthicum, Md.-based Ciena all of Nortel's optical networking and Carrier Ethernet assets. Philippe Morin, previously Nortel MEN's president, became Ciena's senior vice president, global products group, and a number of other executives transitioned to Ciena as well.

The company now operates in more than 60 countries worldwide and has 200 partners, whittled down from the 260 or so (130 existing Ciena, 130 Nortel) it had at the time of the acquisition. Ciena has posted 30 percent average annual revenue growth since 2004, according to its executives, and is expected to come out from under its acquisition costs and become cash-flow positive again in two quarters. About 40 percent of its business comes from the Americas.

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"It's hugely helped us in revenue, but also helped us because of the maturity and interest in the partner base," said Theresa Caragol, vice president of partners and alliances at Ciena, said of the acquisition's effect on Ciena's channel. "That was a huge reason why we did the acquisition."

The new BizConnect program takes effect this month. One side of the program, for solution providers, offers Registered, Gold, Platinum and Diamond levels for partnership, with increasingly more attractive deal registration, marketing funds and Ciena support the higher the commitment level.

The other side of the program, for managed service providers, offers Gold, Platinum and Diamond levels, with service development practice assistance, customized training and marketing funds available.

Both solution providers and MSPs have access to Ciena's demand generation programs, sales tools such as fiber finding services, vertical-specific and segment-specific training, and a slate of certification and accreditation programs, including Ciena's own carrier Ethernet and optical networking certifications. There's also access to the Ciena Champions Program, for Ciena's most strategic partners, who earn richer rewards and free access to certain training programs.

According to Caragol, the urgency of the unstable Nortel partner base meant finalizing a new program quickly.

"We inherited a whole set of partners, a lot of them weren't operating with anything," Caragol said. "That made it important for us to get a comprehensive partner program out the door faster than you'd see with a traditional acquisition."

Ciena groups its channel partners as solution providers, MSPs, technology alliance partners -- which include major channel vendors such as EMC and IBM, as well as systems integrators -- and strategic alliances that don't fall into any one category. Caragol noted that Ciena separates the types of partners it has under the program because it wants to encourage partnership among those types.

Next: No Issues With Combined Ciena-Nortel Portfolio

Caragol said partners haven't had much issue with the combined Ciena/Nortel MEN product portfolio, which was first rolled out in March of last year.

At the time, Ciena made Nortel's Optical Multiservice Edge 6500 its flagship product for TDM, OTN, packet and wavelength services for larger carriers, and opted for its own CN 6200 FlexSelect and Nortel's Optical Metro 5200 for regional transport services. Ciena kept its own Carrier Ethernet Service Delivery portfolio for 3G/4G wireless backhaul, and also its CoreDirector FS MultiService Optical Switch and 5400 switching systems over comparable Nortel gear.

Caragol, who has been at Ciena six years but spent five years at Nortel, and four at the Nortel-acquired Bay Networks prior to that, said that the formerly shaky Nortel MEN business has benefited Ciena greatly -- and also been preserved as a result.

"The number one thing we had to do was stabilize the base," Caragol said. "There were a lot of partners out there who were fearful of, or questioning, staying with Ciena," she said. "I think they feel really good about what our team has done."