Brocade, Ruckus Leaders Talk Channel Future, New Market Opportunities And The Need For End-To-End Solutions

Networking Nuptials

As Brocade Communications and Ruckus Wireless begin to merge into one company, thousands of solution providers are itching for answers about a combined channel strategy, new Partner Program and new revenue opportunities.

Although the two companies are still operating independently for now, Ruckus channel chief Sandra Cheek and Brocade channel chief Pete Peterson both say the merger will boost channel sales and market position. "We really think this is a marriage made in networking – that's the message we've been using internally," said Peterson.

According to the channel leaders, the new company will help Ruckus partners move into the midmarket and enterprise space, while Brocade partners will get more opportunities in the SMB and service provider market. "We're really motivated to make this one of the best integrations you've probably ever seen in the industry," said Cheek, winner of the 2016 CRN Channel Madness Tournament.

CRN talked to Cheek and Peterson about the changes ahead for channel partners, adopting each other's strengths and enabling partners to sell end-to-end networking solutions. In the following slideshow, we present key points from that conversation.

Since channel partners for each company sell in different markets, will Ruckus partners see net new revenue opportunities emerge now?

Sandra Cheek (SC): As we look at what Brocade brings to the table, if we wanted to keep growing and keep up the momentum, we need to have end-to-end solutions, because it gets harder and harder to compete when our competitors have end-to-end solutions. We've seen that we missed opportunities just because it wasn't a single-vendor solution.

What the Brocade partner ecosystem brings to us is a set of customers in the upper midmarket and enterprise that we typically haven't played in. So this is exciting for us, because our whole solution set is ready for that. That's one of the most exciting things we see here between the synergies of our two partner ecosystems.

Will Brocade partners see any net new revenue opportunities emerge?

Pete Peterson (PP): We have a really strong data center offering and [we're] selling extremely strong in the midmarket and enterprise space. Ruckus has an extremely impressive volume velocity engine and a great product portfolio for the SMB space -- so we want to leverage that. Now with the Ruckus wireless being a part of our Brocade offerings, we think we're able to offer a broad set of solutions and a full suite of network solutions to a broader customer base.

Does anything particularly stand out that Ruckus does that Brocade will want to emulate?

PP: Ruckus has an unbelievable following of their partner community. Sandra is a reigning champion of CRN's Channel Madness -- that speaks volumes. Seeing a partner community embrace their vendor as positive as I've seen with Ruckus … to me that's attractive. We want to leverage that and emulate that and, quite frankly, we want to integrate that into our full offerings for both companies.

Are there still two different channel programs inside the new combined company -- one Ruckus and one Brocade right now?

SC: That's correct. We'll continue to have our own partner programs until we feel the time is right to deliver a combined one. We're just now starting to look at how we start doing this and what's the right thing to do. It's a little bit too early to say what that's going to look like eventually, but for the time being, we will maintain our own partner program, and we are encouraging our joint partners to enroll in each other's programs. … The No. 1 goal is no disruption to business.

When do you think you'll hash out a combined partner program together -- by the end of 2016 or in 2017?

SC: It's too soon to give a date. I don't think it's going to be too terribly difficult, looking at our two programs and the way that the two companies are working together. We really have some fantastic synergies not only with our products and solutions, but the cultures of the two companies. I don't foresee we're going to have a lot of hiccups working together to come up with what's going to be the right program.

Are Ruckus channel partners who previously didn't sell Brocade now signing up to become Brocade certified partners?

PP: We're already starting to see some of the Ruckus partners who did not have access or Brocade on their line card coming aboard. Approximately 50 [Ruckus partners] or so have already signed up to become Brocade partners. This new combined company positions us well, literally from the heart of the data center to all the way through the edge of the network.

Is there a lot of product or even partner overlap with this merger?

SC: We have no overlap of products, and very little partner overlap overall. We serve different markets and different specialists in our partner ecosystem. But what is clear is that our partners do sell end-to-end networking. It may not be the Ruckus or Brocade brands, but it's our job to ensure that they know what our value proposition is and the value that they can bring to their customers with our offerings, and to really earn their loyalty and desire to support end-to-end networking with us.

What will the future partner incentive programs look like?

SC: We serve different partners. What we have to do is really look at that ecosystem and what are the right programs and the markets they serve. Brocade partners tend to play in the midmarket and enterprise -- so that's where we roll up our sleeves and look at who our partners are and what kinds of programs are going to be the best programs to engage, enable and motivate the partners. That's where we have a lot of work to do. Up until the acquisition was final, we really couldn't share this information with one another.

What has been the internal messaging inside the company?

PP: We're internally treating this almost like it's a merger. We really think this is a marriage made in networking -- that's the message we've been using internally. … You'll start to see those integration points take place, while we're still effectively running two businesses.

What has been the channel community's feedback thus far?

SC: The momentum and feedback from our partners are super positive. We both come from being smaller companies that many of our partners are surprised to learn about the strength of our products or market positions in the service provider or hospitality vertical market, and just the understanding of the strength in the Brocade brand in fiber networking. There's a lot of education we need to do. Partners really want to learn, and the incentives are not as important.

What do you mean when you say incentives are not as important?

SC: Don’t get me wrong. We absolutely will have promotions and incentives for selling our products together, but it's just one piece of an overall strategy we're looking at. We want to be very deliberate with what we do and we're not going to force the integration of two companies for the sake of a deadline. We have so much at stake here.

We have a reputation in the channel for being one of the most profitable networking companies around. The Ruckus partners really aren't asking for the rebates or incentives that you would think of for other companies. It's a profitability model that we built just a little different.

So what are partners asking from the company right now?

SC: [What] our partners are telling us in these advisory council meetings is, "We want to understand, technically, the value -- what Brocade and Ruckus are together and what's that story. Teach us. Let us learn. That's the most important thing before you start throwing some incentives to try to get us to sell the products together." Partners want to make some thoughtful decisions around if they're going to jump in learning and supporting the end-to-end solutions.

PP: Partners are saying, "Help us. Train us. Educate us. And let us get our hands on the products."

What are you doing to help partners get their hands on the products?

PP: Sandra and I are working on a series of roadshows in each of the geographies. In the Americas, EMEA [Europe, the Middle East and Africa], APJ [Asia Pacific and Japan] regions, we're doing events with our combined partner ecosystem, but more importantly with members of their customer base as well. We can talk about our value proposition, but then also showcase the broad range of products and solutions we have on our line card there.

Is this new company looking to onboard new channel partners?

SC: We're always looking to onboard new partners who can bring incremental value. One thing we need to look at as a company that we haven't done yet, is really look at our partner coverage and capacity that we have. What partners do we have where, and what are their competencies, and where do we have gaps in areas where we might need to bring in new partners and where do we potentially have too many partners. … We are always looking to onboard new partners if it makes sense in our ecosystems.

What would you say to channel partners about the future of Brocade-Ruckus?

SC: As we bring the two companies together, it's vitally important that our partner ecosystem understands the importance they have, and that they will continue to have, with the company. We are two channel-based companies -- that [is the root] of our success, and there's no intention to change that. … We're really motivated to make this one of the best integrations you've probably ever seen in the industry.

PP: When it's all said and done, it's really around how do we make it easier for our partners to do business? ... Ultimately, our expectation in this whole equation is that two plus two is going to equal five.