CRN Exclusive: Puppet Channel Chief On 'Partner-Centric' Transformation And DevOps Opportunities For The Channel

'Hyper Growth'

At Puppet, the "timing is right" for a major push to boost its engagement with channel partners, said John Schwan, vice president of global partner sales and programs at the Portland, Ore.-based company. Puppet is a key enabling technology for DevOps and IT infrastructure automation, among other things, and "the market is in hyper-growth right now," Schwan said in an interview with CRN.

"Puppet has a unique solution in the market, and a unique opportunity for partners," said Schwan. "It's a highly service-driven opportunity for partners to engage with."

In the following slides, we've included the highlights from our Q&A with Schwan about changes to the channel program at Puppet and how the company is working with partners.

What are your biggest goals for Puppet's partner program?

It's a path of partner centricity. And what I mean by that is, Puppet has a robust ecosystem, but did not have a complete global -- or even North America -- partner vision, as related to how to engage the partner community effectively. And with Puppet Enterprise continuing to grow, it provides a unique opportunity for those partners that have built a data center practice, and that are experiencing this digital transformation that's going on. So whether you call it DevOps, digital transformation, moving to the cloud, Agile IT -- all those are influences that Puppet can make better. We solve these real-world problems, and these are the problems that legacy hardware and software development have created. And so Puppet has a unique solution in the market, and a unique opportunity for partners. It's a highly service-driven opportunity for partners to engage with. The timing's right -- the market is in hyper-growth right now. Many customers are either migrating off of open source, or realizing that with their DevOps strategy it's important to have Puppet as a key component of it. Or, doing management and automation more effectively, and using Puppet as the facilitator for that. So this is right in the sweet spot for solution providers.

What makes Puppet different in the marketplace?

I think that it's the outcomes that Puppet allows to be recognized. For example, you see companies that have processes that are ad hoc, manual or error-prone. They are moving those to make sure that they're automatic, standard and deliberate. Security is another issue, and Puppet provides the ability to have inherent security. And then it's taking those legacy platforms to [be] 'constantly modern.' That's the tectonic shift where customers are trying to get to these basic outcomes, that they're struggling with. And Puppet has a key component of software that allows you to set the standards, and make sure that things are delivered at will. That's the thing that we do better than anyone else. And the other thing is that we do it at scale, unparalleled by anybody that's in our space.

What are some examples of ways that a channel partner brings Puppet Enterprise to a customer?

There are two major focus areas where our partners are participating right now. The word 'DevOps' is just as much of a philosophy as it is an approach, and a lot of customers are asking how they automate their software development, deployment and management. And there's a huge opportunity for partners that are really having that conversation. The reality is if you can't develop, deploy, create and manage -- more efficiently and more agile -- there's a missed market opportunity. So from a partner perspective, they're looking for guidance as it relates to how to embark on this DevOps journey -- how to create the right philosophy around it, to deliver the outcomes that can impact the business. And from a partner perspective, that is a huge opportunity for them. Then the other big bucket is management, automation and orchestration. So as workloads are moving to the cloud and back, it's important to have the tools to make sure that policies are enforced, and migrations and workloads can move. And Puppet is really adding value to those solutions.

Could you cite an example of what some partner services around Puppet might be?

It really comes down to taking the code and delivering the outcome. From a base level, our strong DevOps partners are delivering DevOps workshops, which includes how to implement and manage Puppet. And they're doing jump-start programs, as it relates to how to get started with Puppet. Those are from the baseline -- how to get Puppet 101 to the customers -- all the way to doing multicloud, multigovernance, adding different layers within Puppet on top of just what they've installed. And the great thing is, once you have the code installed, and you tell what you want it to do from a definitive basis, you can keep adding additional layers to that. So it runs the gamut -- from those who are just helping customers understand what a DevOps philosophy needs to be, to those that are doing very robust, huge orchestration management platform changes for customers, into private cloud as well as the public cloud.

How is your background influencing this transformation at Puppet?

I came to Puppet just six months ago -- I was asked by Gary Greene, who is our VP of worldwide sales, to join. Gary and I worked together for over a decade at VMware. My last two years were at Tintri, where I took a very similar approach, for a storage company that was less than 50 percent indirect, and by the time I left, we were in excess of 88 percent with partners. So that's the same shift, and cultural shift, that we are taking on at Puppet -- to build programs, processes and people, to support the partner ecosystem in ways that we never have before. …

I joined VMware in 2002 when virtualization was considered black voodoo magic. Now it's an industry standard. I absolutely see a unique parallel that Puppet is creating, that the timing has never been more right for the digital transformation, and a technology that allows that to really take place, in much more efficient, scalable way. And so I would say this is early days, even though Puppet's been around for over a decade, as it relates to how fast this market's moving, and what the market opportunity is for our solution providers. I would hope we can take this to a $6 billion company as well.

