Brocade's McGrath: We're Serious, It's The Year Of The Channel

Brocade's new channel chief, Regan McGrath, has been at the company since 2000 and says the biggest change he's seen at Brocade in recent years is a cultural one.

In other words, sure, it's taken Brocade's sales force awhile to align itself with the channel, but channel success is now a stated, companywide priority and there's no turning back, McGrath told CRN in a recent interview.

"With Brocade, everyone owns the success of the channel, not just my channel sales team," said McGrath, who is based in Toronto. "It's a responsibility to build channel sales, and that's a very different philosophy in the Americas than it was in the past. I know the channel partners feel that now -- a different sense of engagement and improvement by us. Partners want to commit to people who are going to commit to them."

[Related: Brocade Greets "Year Of The Channel" With New Partner Incentives ]

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Brocade in mid-May confirmed a series of executive changes that included McGrath's move to vice president, global channel sales and marketing, and the move by former worldwide channel chief Barbara Spicek to run Brocade's EMEA OEM business unit.

McGrath, a 25-year IT industry veteran, was most recently Brocade's vice president, Americas sales. He's been at Brocade since long before the 2008 acquisition of Foundry Networks, which made Brocade an aggressive new competitor to Cisco and other major data networking vendors, and long before Brocade had the indirect channel emphasis it does now.

McGrath, in his Americas sales role, already had channel sales under him, whereas Spicek's focus as Brocade's channel chief was partner enablement programs. That means his recent promotion marks a big change: Now, said McGrath, all of those channel functions are under one leader.

He gave a lot of credit to Spicek, whose stamp on the Brocade channel was a shift in its Alliance Partner Network program toward more resources for loyal partners and pay-for-performance revenue incentives -- lucrative returns for partners that were more specialized and were taking Brocade into more and varied opportunities.

According to partners, Spicek did another hugely important thing: She was steadfast in encouraging longtime Brocade partners tightly aligned with Brocade's SAN portfolio and data center strategy to adopt IP networking and get ahead of the convergence curve.

"She put them together and explained that it could be one message," said Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider. "She drove that conversation between data center guys and building an IP practice."

About 65 percent of Brocade sales now go through partners, and Spicek told CRN earlier this year that Brocade's sales force entered 2012 with marching orders to get that to 80 percent or higher.

That Brocade declared 2012 the "year of the channel" is no joke, said McGrath. The company's top executives, from CEO Mike Klayko through CMO John McHugh on down, are fully invested, he said.

"You have this inherent feeling now of breaking into something quite large," McGrath said. "I had a long talk with Mike, who assured me, 'We're all in.' "

NEXT: Converging Data Center, Networking Trends

Brocade's McGrath admitted that, with some exceptions, there's still a big divide between Brocade's storage- and data center-focused partners and the IP networking solution providers it brought on post-Foundry.

But it's not necessarily Brocade's priority to create more cross-portfolio partners, he said. As Brocade competes with Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Juniper and others for the converged data center infrastructure spend, all of its partners have opportunity around that convergence.

"I think the Foundry acquisition got a lot of our SAN partners to go acquire an IP practice or develop one organically, and some have been successful," he said. "But the overwhelming number of partners selling in the IP space actually don't sell our SAN products. The IP space is so much larger than the SAN space. We are actively selling into the data center, and we leverage our SAN [expertise], but the Ethernet fabric opportunity is primarily a data center opportunity and doesn't preclude non-storage partners."

ICI's Shepard, who is a member of Brocade's partner advisory board, said McGrath is the right choice for the channel chief role now because he's well versed in Brocade's direct sales history -- and thus the cultural shift toward embracing the channel -- as well as that same technology conversation Spicek was focused on.

But, he said, the IP products Brocade gained with Foundry are still too much of an afterthought for Brocade's sales and channel teams, who still prioritize around storage, data center and Brocade's important OEM relationships with HP, IBM and other manufacturers.

"They need to grow their IP business, and a lot of that is what to do with the channel," Shepard said. "They don't need to overload it with products -- they have them. The IP piece has to be front and center in the messaging. It can't be, 'Hey, oh, by the way, we have IP products, too.' "

McGrath doesn't plan to make any immediate changes to the Alliance Partner Network.

"It's been well received -- Barbara did a very good job of developing a platform" he said. "But I will dig in and optimize it as necessary. The priority is to do a good job with the partners we have and selectively add partners where we need them."