NetApp Changes Channel Program To Focus On Partners' Changing Customer Needs

Peter Howard

NetApp is revamping its channel program to make it more focused on helping partners based on how they do business with their customers, and less on how the storage vendor wants to do business with partners and customers.

Peter Howard, vice president of global channel sales and an eight-year NetApp veteran, said NetApp's new unified partner program is aimed at simplifying how solution providers work with the company.

"We want to enable partners to evolve their business based on where their customers are going," Howard said. "In the past, a reseller who wanted to dig into integration or into services found it difficult. Our program was too complex."

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The new unified partner program appears to be a move to focus on customers' "consumption economics," said Keith Norbie, director of server, virtualization and storage for the Eastern U.S. at Technology Integration Group (TIG), a San Diego-based solution provider and NetApp partner.

"This is a modernization of a channel program that reflects reality," Norbie said. "Hats off to NetApp for doing it."

Norbie said it is hard for vendors to handle the transformations their solution providers are going through.

"For example, we may tell customers we're committed to private clouds," he said. "But at some time, the customer will want to go to a public cloud. And partners will want to make sure customers can buy their equipment locally."

This could be a groundbreaking program, even though it is probably one that has been delayed by at least three years, Norbie said.

"Going back at least to VMware vSphere 4.0, we've seen vendors pop up with information about Infrastructure-as-a-Service," he said. "But the vendors haven't really responded to the changes because the investment community has not necessarily understood how to factor in the service provider model. Now they do."

The different types of partner business models are now so prevalent that it's important for vendors to have a unified partner program, Norbie said.

"A lot of companies talk unified, but [NetApp's program] could actually be unified," he said.

Howard on May 1 took over NetApp's channel programs from Todd Palmer, former NetApp vice president of American channels.

Howard inherited a strong channel legacy at NetApp. Over 80 percent of NetApp's sales come via indirect channels.

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Howard said the unified approach helps partners move in any direction their customers need, including consulting, resale and service provider.

"We recognize that, like other vendors, the industry is moving to a hybrid approach, including selling cloud services and advising customers how and when to adopt those services," he said.

In response, NetApp is now enhancing its reseller contracts with a series of click-through addendums that let solution providers quickly add new practices such as systems integration or first-line support.

Also new is changing how NetApp sales reps are compensated to a system that pays them based on what partners want to do.

"Before, if a partner wanted to stand up a Storage-as-a-Service offering, it required a separate service provider contract, after which we would have to look at how we could offer that capability," Howard said. "So for partners looking for access to the right people, we weren't as responsive to their needs."

To fix that, NetApp has broken down the process, Howard said. "So if a partner wants to explore a new business area, we can get them the right resources at the right time."

NetApp also has programs to help customers find partners based on their overall business models, whether they are services brokers or doing their own services, Howard said.

For NetApp solution providers, the services business is a great opportunity given that NetApp made it clear years ago that it would not focus on its own services capabilities, and instead would get out of partners' way, Howard said.