CRN Exclusive: New HPE Global Channel Chief Denzil Samuels On Synergy Sales Offensive, Dell's Channel 'Imitation' Game And Future Acquisitions

Leading The Channel Charge At HPE

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Global Chief Channel Officer Chief Denzil Samuels, who took the top channel job at HPE just 69 days ago, is leading the channel charge around hybrid IT, intelligent edge and Internet of Things, and blockbuster new channel plays including HPE's Synergy composable infrastructure and SimpliVity.

Samuels, the former head of global channels for IoT superstar GE Digital and cloud highflier Salesforce, is leading the offensive to get partners fully up to speed on Synergy as a blade replacement platform.

"We never thought about Synergy as essentially being blade replacement," said Samuels in an interview with CRN. "But it actually can be a blade replacement providing bare metal, virtualization and containers at a price point that is much better than anything on the market."

Samuels, in fact, said competitors have yet to "figure out" the dramatic impact that Synergy is going to have in the market. "When they figure out what we have got there, honestly, it is going to create some shock waves," he said.

Beside Synergy, Samuels spoke with CRN about a wide range of issues including the channel battle with rival Dell EMC and the HPE channel plan for future acquisitions.

How does it feel to be joining HPE?

It has been great joining this company. It was tough to leave GE, but when you look at where HPE is positioned right now, I think the world is kind of at our doorstep and that is one of the main reasons that I came here.

A lot of the distractions are gone: the spin mergers, all the stuff we have had to go through as a company over the last few years is pretty much done, and we are at that exciting phase of the journey -- which is growing, acquiring and organically growing to achieve the strategy -- to really go out and make hybrid IT simple, to really go out and power the intelligent edge and then back it up with the services to support both.

I am excited. I would tell you, timing is everything. For me, I feel this is the best time to be joining HPE.

What was your experience at GE Digital and how did that lead to connecting with HPE?

At GE Digital what I was doing was building the partner ecosystem. And when you have an engine that is GE to build that ecosystem, it is amazing how fast you can build it. Everyone from independent software vendors to the big global systems integrators to the telcos to the service providers to the channels and resellers, they just wanted to be on board because the message to the market was so compelling. We truly believed at GE that the digitization of the world of industrials is as big as the industrial revolution was itself. It was an exciting place to be.

What kind of view into the technology industry do you have as the global head of channels for HPE?

One of the things that I don't think people who have seen me join HPE realize is that I had access to the top leaders of all the vendors. So I would sit down with them, get to meet them, interview them, work with them, get to build partner programs with them. So I got to know their strategy and what was going on.

Obviously, I can't talk about that stuff. But let me just tell you the reason I came to HPE is because I could see from a GE vantage point that our story, our strategy, our portfolio, our positioning, our executive know-how with Meg [Whitman, president and CEO] and Antonio [Neri, executive vice president, general manager, Enterprise Group] was second to none compared to all of the competitors that HPE had in the market.

It was just compelling to hear this story and see it start to unfold from a GE perspective. So when I was approached to potentially come and join HPE, it was actually a no-brainer for me.

Was it tough to leave GE Digital?

It was tough to leave because I took a lot of people to GE. I had a fantastic relationship with [GE CEO] Jeff Immelt and [GE Digital CEO] Bill Ruh. But they also know I was coming to a partner who would help them grow. So it was mixed emotions on both sides. But in the end it was a positive thing. And we are working closely with GE Digital as a partner.

I saw every single one of our competitors' strategy, their approach and hands down HPE had nailed it. They get it. They understand what is going on. They are most able to achieve it right now. As I said, timing is everything.

Talk about your first 60 days on the job at HPE and what kind of feedback you have gotten from partners.

I haven't yet spent a lot of time with the employee population I inherited. I met a lot of the leaders and I have done some town halls. What I have done is pretty much spent the last 60 days talking to partners. I have had 21 different face-to-face partner meetings – probably double that in terms of calls with partners and then I have done five deep dives, meaning one two day sessions with five of our top partners. The messaging I am getting and the thoughts and the direction is pretty consistent. It is great to see there is a consistent messaging.

What is your message to partners after 60 days on the job?

Our message to the partners is simplification. We have been a trusted channel and they have been a trusted channel for us for so many years. Partnering with Hewlett Packard and HPE is our first nature. It is not foreign to us at all. We get it. We understand it. We lead it.

Our HPE Partner Ready is viewed as the best in the industry, even though there are some competitors trying to say they have a better program. That is just simply not true. When we start to stand up what we do and have done ... side by side to some of our competitors claims' hands down we are better. And it is not us telling folks that, it is our partners telling us that.

Our partners are telling us, 'You know what, you guys have actually got a better program. You make us more profitable. You give us more access in terms of segments and geographies. Your portfolio is more complete. And we trust you because you have been doing it for longer.'

What are the plans for the HPE Partner Ready Program?

