Cisco Readies For Software-Focused Partner Program Launch

Cisco Systems is readying for the launch of a software-focused partner program it plans to debut at its 2015 Cisco Partner Summit in Montreal, as the networking giant looks to accelerate its push into the cloud and software-defined data center era.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco is also preparing to roll out Cisco ONE Software, a new sales model that's designed to streamline and simplify the way customers buy software from Cisco.

According to Bruce Klein, senior vice president of Cisco's Worldwide Partner Organization, Cisco is already running a pilot version of a software partner program that it plans to unveil at its annual global partner conference this April in Montreal.

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Klein said the program is not only intended to provide partner training and incentives around Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Cisco's software-defined networking platform, but also for the software offerings it acquired this year through the purchase of companies including JouleX and Composite Software.

In addition, the new program will offer partner enablement resources around the new Cisco ONE Software model.

"We want all this to be included in a software program that we are working on," Klein said in a recent interview with CRN.

Moving forward, Klein said Cisco partners demonstrating a certain level of software expertise will "absolutely" have a bearing on how they are tiered within the Cisco Partner Program, or whether they qualify for Cisco certifications such as the Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE).

That said, Cisco is going to provide the training resources partners need to make that shift, Klein added. He said Cisco is taking the time to build a training and incentive program that reflects the unique sales cycle of software -- one he said is drastically different from the sales model Cisco and its channel have traditionally followed when selling routers, switches and other networking hardware.

Klein described this software sales cycle in four words: land, adopt, expand and renew. He said in the "land" phase partners are tasked with selling the software; in the "adopt" phase it's about ensuring customers are actually using it; the "expand" stage is helping to grow the number of licenses within an organization; and "renew" is making sure customers eventually renew those licenses.

"We are looking at that software lifecycle and looking at how we adjust our enablement and incentives around those selling motions," Klein said. "It's different than selling an architecture or technology. We are going to have some different elements in the program for software that looks at those behaviors and incents for those behaviors."

One Cisco partner, who asked not to be named, said he's glad to see Cisco investing in partner training resources around software, especially since he was concerned about the learning curve his staff might face trying to sell software-centric solutions like ACI.

"Software is where this thing is going, and the bulk of Cisco's partners aren't software-centric," the partner told CRN. "I was concerned, because I don't think we can turn on a dime."

The launch of a Cisco software partner program doesn't entirely come as a surprise; the networking titan has made a series of recent moves intended to shake itself of its hardware-centric roots, as trends like cloud and software-defined networking continue to take hold in the enterprise.

In July, Cisco launched DevNet, an online resource providing developers with hundreds of Cisco APIs, software development kits and other tools to create new applications to run on Cisco platforms such as ACI, Intercloud and those supporting the emerging Internet of Things.

Cisco touted roughly 80,000 software developers through the DevNet community as of July. The goal is to grow that number to 1 million by 2020.

Meanwhile, Cisco CEO John Chambers told CRN in July that between 80 percent and 85 percent of Cisco's engineers are now focused on software, and that the company's R&D budget has shifted "big time" toward software innovation.

NEXT: Cisco 'Separating The Software From The Hardware'

Cisco in 2015 will also go live with Cisco ONE Software, a new sales model for selling and delivering software to customers. Traditionally, the bulk of Cisco's software -- including its iOS network operating systems -- has been tethered tightly to its hardware. But, according to Klein, that model is changing with Cisco ONE.

"We introduced, also, Cisco ONE in software, and we are separating the software from the hardware," Klein said.

Cisco ONE Software lets customers buy software licenses in three different bundles. There is a bundle for wide area networks (WAN), a bundle for access networks and a bundle for the data center and cloud.

Klein said there will be different options or "levels" for each of these software bundles, with some also pulling in Cisco collaboration and security software.

"The Cisco ONE piece looks at various bundles of software, from iOS software to bundling data center, security and collaboration software -- there are multiple bundles and multiple levels," Klein said.
"It's a very clear strategy now, and [senior vice president of Cisco Software Strategy and Operations] John Brigden has worked with a host of folks within the company to create that. He is working closely with my organization… to [finalize] how we offer this to our partners, through a buying program, as well as a partner program."

According to the Cisco web site, the Cisco ONE Software model will also let customers transfer software licenses between different generations of Cisco devices, eliminated the need for them to repurchase software when transitioning to new hardware.

It also lets customers pay a fixed annual rate for their software licenses, according to the site.

Cisco said it plans on releasing more details related to Cisco ONE Software over the next few months. For now, Klein said, partners seem excited about the prospect.

"They are coming to see that as a big opportunity, as well," Klein said.