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Palo Alto Networks Appoints New Worldwide Channel Chief After Executive Reshuffle

Jay Fitzgerald

Worldwide Channel Chief Karl Soderlund is moving to head up North America Ecosystems and is being replaced by a five year Palo Alto Networks channel veteran Tom Evans.

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Tom Evans

Karl Soderlund is leaving his post as the worldwide channel chief for security powerhouse Palo Alto Networks to lead the North America ecosystems organization and is being replaced by Tom Evans, the company’s vice president of worldwide channel sales strategy.

The major channel moves come as Palo Alto Networks prepares to open its annual Ignite conference this week in Las Vegas.

In a LinkedIn message, Soderlund, who took over as senior vice president of worldwide channel sales in 2018, announced his transition to a new post Monday morning.

“After 5 years of successfully leading Worldwide Channel Sales and the NextWave Partner Program at Palo Alto Networks, I‘m excited to announce that I have made the decision to transition internally and accept the honor of leading the NAM (North America) Ecosystems team,” said Soderlund, whose LinkedIn page already reflects his changed title at Palo Alto Networks.

“In this leadership role, I‘ll be responsible for driving all ecosystem routes to market, developing and executing a competitive (Go to Market) GTM strategy, and leading a world-class sales team. I look forward to continuing to embody Palo Alto Networks’ core values in everything I do,”

After announcing his job change, Soderlund then revealed in the same LinkedIn post that Tom Evans, the senior vice president of North American ecosystem sales, will be taking over as head of worldwide channel sales.

“I‘d like to congratulate my colleague and friend, Tom Evans, as he steps in to take over leadership of Worldwide Channel Sales,” Soderlund said.

“As a core member of the Palo Alto Networks family, I know he will continue to do great things for the team and our partners.

In his own LinkedIn message, Evans congratulated Soderlund on his new role at Palo Alto Networks.

“Although he will be missed on the global team, I am excited to take on new challenges with Worldwide Channel Sales and look forward to my continued work with this excellent team and our valued partners,” said Evans.

Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech, Fort Lauderdale, Fla Palo Alto Networks partner, No. 95 on the CRN 2022 Solution Provider 500, said the security software behemoth needs to make sure it maintains its sharp focus on its bread and butter solution provider partners as it moves to build a North America Ecosystems program under Soderlund.

“My message to Palo Alto Networks is to not dilute your existing solution provider ecosystem by bringing in partners that do not drive true value to you as a company,” he said.

The ecosystems build out by Palo Alto Networks and other vendors is as part of a shift to reward the full panoply of ecosystem partners including Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and service providers for cloud consumption.

Venero, for his part, said vendors must be careful that they are focused on delivering better business outcomes in a hybrid computing world rather than just purely focused on public cloud providers and online marketplaces.

“You have to build solutions for customers that are use specific to the customers and what their needs are,” said Venero. “There is no one silver bullet in IT. I don’t care who you are whether you are AWS, Google or Palo Alto Networks.”

Venero said he sees the vendor ecosystem trend as a rebranding of sorts. “From my perspective ecosystem is just another word for partner alignment,” he said. “Vendors have always had an ecosystem of partners to drive the business outcomes customers are looking for. To me it is a rebranding and an expansion with different types of partners being brought into the ecosystem. What is the definition of an ecosystem? It is a group of companies coming together to support the end business outcome for a customer. That is what we have been doing at Future Tech for the last 26 years. This is just a rebranding with vendors adding other partners to the ecosystem which they should always be doing. You have to adjust to the times but also be cognizant of the risks associated with everything cloud.”

Some vendors as they move to cloud become enamored with a pure cloud model rewarding partners purely on cloud consumption, but losing sight of the hybrid computing model or even customer business outcome or customer satisfaction, said Venero. “We are a huge proponent of on premise consumption models for mission critical applications versus pure cloud utilization,” he said.

The CEO for a top national solution provider, who did not want to be identified, said he sees the Palo Alto Networks ecosystems drive as a sign of the times.

“We need to sit down with Palo Alto Networks and look at practically how this will affect us,” he said. “We need to look at how this might change partner coverage models, how they prioritize partners and how they would work with us.”

The key for solution providers as vendors build out the ecosystem model is the to continue to bring to market multiple security software provider products, integrating them into business outcomes for customers, said the CEO. “You need to be deep with multiple vendor partners,” he said. “Everything is evolving. Partners need to evolve and change to drive business outcones with multiple providers. The pressure is on the channel partner to create those solutions.”

Before joining Palo Alto Networks in late 2017, Evans worked in channel posts at K2 and F5 Networks, according to his LinkedIn page.

A representative for Palo Alto Networks provided a statement attributed to Don Jones, senior vice president of global ecosystems: “Our ecosystem of partners [has] never been more critical to the company’s success. As partners of all types are leaning into cybersecurity broadly and Palo Alto Networks specifically, we are making significant investments to support them. We are establishing ecosystems lead roles in each theater (EMEA, Americas and JAPAC). Patricia Murphy recently joined us to lead the ecosystems business in EMEA and we are delighted to have Karl Soderlund assume this role for the Americas. In his role as SVP NAM Ecosystems, Karl will have responsibility for the sales execution across all partner types (Distribution, VAR, MSP, SP, SI etc.) in the Americas region. With Karl taking on this role, Tom Evans will continue his role as VP of Worldwide Channel Strategy and assume responsibility globally for the long-term strategy regarding our NextWave program as well as global distribution.”

Both Soderlund and Evans started their careers at Palo Alto Networks about five years ago – and both have seen the company evolve from a largely firewall-focused firm to a multibillion-dollar giant within network security, cloud security and security operations.

Indeed, Soderlund’s promotion from Americas channel chief to global channel chief in June 2018 came only a day after longtime Google leader Nikesh Arora started as Palo Alto Networks‘ chairman and CEO.

During the Arora era, Palo Alto Networks has transformed into a security juggernaut, with a new focus on cloud security, via a combination of internally developed products and an aggressive acquisition strategy that’s included the takeover of more than a dozen firms since 2018.

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