Future Proof? Channel Chiefs Talk About Tomorrow's Solution Provider

Looking Towards The Future

While there are a lot of market changes affecting businesses right now, it's always important to keep an eye on the long-term market horizon. To say the industry has been in turmoil over the past two weeks would be an understatement, with Hewlett-Packard's plan to split into two businesses and Symantec's move to break up its security and storage business into two separate companies topping the list. Prior to that news, however, CRN editors sat down at The Channel Company's recent XChange conference with the channel chiefs from Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Rackspace to get their predictions for the channel over the next 12 months. With answers ranging from how many partners they would add to the evolution of the solution provider, they all had a lot to say about the future of the industry.

Frank Vitagliano, Vice President, Channel Sales, Dell

I have to tell you I have seen the solution providers sort of evolve into and migrate their business into continually figuring out how to satisfy their customers. … I've seen this evolution and I think it's going to continue. I'm not sure that we're not already there and a lot of this is … hype to just kind of continue to talk about it. Everywhere I go now we're in these discussions and I think we're in it. I think they've made the migration, a lot of them, and I think they're there. There's more to do -- don't get me wrong -- but I think next year at this time we'll be having a very similar conversation about where we are … and I think at some point we'll just stop having it because we'll say we're there.

Bruce Klein, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Partner Organization, Cisco

I think from a prediction standpoint, I think we all talk about solutions and really it's about outcomes, business outcomes, and I think our partners, the big transition is they're going to find the way to sell technology outcomes to IT. They're going to sell business outcomes to line of business and they're going to be able to sell transformational outcomes to CXOs and that's, I think, a big transition that's happening. It's starting now.

Will Knight, Vice President, Channel Partner Sales, Rackspace

I think we'll probably triple our partner base this year. ... I think the big thing will be half of them will be nontraditional partners that you wouldn't necessarily have officially put them in a box and it doesn't mean we won't add more resellers and systems integrators and solution providers over the next 12 months. We'll certainly add a lot of those, but I think we'll also be redefining what we look at for partners and we realize there are more partners out there than we imagine today. We're somewhat self-limiting ourselves when we think about traditional partners, so for me that's probably the biggest trend that I'm seeing for a [solution provider] or [managed service provider].

Tami Duncan, Vice President, North America Channels, IBM

I see us doubling the number of partners we have signed up on SoftLayer. We've got about 1,000 today. I think we'll see that at least double and I think that we'll see a ramp in scale start to take off on that. I haven't talked to a single partner when they understand the technical underpinnings of that, that aren't blown away by it. They just need to be able to have that deeper cloud positioning conversation with their clients to get more comfortable with it.

Stephen DiFranco, Vice President, General Manager, Solution Partners Organization, Hewlett-Packard

I would say that a year from now, this ’new style of IT' that we're talking about is going to drive a couple of things. It's going to drive partners to think about themselves as practices instead of just products. … It's going to be a practice-driven marketplace in the future for the VARs and I think that will lead us to selling capacity instead of selling hardware. … I think that's incredibly important because that's the only way the hybrid world really works. It can't work in a world where you're buying capital in a traditional model and services in a nontraditional model.