Cisco Wants Partners To Become Security Masters

Cisco is calling on a select group of partners to mold their businesses to become security specialists as part of their efforts to meet the growing demand for complex security solutions. At the same time, Cisco and Microsoft are calling on security partners to get a jump start deploying network access control solutions based on interoperable technologies from the two vendors.

Cisco this week is launching its Master Secu-rity specialization, the first in a planned series of top-level badges for partners that want to take a deep dive into specific technology areas.

The launch follows last week's release of detailed plans for interoperability between network access control technologies from Cisco and Microsoft, setting up potentially vast services and consulting opportunities that channel partners can begin to capitalize on today.

Troubadour, a Houston-based Cisco partner, expects to go after the new Master Security specialization, said Jay Kirby, vice president of sales, calling the new badge "a testimony to us that we made the right decision to become a specialist." Troubadour two years ago made the decision to focus on security, he said.

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"Every step I take [toward the Master Security specialization] is going to better our position in the marketplace to brand ourselves as an expert," Kirby said.

The new specialization will serve to distinguish partners that have put a lot of skin into the Cisco security game, said Edison Peres, vice president and chief go-to-market officer for worldwide channels at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

"It's a pretty rigorous process and not something every partner is going to get," Peres said.

The specific requirements to achieve Master Security status are set to be unveiled Tuesday. Requirements for a new Master Unified Communications badge are expected to debut in the next 30 to 45 days, while additional Master badges in areas such as wireless and data center technologies are currently under evaluation, he said.

To qualify for Master Security, a partner must hold Cisco's Advanced Security badge and several industry-recognized Cisco and non-Cisco credentials. In addition, partners must pass an on-site validation of their expertise by a third-party auditor and offer up five reference accounts that showcase complex solutions skills.

In return, Master-level partners will receive top-level discounts on security products that match the discount level offered to Gold partners, extra cash back in Cisco's Value Incentive Program back-end rebate initiative and a special recognition on Cisco's online partner locator tool.

Peres estimated that approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of Cisco's 1,800 worldwide Advanced Security partners will strive for the new Master badge. It is unclear how many will actually attain it, he said.

Many of those same security partners should also be ramping up on network access control solutions, said executives at The Security Standard, a conference held in Boston last week.

At the show, Cisco and Microsoft delivered on a two-year old promise to provide interoperability between their respective network access security offerings.

The two companies demonstrated an interoperable architecture for Cisco's Network Admission Control (NAC) and Microsoft's Network Access Protection (NAP) technology. Both offerings aim to protect corporate networks by verifying the security health status of devices before granting them access.

General availability of the interoperable technology will come with Microsoft's launch of its "Longhorn" Windows Server, slated for the second half of 2007, but partners shouldn't wait that long to begin building solutions, said Mark Ashida, general manager of Windows networking at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.

"You're going to have to work out a few things in advance, so it's a good opportunity to bond with customers long-term," Ashida said.

The potential market opportunity for solution providers working with network access control is huge, said Christian Rolland, CTO of VLSystems, an Irvine, Calif.-based VAR.

"Every customer we approach is always pointing to the port on the wall and asking how they can protect against someone plugging in there," Rolland said.