Avaya's Randall: Sorry, Cisco, It's About Applications, Not Networks

Marc Randall, the new senior vice president and general manager of Avaya Networking, says there are two schools of thought on the current convergence of networking, collaboration, the bring-your-own device trend and cloud computing.

One approach favors the network as the center of the architecture, with the applications and devices as components of that all-important network. The other suggests that the applications themselves are central to business and the customer experience and that the network architecture should be rethought to make applications run more successfully.

While Cisco Systems favors the former, Randall said, much of the emerging user experience points to the latter: an ecosystem approach where the application -- access, speed, reliability, mobility and security -- is king. This debate is why he left Cisco and came to Avaya, he said.

"The company that I came from is very siloed on, 'Just sell this product and this particular space.' It's, 'Sell this product in the access [layer], sell this product in the campus core, sell this product top-of-rack in the data center,' " Randall told CRN. "But I look at it differently. I see this shift in the user experience, and you have to a very tight linkage to the application to do collaboration. My prior company, that wasn't their focus, but I believe that is going to be the next inflection point."

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Randall, who joined Avaya in January, is no networking rookie. He spent the past year as vice president and general manager of Cisco's Core Routing business unit, and before that about a year as senior vice president, products and offerings, at Brocade. From 2000 to 2008 he was president and CEO of Force10 Networks, which was acquired by Dell in 2011, and from 1993 to 2000 was a vice president of engineering at Cisco.

Randall said he has known Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy since the mid-90s and the two saw eye to eye on a strategy for communication and collaboration sales that favors the application-centric approach to networking. His responsibility is to further position the data networking business Avaya acquired through Nortel as a prominent piece of that value proposition.

[Related: Avaya Channel Strategy Tilts Toward Full Portfolio Partners ]

Avaya's most recent executive reorganization was done with cross-portfolio sales in mind, he said. Gary Barnett was promoted to senior vice president and general manager, Avaya Collaboration Infrastructure, and Brett Shockley became senior vice president and general manager, Applications and Emerging Technologies. Steve Bandrowczak, former vice president and general manager of Avaya Data Solutions, moved to a sales role working directly with Avaya customers.

According to Randall, he, Barnett and Shockley will continue to run their units as three separate product groups. But they're also all part of a new group that Avaya is calling Enterprise Collaborative Solutions, which looks at ways to manage the whole Avaya product line and develop solutions marketing and a go-to-market strategy that includes full portfolio Avaya sales.

Randall said he discussed the idea with a number of partners at Avaya's recent Technology Forum, a gathering of 500 Avaya partners held in early February. While Avaya has been steady in its annual channel partner conferences and partner council meetings, the Technology Forum was the first time since the Nortel acquisition that Avaya had hosted a formal partner discussion focused specifically on engineering and Avaya's technology road map. Several partners who attended told CRN that the data networking piece received particular attention.

"The question they kept asking me was, 'How do I put a value proposition that I can sell as a solution to my customers that includes Avaya networking and management?' " Randall said. "A lot of partners still do a lot of business on the VoIP side."

NEXT: The Answer Is Targeted Bundles

The answer, Randall said, is in targeted bundles, which he described as "workstreams." Avaya initially is devising five workstreams covering the intelligent edge, the dynamic data center, the unified branch, UC mobility and remote access.

"As an example for the edge, this would be a solution that has Avaya Aura and Flare [collaboration capabilities], and has a VoIP phone and all of it's tied together with an intelligent edge switch," he said. "It should be a real plug-and-play architecture, and you should feel comfortable selling that."

Each of those workstreams will include Avaya solutions spanning data and voice products -- with mobile, virtual and security elements as necessary -- and will be packaged up for channel partners as one or several SKUs. The idea, said Randall, is that Avaya solution providers will be able to sell those bundles and add prestaging and other value-added services for customers.

Sales of voice and UC products create sales drag for data networking products, according to Randall, and partners who sell across the portfolio often increase their deal size by about four times.

Randall's goal is to have the program ready to roll within the next three to four months; Avaya also will include products from third-party vendors as appropriate. Randall declined to name any of the other vendors whose products will be included in the Avaya bundles but said the team is "very receptive to ecosystem partners whether in the edge or the data center."

At its U.S. partner conference in November, Avaya made no bones about focusing on partners that sell the full Avaya portfolio, and incenting more partners to do so. Randall said the combination of Avaya data solutions, such as its Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) and its associated edge and core data center products, with the telephony, UC and contact center products and services many Avaya partners know already, is an architectural approach better suited to current customer needs.

"Cisco and Juniper are really in the siloed box business and for applications, it's, 'Great, they ride on the network,' " he said. "But now is the time to come in with our applications, our UC platform infrastructure and our network infrastructure."

Stuart Chandler, president and CEO of Optivor Technologies, an Annapolis Junction, Md.-based partner and one of Avaya's top data networking solution providers, said he'll need to see more from Randall's team before he's convinced of the strategy. As a data networking underdog, Avaya should focus on displacement, trade-up and loyalty programs for getting Avaya partners more excited about the portfolio, he said.

"'Loyalty is where the data sales will come from," Chandler said. "When a reseller is selling Cisco, they should never receive any additional incentive on Avaya products. Likewise, an Avaya partner selling only Avaya data products should receive additional incentives, such as special discounts, leads, marketing programs or development funds."

In his experience, many of Avaya's sales representatives still aren't data-networking-minded, Chandler said. "Avaya sales personnel don't know data," he said. "A massive undertaking by Avaya will be required to create evangelists within the Avaya sales organizations."