Palo Alto Picks Up Partner Pace With Worldwide Channel Chief Appointment

Palo Alto Networks, the fast-growing next-generation firewall vendor, is kicking off its fourth annual Americas partner conference this week in San Diego with the appointment of its first worldwide channel chief.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company said Ron Myers, a 15-year channel veteran and the former senior vice president of global channels for videoconferencing vendor Polycom, started Monday in the new job, just in time for Palo Alto Networks' Americas Partner Conference set for San Diego at the Hard Rock Hotel taking place Oct. 2-4. Of the 150 top-tier Palo Alto Americas partners attending the conference, 141 have doubled their sales in the last year.

Myers, a four-year Polycom channel executive recognized multiple times in CRN's annual Channel Chief list, relaunched the Polycom Choice Partner Program winning "Five-Star Partner" ratings for the program for three consecutive years. Myers is coming to a company with a 100 percent-channel model with all of its $400 million in sales going through partners.

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"This is another indicator that Palo Alto Networks is all-in with the channel," said Pradeep Aswani, founder and director of Cloud Harmonics, a next-generation security distributor based in Sunnyvale, Calif. "They are bringing on board high-quality people. They are doubling down on their channel commitment."

Aswani, a 25-year technology veteran, said he has rarely seen the level of channel commitment combined with technology leadership that Palo Alto, a leader in Gartner's 2013 next-generation firewall Magic Quadrant, is bringing to partners. "As a distributor collaborating with the Palo Alto channel, we see the numbers and commitment growing," he said. "I have been in the firewall business for many, many years. Palo Alto is leaps and bounds ahead of other companies."

Palo Alto Networks Chief Marketing Officer Rene Bonvanie said even with fiscal year 2014 sales ended July 31 growing 55 percent to nearly $396.1 million, the next-generation firewall pioneer is just scratching the surface of the $10 billion to $12 billion market opportunity.

"We are still only a 4 to 5 percent shareholder in this market," he said. "That means there is 95 percent of the market left for us to take. There is a lot of opportunity to take money out of pockets of Cisco, Juniper and Check Point. The partner conference is aimed at extending the [next-generation firewall] land grab."

Bonvanie said it is still early days in the next-generation firewall market with many partners yet to make a big bet. "I still see there are partners holding out to some extent or who have not necessarily been as forthcoming because they have large interests in large competitors," he said. "Gradually, as you expect, they start following the money."

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Palo Alto Networks is increasingly being embraced as an approved vendor by Fortune 1000 companies, said Palo Alto's Bonvanie.

"We're at the adult table," he said. "In infrastructure, it takes a while before you get to that table, where you have the right to be a primary vendor to a large enterprise. If you fail, the company's access to the Internet or business operations stop."

Even as Palo Alto Networks embarks on its next wave of channel growth, the company is determined not to over distribute its product. The global Palo Alto channel network consists of just 1,250 solution providers and distributors.

"We are a 100 percent-pure channel company, and the way we do things is we try to be best in class," he said. "We are very focused on making our partners the central axis of our go-to-market strategy." That means adding big investments in channel talent and field resources with the company bringing on board 20 channel account managers over the last year.

The Palo Alto partner ethos means "very frank conversations" with partners with complete transparency, said Bonvanie. "Whatever we do with our own sales force needs to be shared with the partner sales force, and whatever we do with our marketing has to be shared with the marketing organizations of our partners," he said. "We run advisory councils for the business owners as well as the marketing folks."

Bonvanie, one of the architects of the early Palo Alto Networks channel program, said he expects Myers to have a big impact as Palo Alto scales its channel program.

"It is a very big deal for us to have someone the caliber of Ron who can make strategic choices about global distribution, compliance, growth and margins and do it in a very strategic way," said Bonvanie. "It's imperative for a company like ours that when we go to market with partners, we take a global approach. We do a lot of global deals, and our customers want a single set of terms and conditions. This is going to make it easier for us to do business globally. Getting someone with Ron's experience will have an immeasurable impact."

The appointment of Myers represents a coming of age of sorts for Palo Alto, which has grown rapidly from a technology pioneer and startup of just 50 employees when Bonvanie started four years ago to a 1,200-employee organization respected as a next-generation firewall enterprise power. "It's amazing to see how a great idea and the conviction of doing things with the channel can lead to a company of this size," he said.