Cisco, Microsoft Urge Partners To Team Up In Data Center, Cloud Arenas

Cisco and Microsoft -- two tech giants who have long competed on a number of fronts -- said this week they will continue to invest in a joint channel program aimed at helping both of their partner communities go to market with integrated Microsoft and Cisco solutions.

The program, which has been running in pilot mode for the past 10 months, is primarily targeted at Cisco and Microsoft partners in the data center and cloud markets. The idea, according to Brian Allison, director of Partner Solutions, Worldwide Channels at Cisco, is to drive more collaboration between Cisco and Microsoft partners, and to provide more training resources, for both partner communities, on bundled Cisco-Microsoft solutions, such as Cisco's Unified Data Center architecture with Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V and System Center 2012.

Allison, who said the pilot includes a "hand-picked" group of Cisco and Microsoft partners, has been successful in driving collaboration not only between the Microsoft and Cisco practices partners often have within a single shop, but also in driving partner-to-partner connections, meaning those between different solution provider organizations.

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"Sometimes -- and this is a big thing that we are seeing -- it's not all under one roof," Allison told CRN. "We are seeing more and more partner-to-partner activity, and that's one of the things I get really excited about. What Cisco and Microsoft can really uniquely drive is the partner-to-partner aspect of this."

Allison said the first step Cisco takes in helping drive collaboration between Microsoft and Cisco solution providers -- whether they're inside the same organization or not -- is to stress the value proposition that integrated Microsoft-Cisco data center solutions can deliver to end clients.

"Getting these practices -- a Microsoft practice and a Cisco practice -- to work together, even if they are under the same roof, it takes some time," Allison said. "In many ways, like the transitions we are navigating with customers, our partners sometimes need to go through that same transition in terms of breaking down silos and getting their functional organizations to work in order to deliver the most compelling value proposition to the customer."

Some of the integrated Microsoft-Cisco solutions partners can take to market today include Cisco's FlexPod with Microsoft Private Cloud, or a reference architecture integrating Cisco server and networking, NetApp storage and Microsoft's Windows Server 2012 Hyper V. Cisco also mentioned its Nexus 1000V Switch for Windows Server Hyper-V, and EMC's VSPEX with Microsoft Private Cloud, as examples.

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Allison noted that deeper collaboration between Microsoft and Cisco partners is more relevant now than ever, given the convergence happening between the software and networking or infrastructure worlds.

"On the application side, more and more customers are wanting to understand how they can have an agile infrastructure that meets their business needs. And, more and more, IT needs to be able to communicate how the solution they've come up with is relevant to the application people," Allison said. "It's about bridging those conversations, and how we are doing that is Microsoft and Cisco coming together."

Allison said the Microsoft-Cisco pilot program provides training resources relevant to both the technical and pre- and post-sales teams within partners' organizations. These resources are available through different mediums, including hands-on labs, on-site trainings and webinars.

"We found that one size does not fit all when it comes to enablement," Allison said.

Moving forward, Allison said Cisco's goal is to scale out and formalize the pilot program. "That is my hope and my expectation," he said. "We are seeing some very, very promising requests and opportunities with the partners to really take things to the next level and we are actively working on doing that."

Allison declined to specify how many partners have participated in the pilot program. Cisco said partners participating in the program include Dimension Data and Softchoice.

Kent MacDonald, vice president of Converged Infrastructure at solution provider and Cisco Gold Partner Long View Systems, said he is glad to see Cisco and Microsoft driving collaboration between their two partner communities.

"We have been active with the Cisco/Microsoft partnership, which has gotten traction earlier this year," MacDonald told CRN via an email. "We have seen some early traction in the midmarket, predominantly with FlexPod deployments, and anticipate this will be an area of growth. [It's] great to see the continued and evolving investment and collaboration between Cisco and Microsoft in the data center/converged infrastructure market."