Cisco's Sherriff: Cloud, Competition And Who's Making The Calls

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Cisco used its 2011 Partner Summit in New Orleans to articulate a strategy for how it wanted Cisco partners to think about the cloud. Nearly a year later, Cisco's cloud solution provider program, which officially went live in August, has been successful and Cisco partners are deep into sorting out their cloud strategies behind the networking titan.

That work is only beginning, said Jim Sherriff, senior vice president, U.S. and Canada partner organization at Cisco. At this year's upcoming Partner Summit -- April 16 to 19 in San Diego -- Cisco expects to light the path for partners that have moved their cloud conversations beyond academic discussions and into revenue-generating opportunities.

Cloud isn't the only topic expected to dominate at the Partner Summit. Cisco has just come off one of the toughest years of its corporate life, having emerged from restructuring more than 13,000 employees -- and many layers of bureaucracy -- lighter. Sherriff said the changes ultimately will be net-positive for the Cisco channel, which thanks to Cisco initiatives like partner-led and a coming Cisco partner marketing blitz, is seeing happy days ahead.

[Related: Cisco Partner Marketing Boss Tips Partners On Coming Cloud Marketing Blitz]

Sherriff joined CRN Senior Editor Chad Berndtson for a discussion on channel priorities near Cisco's regional offices in Austin, Texas. Excerpts follow:

We're a few months out from Partner Summit but roughly halfway through Cisco's fiscal year, and a lot of partners are planning their next moves for calendar 2012 and beyond. I imagine they're asking you a lot about best opportunities with Cisco, so what are you telling them?

What I think is more important is what they're telling me. One area across the board is that they're getting unbelievable success in the data center. With Cisco products they have a catalyst for relationships with complementary vendors as well, so that's a source of tremendous growth. We're also seeing a tremendous resurgence in the collaboration business -- you saw the latest market-share numbers and, for the first time, Cisco has tipped over 50 percent in enterprise voice. We're seeing growth areas like video as part of that.

I think an area they're still trying to wrestle with is what is their cloud strategy exactly. A year ago, cloud was still more of an academic discussion, and now they're having to make some decisions.

Do you sense a lot of fear about making the wrong decision about cloud? Cisco came out a year ago and explained three ways -- cloud builder, cloud provider, cloud services reseller -- [for partners to participate] in cloud. Have they had an easy time figuring out where they fit?

I think the easiest decision was for partners wanting to be a builder, so for the majority of our partners, the answer is yes. There's a lot of momentum and a lot of people getting their cloud builder badge. Being a cloud provider is certainly a lot more asset-intensive. But I think people are getting clarity on where to make their bets. Even if they decide to be a provider, it doesn't mean they're not going to be a reseller. None of our VARs can stand up every possible offering in every customer they want, so there have to be some reseller relationships. It's the third category that's more dynamic today. They're trying to sort out how do they make [cloud services] work, who do they have to trust to have relationships where they're not going to be mortgaging their future.

How many Cisco partners have been badged cloud builders at this point?

I want to verify that before I give you that number on the record, but it is very mature. And then there are a number of partners in the hopper, going through the training.

NEXT: Cisco And The Mega-VARs

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