Ruckus Wireless Expands Channel Organization As Partner Recruitment Spikes

As the hottest upstart in the wireless networking space, Ruckus Wireless is adding new solution providers at a clip of about 600 a quarter, worldwide. That type of expansion meant it was time to reshuffle its executive team and add significant channel resources, according to the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company.

Among several executive additions to Ruckus, which is said to be lining up bankers for its long-expected IPO, is David Zimmer, a longtime networking and storage channel chief who signed on as Ruckus' senior director, worldwide channels in April.

Zimmer was most recently senior director, North America channel sales for the Huawei Symantec venture, but is perhaps best known for the five years he spent at QLogic as senior director, worldwide channel sales and marketing, from 2002 to 2007. After that came channel chief stints at Pillar Data, DataDirect Networks and Dot Hill, and earlier in his career, Zimmer spent eight years as a channel operations manager at Cisco.

[Related: Ruckus Goes High And Low With New Wireless Access Points ]

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Zimmer's connection to Ruckus is Denis Maynard, now Ruckus' vice president, worldwide sales and field operations, with whom Zimmer worked first at Cisco and later at QLogic.

"He gave me a call, we chatted about some of the exciting things that were happening here," Zimmer told CRN. "This is an exciting place with regards to the growth and the new market opportunities at a time when most places are seeing stagnant or declining growth. This is a company like in the old days of the industry, from my perspective."

Ruckus has had channel chiefs before; its first, officially, was John Sampson, who exited Ruckus in 2011, and then the role was under Ron Gill, who was recently promoted to Ruckus' vice president of sales, Americas. But Zimmer, who reports to Maynard, fills a crucial role Ruckus hadn't quite filled previously: a dedicated manager for channel resources who oversees all of Ruckus' regional channel leads.

"We've grown our channel base, and up to now, we left it up to the regional guys in sales to understand who best to work with in each region -- they've been responsible for deciding and signing up partners in their region," said David Callisch, Ruckus' vice president of corporate marketing. "But we have so many channel partners now that we need to systematically leverage that channel, and we need to do that from a sales perspective and a marketing perspective."

NEXT: Ruckus Is Coming On Strong

Ruckus' growth has been one of the wireless segment's most impressive success stories. The company now has more than 500 employees in 22 countries and more than 5,150 registered channel partners. Callisch said more than a third of those partners are repeat Ruckus buyers. Ruckus did about $120 million in revenue in its fiscal 2011, according to the company, and earlier this year took in an additional $21.7 million in financing, bringing its total VC investment to about $73 million since its 2004 founding.

From a technology perspective, its wireless "secret sauce" is beamforming -- an RF technology that boosts client signal transmission and throughput by focusing RF energy directly at Wi-Fi clients.

In recent years, Ruckus has been particularly aggressive in hot markets like carrier Wi-Fi, in which it controls about 27 percent of service provider Wi-Fi mesh node shipments, according to the Dell'Oro Group. Gartner pegged Ruckus as having the highest year-over-year revenue growth among wireless LAN suppliers in the fourth quarter of 2011 -- its global market share is about 5 percent in terms of vendor revenue and unit shipments of WLAN coordinated access points.

Last fall, Ruckus took top honors in the SMB Networking Hardware category of CRN's 2011 Annual Report Card, beating out entrenched rivals like Cisco, HP and Adtran -- proof positive that its early investment in the channel, particularly with partners looking for alternatives to those vendors and WLAN specialists like Aruba and Meru, was a savvy move.

Following that run of good notices, it was time to bolster Ruckus' executive team, Callisch said, and there have been a number of internal moves made in recent months, including the promotions of Maynard and Gill. In addition, Rob Mustarde, most recently vice president of worldwide sales, is now vice president of marketing. In his own marketing role, Callisch focuses on corporate communications, while Mustarde covers product and technical marketing.

More channel managers are also arriving. Anita Pandey, who started this week as Ruckus' director of channel marketing, was recently vice president of product marketing and vertical market development at Ruckus rival Meru, and before that spent about 10 years at Cisco in business development roles for wireless LAN and collaboration software. Ruckus also has a new inside sales team in its European theater to support channel scaling, a technical training management team and learning management system to assist with partner training and certification and new distribution sales managers.

NEXT: A Happy Channel That Could Always Be Happier

Ruckus' Zimmer said that based on his first month's worth of conversations with Ruckus partners, it's clear Ruckus has a "happy channel." That said, Ruckus is already at work on new programs and support resources based directly on partner feedback.

For example, Ruckus this summer will launch a series of road shows under the banner of its "Ruck-U" technical training series, as a way to provide regional events that complement its annual Big Dogs partner conference. The need there, according to Zimmer and Callisch, was from Ruckus partners who want to send more of their sales and engineering employees to bone up on Ruckus' wireless wares without having to fly whole teams across the country.

Callisch said Ruckus would also provide more resources around vertical market opportunities where Ruckus has seen success, such as K-12 education and healthcare, and where it is expanding, such as transportation, logistics and retail. Other new partner tools include Ruckus' recently released app-based product guide, with videos and full information on the Ruckus portfolio. Another potential future move, said Zimmer, is an expanded set of professional services tools for Ruckus' most strategic partners, including its Top Dog echelon.

"We are a little bit adolescent in the channel program," Zimmer said. "The partners look at us and are saying, we're experiencing the same and greater growth as you, and they're looking for us to provide a self-service model, along with info and tools when they need them."

Al Brown, president and CEO of SmartWave Technologies, a Suwanee, Ga.-based solution provider and Ruckus' 2011 healthcare solution provider of the year, described Ruckus as a strategic vendor that does a lot to protect partners who register deals.

But as it grows its channel program there's more Ruckus could be doing for marketing resources and in passing good leads to qualified partners, Brown said.

"There is MDF, for example, but it's not always clear how to get it," he said.

It's a critical time for Ruckus, because as it continues to grow -- and gain channel mindshare -- it'll be tempted to target the channel partner bases of major competitors like Cisco, Brown added. The danger in that is a Ruckus that's less focused on the solution providers that invested during its start-up days.

"I hope they don't forget the partners that got them there," Brown said.