When Cisco Systems Inc. announced last week its joint technology partnership with Microsoft Corp. -- combining the Cisco Unified Data Center architecture with Microsoft Fast Track architecture solutions -- the vendor also laid out a partner go-to-market strategy that highlights the business growth opportunity driven by a practice-building framework, or Partner Accelerator Framework.
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The Cisco Partner Accelerator Framework (PAF) gives channel partners the resources -- such as educational materials, press kits and other content -- that enable them to have more business-relevant conversations to sell and deliver complete multivendor solutions.
Customers want to use IT, not build it.
practice manager, Force 3 data center group
The Cisco-Microsoft PAF is the third framework of its kind offered by Cisco. In June 2012, the company introduced the Cisco and Citrix Partner Accelerator, as well as the FlexPod Premium Partner framework in partnership with NetApp Inc.
"Sometimes there are vendor silos and skill silos at the partner organizations, and the partner accelerators are designed to break down the silos and enable our partners to have more holistic discussions with customers about our joint partner solutions," said Brian Allison, director of Cisco partner solutions for worldwide channels.
Cisco's converged system offerings exemplify a strategy shift the vendor made a few years ago in response to a rapidly changing IT climate that's favoring reduced complexity and cost and quicker time to market with solutions.
According to Allison, Cisco, along with a number of vendor partners -- Microsoft, EMC, NetApp and Citrix -- is helping channel partners offer customers complete and compelling solution sets that emphasize business value. "This completeness on the technology side allows us and our partners to transform the discussions and engagements we're having with customers, from feeds and speeds to business relevance," he said.
Allison explained that the Cisco-Microsoft solution announced last week unites Cisco's compute and network technology and its comprehensive management solutions with Microsoft System Center. The solution enables tight management of all the components -- hardware, storage (NetApp or EMC products) and compute, he said. The result, according to Allison, is an underlying infrastructure that has the scalability, agility and manageability to deliver what customers need in this era of cloud computing.
Richard Bernard, national practice lead for advanced systems at ePlus Technology -- a subsidiary of ePlus Inc., a $1 billion technology integrator headquartered in Herndon, Va. -- sees the most recent technology partnership between Cisco and Microsoft as a good thing for the vendors, for the customers and for partners. "The vendor partners take point solutions and weave them together coherently into a multivendor solution that does bigger things than the vendors can do on their own, enabling us to offer more compelling solutions to our customers," he said.
To highlight the relevance of Cisco's converged system offerings -- in this case, Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) with Citrix XenDesktop -- to ePlus' business, Bernard noted that Citrix was a small line item on the company's books just a few year ago, whereas today ePlus is the second-largest seller of Citrix products in the country. EPlus is also a Cisco FlexPod Premium Partner.
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Bernard described the Cisco Partner Accelerator Framework as both a product reference architecture and tools that enable partners to develop and drive sales by better articulating the vision of the solution.
The frameworks, according to Allison, comprise "learning maps," or role-based educational material, for sales, pre-sales and post-sales professionals. The vast majority of partners that use the PAF have their employees study the learning maps online -- at no cost. For all of Cisco's PAFs, there is a prerequisite on the product side: partners must hold the Data Center Architecture Specialization or the Unified Computing Specialization. Additionally, there's a requirement that a minimum of six people -- two each in sales, pre-sales and post-sales -- attend the study program.
Another solution provider in the process of completing the Cisco PAF is Crofton, Md.-based Force 3, which is working to become a FlexPod Premium Partner. The company is a FlexPod practitioner and gets about 65% of its revenue through Cisco-related products and services, according to Sam Lee, practice manager with the company's data center group.
Lee believes that Cisco's joint technology solution partnerships are driven by necessity. "Customers want to use IT, not build it," he said, adding that the level of integration provided by such solutions gives customers the assurance that they're made to work.
From the channel partner perspective, selling these multivendor solutions forces partners to move up the value chain. "Partners like us provide technical expertise, but rather than have discussions with our customers about systems and hardware integration, we now have discussions about applications and business integration -- that's our expertise," Lee said.
Members of the Cisco partner community can sell Cisco joint technology solutions without participating in the PAF programs. However, solution providers that participate in the programs are highlighted on Cisco's search tools as the most competent providers of that particular solution. They also gain access to other branding, press and demo materials.
According to Allison, FlexPod Premium Partner status is starting to become a checklist item on some requests for proposals.