Are you recruiting new partners?

Right now I would say that we're not actively trying to expand our partner base -- what we're doing is solidifying base that we have. This is not a mass expansion. What we're really doing is making sure we're focused on the partners that have already demonstrated a proficiency to perform, that have trained and certified some individuals, but are looking to increase their service offerings around Puppet. And driving that outcome, as opposed to trying to add any more partners. Globally we have 174 total partners. We divide them up into what we classify as corporate -- which is the baseline entry -- and then Silver, Gold and Platinum. We only have four Platinum partners, and they have differentiated themselves by having the highest degree of certification, as well as being active service delivery partners for us as well. They provide service around the things that they sell, and we also integrate with them to help them deliver solutions that've been sold -- some of the most complex things. If you know Puppet, you realize, we're not shrink-wrapped software. It's powerful code, but you actually have to have some intelligence to do what you want it to do.

What can you say about the latest changes for the channel program?

The Platinum program was something that we announced at PuppetConf in October, really to differentiate that top end. And we've made some significant investments in the team. We'll be doubling the staff, including all aspects of supporting it, from a marketing, operations and program standpoint, as well as the partner sales managers themselves. That team was roughly four people, and by the time this fiscal year ends [at the end of January 2018], we'll have close to 14 people internationally.

I'm a big believer that if you're not easy to do business with, if you're not providing partners [information] on how to engage, then you're really going to be struggling. What we've done is we're launching a brand-new partner portal, that has all the bells and whistles that you would expect a big company to have. From how you learn, to how you sell it, how you register it, all those sort of things. I think it's going to make that ease of use even more appealing to partners. And we have brand-new deal registration, which is also housed within that portal. It's based on technology from a vendor called Vartopia, which allows a multivendor registration to occur.

How is Puppet working to avoid channel conflict?

We have a very dedicated segmented sales model that we rolled out this fiscal year, which started in February. The biggest change that Puppet's made is that the corporate segment for us -- which is everything that's not strategic or enterprise as named accounts -- is 100 percent partner. That is brand new to Puppet, that is partner-first. And then the enterprise segment and strategic segment, we classify those are partner-centric, where we will work to engage with the partners that offer the best value to their customers and our customers in a combined fashion. So that's a huge move for Puppet, as it relates to having a partner-centric strategy.

We have 30 named strategic accounts, globally. And the enterprise account list is a set number of accounts, per field rep. We have roughly 700 enterprise accounts, and then anything else is classified as corporate. It's anything that's outside of those named accounts -- anything outside of that is partner-only. So partners can know that they will be protected in that space, that there will be zero channel conflict with us.

What percentage of revenue is through channel partners right now?

Globally we're less than 35 percent partner, and our goal is to increase that dramatically this fiscal year. I can't give you the exact number that I've signed up to [CEO] Sanjay [Mirchandani] on, but if our goal is to continue to try to double the business, you can imagine that we're going to have to try to double our partner participation as well. And having that corporate segment, which was less than 50 percent partner-engaged, to be 100 percent, is going to make a significant change as well.

It's not just partner sales team's responsibility for enabling and working with partners, it's everyone at Puppet's responsibility to do it. So we're very excited about where we are, in terms of having a very clear strategy that everyone can understand.

Any idea when you may be looking to take on more partners?

We are going to continue to evolve the model for us, but also we're going to evolve as a company. We will be looking for ways to expand our addressable market in FY18, and as that market expands, then that might open the door for why we might need a different set of partners.

There are some partners that are already strong AWS partners that have come to Puppet, but they're not all there. So I imagine there will be some migration of those 'born-in-the-cloud' partners, like 2nd Watch and others, into our program. In many cases they've been doing services around Puppet open source, but are now seeing the customer demand, and value, and need to move to enterprise. And that's maybe where the growth will be, and it's something we're exploring.

But for right now, between our key alliance partners, we've got very strong programs and incentives that we're also building. Whether it's EMC, Dell EMC, Cisco, VMware. We'll also be doing more with partners that I would classify as our secondary key alliances -- Atlassian, Jenkins, CloudBees. That's what might drive some future growth -- maybe they have partners that we don't have, maybe we have partners that they don't have.