Xirrus Targets Wi-Fi, Mobility Partners In Dramatic Channel Program Expansion

Wireless specialist Xirrus is making an all-out push into North America channels behind a new channel management team and a revamped partner program that focuses on VAR profitability and the idea of wireless being a customer's primary network.

The Xirrus Partner Program, which quietly launched about a year ago, now has about 70 solution provider partners in its ranks. According to its channel chiefs, Xirrus' goal is to have 100 percent of sales of its Wi-Fi Arrays go through the channel, and it's promising big returns for solution providers that bet with Xirrus in the hugely competitive Wi-Fi market.

"What we're finding is an appetite in this space for a differentiated offering," said Kevin Hollenbach, Xirrus' vice president of sales for North America. "We're not really in the nice-to-have wireless space. Our end users are looking at Wi-Fi and mobility as their primary network. Our DNA is solving the gnarliest Wi-Fi problems out there."

A networking channel veteran, Hollenbach came to Xirrus in July 2010 following 10 years at Juniper Networks, where he had most recently been vice president, service provider channel, under Juniper Americas channel chief Frank Vitagliano.

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Hollenbach is in fact one of several notable Juniper alumni on the Xirrus executive team. Hayley Tabor, Xirrus' vice president, worldwide sales, was Juniper's senior vice president, U.S. enterprise sales until 2008, and David Birkhead, now Xirrus' director, field engineering, Americas, exited his role as Juniper's vice president, U.S. enterprise systems engineering, around the same time Hollenbach left Juniper in 2010.

"I'd worked with Dave. He found Xirrus, and he said, we should look at this," Hollenbach recalled. "My initial reaction was, 'Dave, does the market really need another Wi-Fi vendor?' But he said 'You've got to come out and see this stuff.' We're one of the best kept secrets -- a clever company, very innovative, and I've been given a lot of rein to built the partner program in the U.S."

An explosion of Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, from smartphones to tablets, and the industry embrace of cloud computing have catalyzed demand for wireless products, Hollenbach said. The overall Wi-Fi and wireless LAN space is stiflingly crowded, with heavyweights like Cisco and Aruba Networks and aggressive upstarts of all sizes like Ruckus Wireless, Meru Networks and Aerohive Networks jockeying for position. Even major channel vendors not known for their wireless focuses are getting in on the action, as evidenced by Juniper's 2010 acquisition of Trapeze Networks, and more recently, Adtran's pickup of Bluesocket.

Xirrus' Wi-Fi Arrays offer up to 16 802.11a/b/g/n radios on board a single device, as well embedded Wi-Fi controllers and switches, multi-sector antennas, integrated Gigabit switches, dedicated Wi-Fi threat seniors and spectrum analyzers, and coverage of up to 125,000 square feet.

It's a lot of wireless firepower contained in individual devices, Hollenbach said, which is key to Xirrus' competitive positioning. A Xirrus deployment, the company says, can mean 75 percent fewer devices to deploy and manage, and deliver four times more coverage than competitive APs.

The Xirrus partner program thus far offers two tiers of partnership, Platinum and Gold, which are tied to sales volume and the number of Xirrus-trained technical consultants partners have.

Partners receive commensurate discounts and program benefits based on their tier. A Xirrus Platinum partner, for example, can make up to 40 percent margin through a combination of the 30 percent off MSRP that Platinum partners receive from Xirrus, and the 10 percent off list price earned via deal registration. Gold partners, the next level down, start at 25 percent off of MSRP.

Partners are expected to work with Xirrus on joint business plans and targeted marketing to promote Xirrus products. In return, Xirrus offers free training and certification, business planning assistance and sales and marketing support, as well as partner program staples like marketing development funds (MDF), which Xirrus offers as up to 3 percent of revenue achieved from Xirrus product sales. Xirrus further offers a 50 percent discount off of MSRP for Xirrus demonstration and site survey equipment.

Xirrus also provides what Hollenbach described as an "implementation guarantee," in that Xirrus supports partners throughout the implementation of its Wi-Fi Arrays and maintains a level of touch with partners' customers to ensure everything is working properly.

"We train our partners in a specific way to do an active site survey," he explained. "It's way for them to make revenue because we train them for free and they can charge for it, but we take them out and show them how to do an active site survey for coverage, density and capacity."

NEXT: How Xirrus Got Channel Religion

Before the program launched, Xirrus was primarily a direct sales vendor with an afterthought channel presence. It now sells about 45 percent indirect -- a profound turnaround considering the partner program and Xirrus' push to gain channel mindshare are less than a year old.

"The goal is to be 100 percent," Hollenbach stated.

Much of Xirrus' business is in the education market, which Hollenbach said accounts for about 70 percent of Xirrus' Wi-Fi Array sales. The company also focuses on health care and the conference and events business.

Its burgeoning VAR community is a mix of Wi-Fi specialists and traditional data networking solution providers and integrators, although according to Hollenbach, the backgrounds of solution providers interested in Wi-Fi are more varied than ever.

"You can't talk about highi-performance Wi-Fi now without having a security discussion," he offered. "We believe we bring the best platform for Wi-Fi, but we're not going to do all those security pieces. We're not going to be a mobile device manager. We're not going to be a firewall vendor. But we are a component to what those [partners] are doing."

The move toward wireless-as-necessity versus wireless-as-luxury has buoyed all wireless LAN vendors, and Hollenbach said that interest will continue now that customers are craving more robust wireless to run more advanced applications.

Hollenbach said solution providers are seeing increasing interest, for example, in tightly integrated voice and wireless implementations, seeking vendors from both the voice side and the wireless side that can offer voice-over-WiFi infrastructure.

"There's always the 10 percent of customers that want to be out of the box and try the new things," Hollenbach said. "The hang up for them [on wireless] has always been voice."