We have built a great program. There is no point trying to reinvent something that is already working or fixing something that is not broken. What we want to do is show how we can make it simpler and simpler: simpler to integrate new partners into the program, simpler to integrate a new program such as SimpliVity and Niara. Let's make it simpler for those partners. Let's make it easier to get access to the programs in different countries and different parts of the world, and let's make it easy to embrace more and more different types of partners such as the systems integrators, ISVs and the technology partners as well as the channels.

Let's just make it simple. Let's build upon what we have already got and keep it simple. If we keep it simple, we will win. You will see us have less and less complexity and make it easier and easier to embrace HPE Partner Ready.

What is the HPE story in IoT and the industrial Internet of Things versus the competition?

If you look at the world of industrials, 1 percent productivity in the industrial world is over $1 trillion of value. What you are selling in this world of IoT and what you are selling in this digital world is you are selling outcomes.

Really, what you are selling is you are saying, 'Look, I will show you, customer, how to reduce your costs or I'll show you how to minimize your risk or I'll show you how to grow your business by double digits or I'll show you how to gain greater levels of productivity. That is what customers in every category right now are buying. They are not necessarily buying a server. They are not necessarily buying storage, they are buying outcomes. Now if they happen to be using your technology to drive that outcome, then it is a win-win.

What I love about HPE is we are selling outcomes. That is what are selling. We want our partners to be doing the same. And a lot of the big partners get that. They are pivoting to solution selling to outcome selling and they are embracing that.

How is that business outcome selling in areas like IoT impacting the channel and the HPE strategy?

They are embracing IoT. They are embracing digitization. So what I loved about the HPE story is how does our technology make it easier for the customers to buy because it is driving an outcome for the customer.

We are seeing a greater need for consumption-based pricing. If you can truly bring public cloud economics to private cloud, you are already delivering an outcome to customers. Now if you can link it up to things that really are specific to what they do in their particular vertical or their world, you have just made life more interesting for your customer. And that is really what I loved about the HPE strategy.

It is saying, 'Look, in this world that we are going to right now some of our customers have investments they have made in data centers and in products they have bought, some have actually moved some of their applications to public cloud, some of them have private cloud, some are still doing on-premise. We know and understand that. So we have to respect those investments.

How important is that hybrid cloud strategy for HPE?

This can't be – nor do we see it being for a long period of time – a rip and replace or move everything to public or everything to private. We know it is going to take different flavors. So if we come to you with a portfolio and say if you want to keep it on-prem you can do that with us, if you want to move it to the cloud – private or public – you can do that with us, if you want to have the processing done at the edge you can do that with us and, by the way, if you do it in a way that is software-defined we bring simplicity to the whole thing. And if you can do it in a way where you can see everything through a single pane of glass – i.e., HPE OneView – your world becomes simpler. And you have protected your investment and you are building for the future.

If you look at the stuff we are doing with Synergy, SimpliVity, Niara, Aruba, that is exactly what we are delivering. We are delivering solutions they can buy and they can protect investments they have already made.

What do the recent acquisitions mean to partners?

First and foremost, the partners are thrilled about the acquisitions we are making. They are thrilled about SimpliVity. They are thrilled about what we have done more recently with Cloud Cruiser on the metering side. Niara is going to be an incredible opportunity for us. To do behavioral trending and to be able to prevent cyberintrusion versus reacting, which is what most cyber software ,does is huge. What Aruba brings to the table is huge, and I think you have seen that already.

Let me tell you, the partners love the portfolio we are building. And they are coming to us in droves saying, 'How do we get this, and how do we get this faster?' That is number one.

What impact is Synergy having on partners and HPE itself?

They are also excited about Synergy. I think several months ago they didn't fully understand what Synergy brought them. And to some extent maybe we didn't across the board.

We never thought about Synergy as essentially being blade replacement. We have been pushing composable infrastructure. But it actually can be a blade replacement providing bare metal, virtualization and containers at a price point that is much better than anything on the market. That is exciting for the partners. They cannot wait to get their hands on it and sell it.

What is the economic impact that Synergy is going to have on partners and customers?

The thing I love is Synergy is just a single infrastructure and it completely takes out the operational complexity that you see in the more traditional workloads. So you get speed of operations. You get speed of applications. You get speed of services. You have got bare metal. You have got virtualization. You have got containers. You have got an extensible platform. You have got everything at a price point that is so aggressive in the market that I just don't think our competitors are thinking about. When they figure out what we have got there, honestly, it is going to create some shock waves to them. I don't think yet our competitors have figured out what Synergy is all about.

Our partners have, and you are going to see some incredible excitement in the marketplace with that, especially when you combine it with the other software-defined stuff that we are acquiring. Again, it's that simplicity: software-defined, single pane of glass, single infrastructure, flexibility on business model, ability to go between whatever the customer wants – private, on-prem, public, edge. The fact that we can do it all. That is what is getting our partners excited.

What is the call to action for partners on Synergy?

