CRN Exclusive: 'Clarity' Comes To Cisco's Cloud Strategy With New Hybrid Cloud Blueprint For Partners

In one of its biggest cloud initiatives this year, Cisco unveiled a new go-to-market strategy aimed at clarifying how the channel should approach and sell hybrid cloud. Partners said Cisco's new Hybrid Cloud Sales Play brings a much-needed guide for the networking giant's overall cloud strategy through new incentives, tools and product bundles.

"We've all been struggling with, 'What is our play in the cloud space?' We know it isn't building out or owning data centers to try to drive consumption," said Jon Groves, CEO of Alexander Operating Systems (AOS), an Overland Park, Kan.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner.

"It's really the multi-cloud solutions that are the blueprint for the channel and what we've needed to really accelerate our cloud adoption practices and increase our value exchange with not only Cisco, but also the cloud providers. With this new approach, you're going to see the Cisco channel finally get some clarity as to how to approach the cloud from a Cisco reseller perspective."

In an interview with CRN, the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant unveiled its new five-step Hybrid Cloud Sales Play touted as the blueprint for partner success and profitability, according to Scott Mohr, director of data center and cloud for Cisco's Global Partner Organization.

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[Related: 8 New Cisco Cloud Incentives, Tools And Bundles That Partners Need To Know]

The first two steps in the guide discuss new partner training, enablement and identifying opportunities. Cisco is providing partners its Business Cloud Advisor tool for free to help generate more cloud demand and consumption. The software analyzes an organization's cloud adoption level and associated business benefits in moving to the cloud relative to industry peers, as well as cost and time-to-market improvement estimates based on adoption.

"The tool is not just about plotting where the customer is in their cloud journey and making recommendations, but partners gain executive access. The tool also reveals who you need to talk to and why you need to talk to them," said Mohr.

Additionally, Cisco is launching Cloud Automation Strategy Workshops around the advisor tool along with details on how to drive cloud adoption for the channel. "We're going to train partners on how to deliver cloud advisor workshops to their customers on their own," said Mohr.

Hassan Kassih, director of data center solutions at ConvergeOne, an Eagan, Minn.-based solution provider and Cisco partner, has been piloting workshops for the past few months. He said the workshops have resulted in positive growth for his company and helped drive new professional services sales.

"As we look to help our customers transition to cloud and build hybrid cloud environments, the workshop methodology helps strengthen executive relationships with our clients, locate capability gaps in our customer cloud environments, and provide a blueprint for us to engage customers on their cloud journeys," said Kassih.

The network leader is also offering up its engineers and sales teams to partners to help map out the next cloud move for customers. Mohr said the vendor could provide recommendations for multi-cloud management and advice on how partners can leverage Cisco technology acquired this year through AppDynamics for application performance management as well as its new Workload Optimization Manager developed with Turbonomic.

"All of this is about driving applications and being able to help provide better utilization of their applications – scalable, available, secure," said Mohr.

The next steps in the program are aimed at driving service revenues and profitability for partners through incentives and rebates.

The networking giant is launching Cisco Playcation which rewards partner sales engineers and account managers with a create-you-own $10,000 vacation. Participants are measured based on the amount of cloud services and UCS refresh sales around its new M5 server line. From Aug. 10 to Jan. 27, 2018, the company will provide a total of 30 vacations to the top selling channel sales reps and engineers in the United States.

Cisco is also extending its Cisco Shogun partner rewards program aimed at driving cloud adoption. Shogun's point-based rewards systems allows channel sales engineers to redeem points earned from cloud sales for cash or other prizes. "These two are huge opportunities for partners," said Mohr.

Cisco has also has created bundled offerings with its application-centric cloud management CloudCenter solution together with all of Cisco's converged and hyper-converged infrastructure products including HyperFlex. CloudCenter, which partners can use to modernize data centers or add public cloud application deployment services, now supports dozens of public clouds including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

"The bundle is a nice low-cost entry point for partners to deliver to customers so that we can not only get adoption but also get them to leverage the management suite to attach to clouds," said Mohr. "We truly created a hybrid cloud bundle with CloudCenter and HyperFlex that's delivered today under a single SKU that partners can sell at an extended discount."

Groves said AOS is wrapping additional services around CloudCenter and leveraging it to brand the solution provider.

"CloudCenter is underpinning where services have been extracted from the data center. Now it's underpinning where we see services-rich revenue come back into the data center through automation, orchestration – those types of platforms," said Groves.

Another bundle for partners includes CloudCenter with Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) which includes Nexus 9000 switches.

"So we also have a new low-cost entry point for ACI policy with cloud management. There are some real opportunities to leverage the Hybrid Cloud Sales Play to drive ACI enablement with our cloud providers," said Mohr.

Robert Keblusek, CTO of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sentinel Technologies, ranked No. 117 on CRN’s 2017 Solution Provider 500 list and a top Cisco partner, said Cisco's messaging is "becoming much clearer."

"They want to be able to offer a cloud experience to where you can put in a Cisco foundation for your hybrid cloud services and you can have ACI on that backend and can extend that experience to AWS, Azure, Google – the major public clouds," said Keblusek. "It's making the software portable to these cloud services so you can extend your reach. You can define a workload with Cisco."

In August, the networking giant announced that it was beginning field trials to integrate ACI with the three public cloud infrastructure leaders – AWS, Azure and Google – to make it easy to manage hybrid networks.

Cisco is also opening up its internal Accelerating Cisco Ecosystem Sales (ACES) program to the channel to drive multi-vendor solutions. ACES is a collection of best practices and resources that help partners engage, go-to-market and win deals with Cisco ecosystems partners such as independent software vendors (ISVs).

AOS' Groves said Cisco's ecosystem of partnerships along with the Business Cloud Advisor software would fuel cloud growth.

"I don't need to go out to an ecosystem of partners that I don’t fully understand or know their longevity in the market, to fit the right applications to do migration services. So something like the advisor tool and [ACES] really helps me accelerate that without having to create something from scratch," said Groves.

"Cisco's gotten behind this architecture, and it's really helping me now step out with confidence and invest heavily within the organization to really become a true cloud migration partner," said Groves. "I would much rather be in that position with the rich services to wrap around it, than be the guy who bought a data center and I'm trying to compete now with Azure and AWS – that's a race to zero."

The final step to Cisco's five-step Hybrid Cloud Sales Play is to repeat the cycle on an annual basis to maintain stickiness with the customer. Partners are incentivized to discuss new applications, budgets and security concerns with customer executives annually.

"This basically simplifies our message, it clarifies our cloud strategy and it brings together all the elements of a multi-cloud world under one sales umbrella with a five-step process to success," said Cisco's Mohr. "This whole toolset that we put together will help partners not only get closer to customers, but also remain sticky with them and help them become that trusted advisor."

Partners said the blueprint provides the channel a framework and toolset that will enable them to go-to-market quicker.

"They've filled a number of gaps in their strategy as part of the bigger picture of providing seamless experience whether you're on-premise, in the public cloud, also orchestrating and managing across those," said Sentinel's Keblusek. "The acquisitions of CliQr and others that they've brought to the table is really pulling that picture together and bringing a lot more clarity of where they're heading."

AOS' Groves said looking out the cloud landscape, Cisco's strategy is where the channel should want to be.

"The key to Cisco strategy is now, 'How do we cleanly provide agility and portability of applications in and off the cloud, and what are the suite of applications that make that a feature-rich enterprise experience?' That to me is the right position to be in," said Groves. "Cisco has an incredibly robust partner community, and they've been investing to do the very things that an Azure and AWS and Google actually need."