NetApp Channel Chief Thomas Stanley Offers Exclusive First Look At Upcoming 'Hard Deck' Partner Program, New Technology

Building A Better Channel: NetApp

Thomas Stanley, senior vice president and general manager for the Americas at NetApp, is really looking forward to his company's primary annual conference, NetApp Insight, which is slated to run from Sept. 26 to 29 in Las Vegas.

Stanley, who met with CRN at the recently concluded VMworld 2016 conference, said NetApp Insight is an opportunity to bring both product and program innovations to the company channel partner community.

During the conversation, Stanley outlined several general NetApp updates and offered a sneak peek at some things the company plans to introduce at NetApp Insight. Among the new things NetApp is working on:

-- A "hard deck" under which NetApp will leave all revenue to be generated by channel partners

-- An expansion of NetApp's SANtricity storage operating system for its high-performance E-series of all-flash storage solutions to make it easier to serve the needs of remote and branch offices

-- The latest on the expanding FlexPod relationship with longtime partner Cisco

NetApp is holding its Insight conference next month in Las Vegas. What is NetApp planning to do at Insight in terms of the channel side. Drop us a few hints.

As I think about Insight, I think about it through the lens of this connected ecosystem that we have. This ecosystem of the best and brightest engineers in NetApp developing products that touch our technical employee base, our partner employee base, and our customers.

Having all of them in one place, getting the same relevant knowledge on where we're going. As it relates to our partners, what I believe they'll hear is how we're continuing to innovate. We've already accelerated our position in the all-flash array market. Important.

[One big thing we're doing is] carving out a go-to market that's a true hard deck for our partners.

We love to hear the phrase 'hard deck.'

[We've always thought] the channel was critical for us in terms of go-to-market. We've also had some agility in terms of the sales teams on which opportunities they work with the partner on. We want to get much more firmer about that and actually go to true hard deck for our partners so they can sell up and down the stack with us. In our large global accounts we will still use partners in our major accounts, enterprise, and in our commercial select, but we also want to carve out a market [and say], this is going to be 100 percent channel no matter what. We're going to partner with you and align with this. We think that messaging is going to be really fresh.

Where are you defining the hard deck?

[Vice President of Worldwide Channels] Bill Lipsin (pictured) and [Americas Channel Sales Vice President] Scott Strubel on my team are doing that definition work now.

So you're not going to give me an answer yet …

They're working on the definition. We think it's important for the clarity that we have in terms of go-to market, so the combination of clarity of a hard deck, continued innovation, and breakthrough in the market, and consistency around the globe we think are key messages for our partners.

What else will partners hear about at Insight?

They are going to hear about the SANtricity [E-series software operating system] announcement, what we're doing in terms of not only addressing what's going on in the data center, but what's going on at the remote edge. What's going on where you don't have people and resources to go solve a problem, and you need a product that you can plug and play and it just works. They are going to hear innovation from us in a significant way, where we are focused.

What's going on with SANtricity?

[When] we deal with customers in the enterprise, we find that oftentimes they have branch and remote offices that really want [the ability to plug and play] flash-based architectures, server, compute, networking … because they don't have the physical resources. They need a lower-cost model that doesn't require people to have expertise across the stack, that they can connect back to headquarters. Or, if they're a small business, can get robust architecture that scales with them. We're excited about that portfolio. We think it'll be huge channel play. We think our partners will be able to sell into their commercial and midmarket space. Equally so, our partners are working with enterprises that will have distributed customer offices that they sell to. They'll be able to have one solution at headquarters but a very different solution out in the field.

What else at Insight?

They are equally going to hear about a go-to-market that is heavily dependent on them to win. ... We don't think about the channel through the fact that it just gives us leverage, we think about it through the lens of, they bring a unique set of skills around a whole set of portfolio products that we just don't. We are best at managing and protecting the data, but they're addressing the server architecture, addressing the hypervisor architecture. So as it pertains to that piece, we want them to see we can continue to plug and play our technology into that entire stack from the hypervisor, to the server, to the network, to the storage. We have that piece going on.

Is Cisco going to have a big presence at Insight?


What are you guys going to be talking about there?

We're going to be talking about the continuing advancement of FlexPod, both in terms of what we're doing around flash, which we're really excited about, the workloads we can address with FlexPod [both] on the low end and on the high end. So you'll continue to see us make, not just go-to market investments in the relationship to benefit with our partners, but technology and innovation and IP investments, particularly in the area of flash.

How is the relationship? Are FlexPod sales still growing?

Yes. The key for us is to make sure we're outpacing the market, because you have to be careful about just growth, signs of growth, in the market that's growing.

Then again, the storage market's shrinking so ...

As long as we're taking share, I'll take it, right?

Taking a bigger share of a shrinking market doesn't mean growth.

That is fair. That is fair, yeah, so in absolute terms, yes.

I s NetApp in channel partner recruitment mode?

Yes, always. If you think about the evolution of cloud and what's going on in the data center and the environment where there are some partners that are very storage-focused only, we clearly need that alignment and partnership. But other partners are selling a whole slew of solutions that customers want to buy, and we want to recruit for that skill base as well. We're always looking to bring on more world-class partners, those that will address specific markets from a geographic perspective as well as certain types of accounts. Certain [partners] will have extraordinary expertise selling to the midmarket commercial select space, but others really want to focus on the high-end enterprise, so we want that diversity in our portfolio.

Any special programs targeting EMC partners as EMC gets acquired by Dell?

No, none that I can speak of.

None? Or none that you can speak of?

Bill [Lipsin] and his time are focused on that, I don't know. We certainly see partners who have been both EMC and NetApp partners that are doing more with us, and that excites us, as you can imagine.