The number one call to action to them is you are only going to be able to go fast if you know it. So our call to action is enablement, enablement, enablement. We are going to certify you. We are going to drive webinars, training schedules, classes. We are going to show you solutions. We are going to give you proof points. We are going to help you with your advertising. We are going to launch MDF-focused outcome selling for you. We are going to put SWAT teams – high-touch teams that can help you with the more complex sales. We are going to show ROI. We are going to show you how you are going to be able to deliver better TCO than anyone else. I think if you look at this portfolio, the big ones as well as the small ones are champing at the bit.

What do partners have to do to make sure they are ready to sell Synergy and how quickly you see that developing?

We are not going to be restricting any of our partners. If they want to be selling Synergy, they are going to have access to Synergy. We have gone GA [general availability] with Synergy. The only thing we are saying is: Before you get your hands on it, know what you've got. It is so impressive, so powerful, so disruptive in terms of ROI against our competitors. But know it. Know it. Don't just take it and try to bring it to market. Understand it. Understand the power of it and how it can really help your customers in terms of solving problems. So it is very important for us to make sure that we get partners enabled on that fast.

To that end, we are going to leverage the power of this channel machine and everything we have got from the webinars and classroom and train the trainer and online support and in classroom training and regional sessions. We have been rolling that out for the last couple of months. We are rolling that out aggressively and every conversation I am having with partners I am talking about Synergy.

What is the SMB customer play with the HPE portfolio?

I just spent some time with a distributor at a West Coast reseller event and I talked to probably 40 or 50 resellers yesterday, just shaking their hands, asking them what they are excited about. And they were excited about the portfolio even for SMB and a whole variety of areas – K-12, some of the Aruba applications and how they fit into the K-12 space. I talked to a number of folks in the oil and gas space, others looking for solutions for lawyers' offices.

The SMB is great because the SMB is shorter sales cycles. You can actually sell faster. You can actually sell infrastructure that can scale and grow as their businesses scale and grow and that is what partners love.

What is your reaction to some of the claims from competitors, particularly Dell EMC?

There is a little bit of watch and see, I think, going on in some of these other competitive programs, especially the newly launched Dell one. Dell has made a lot of noise about how much they spend on partner incentives; the reason we haven't responded to that is our partners know we spent probably four or five times that last year and we'll continue to do that. It is something we don't even have to publish. It is something our partners know. So they actually look skeptically at what Dell is saying.

How different is the HPE model from the competition including Dell EMC?

Partners trust us. One of the reasons they trust is we have a management team from Meg on down to lowest levels of the organization that know the channel, love the channel. We are partner-first.

That is just not true of our competitors. The reason you see a lot of our competitors making a lot of noise right now is because they have to. They don't have that trust.

Dell is a great example. Dell's channel chief does not come from a channel background. I look at some of the things being rolled out there and I think imitation is the highest form of flattery. It is kind of nice that they are trying to play catch-up with us right now.

The other thing I would say is there is a lot of noise but you know the age-old saying, 'Empty vessels make the most noise.' Let's just look and see who wins this race in the long term. My money is on us.

What is the channel model in terms of the acquisition strategy and the channel model going forward?

First and foremost, I have a team that is 100 percent dedicated to the acquisition team. So as we are looking at the acquisitions, we are looking in parallel at how we would build and pull them straight into the channel. So, for example, in the short term we have already made sure when you look at SimpliVity we have already made sure that any partner – whether they were working with SimpliVity or HPE separately – has full access to the portfolio. We are doing that straight out of the gate.

How does the channel strategy play out in future acquisitions?

In the future it is going to be even more seamless because as we are involved in the acquisition process, we are identifying the ecosystem and the partners so that by the time we complete the acquisition it is ready, steady, go. It is ready to roll out.

We are not going to have months and months of analysis following an acquisition; we are ready to roll as that acquisition closes. And you are going to see that once we have closed the Nimble acquisition. You are going to see that in future acquisitions. We are also feeding the acquisition strategy. There is a core group of people that sit with Meg and Antonio and because channel is such a big part of our revenue and our bookings, we are involved in those discussions.

So I sit in those discussions with Antonio, [HPE Chief Sales Officer] Peter [Ryan] and Meg, and there are no surprises. We are very, very focused on all of the stuff I just shared with you. We are going to bring greater simplicity to rolling this out to the channel with incredible timing post-acquisition.

What does the Nimble Storage acquisition bring to partners and how quickly will you move there?

Right now we haven't closed that. So I am kind of limited to what I can say about it. But what I will tell you about is the approach. The approach is who is the partner base they have, how does that fit into what we are doing, how do we go after that rapidly, what do we have to think through to make it complementary to what partners are doing already. So the approach is the same with any acquisition.

What is the sales structure at HPE and how you are working with HPE Chief Sales Officer Peter Ryan (pictured) to accelerate channel sales?

Whenever I have been in the channel role, whether it has been Siemens or Salsesforce or even more recently at GE, it is very, very different to come here to have a management team above you that knows as much about the channel as you do. That is such a delight to me. Peter knows all the channel players as well as I do.

I think that having someone that is already very channel-centric as part of the management team above you – not just Peter, but Antonio and Meg – they are channel-savvy. They are channel-centric. It just makes my life so much easier. We are a channel-first company, and that is not going to change.