As 2013 came to a close, SearchITChannel sought out industry experts to chime in on some significant channel partner developments over the past 12 months. Looking at the big picture, there were vendor acquisitions and partner consolidation; there was a reshuffling of the deck chairs among channel executives; and technologies such as cloud, software-defined networks (SDN) and converged infrastructure garnered the limelight. Here are the IT channel 2013 highlights we heard about from the experts:
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[SDN is] now on the radar of partners and on the radar of vendors to develop partner strategy to support SDN moving forward.
director of infrastructure channels research, IDC
Dell gets recognition this year on a couple of fronts. For starters is the win by Michael Dell, company founder and CEO, to buy back the company with the help of Silver Lake Partners. Dell is now a privately held organization.
There's industry consensus that it was a challenge for Dell to evolve its business while dealing with quarterly deadline pressure from stockholders to increase the company's legacy business. "Going private will give the company the breathing room to make the transitions they need to make," said Paul Edwards, director of infrastructure channels research at IDC.
Michael Dell has been clear that he intends to transform Dell from a hardware company to a provider of end-to-end enterprise products, including software and services.
Understanding that it won't be able to deliver on everything itself, Dell needs its channel more than ever. And it needs to reinforce its commitment to the channel, a strategy that it made clear at Dell World 2013, held earlier this month in Austin, Texas.
Even before that, back in April, the company hired veteran industry channel executive Frank Vitagliano as vice president of North America channel sales. The surprise move landed Vitagliano with job oversight of small and medium-sized VAR channel accounts and Dell's two-tier distribution partners, as well as a mandate to drive growth and development strategy for small and midmarket accounts in North America.
While not earth-shattering, AT&T's move to launch a reseller program to expand the company's reach and accelerate its delivery of mobility managed services, cloud and network solutions was a significant action.
"It's a telco getting into the reseller program world in a big way," said Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath. On Feb. 20, AT&T announced a reseller program called the AT&T Partner Exchange to allow solution providers to develop customized solutions that fully integrate with AT&T's IP network. The telco also invited partners into the AT&T Foundry, five facilities it built in the United States and Israel to foster collaboration between the company and developers.
Earlier this year, CompTIA released a report on the topic, titled "Partnering Trends Between Telecom and IT Channels," noting that the tide is turning as telecom and IT solution providers forge tighter bonds.
The channel's role in cloud computing
Cloud computing was clearly a top development for the channel in 2013. As it gained traction in the marketplace, the establishment of a role for channel partners to deliver cloud became a reality. Call it a wake-up call for those partners who have not made a transition to get on board. "Every partner needs to have some play in cloud," Edwards said.
Tiffani Bova, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner for Solution Strategies and Channel Innovation, agreed. "In 2013, it became clear that there's definitely a role for the broader channel ecosystem -- telcos, distributors, VARs, managed service providers, etc. -- in delivering and supporting cloud services," she said.
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In this calendar year, channel partners who, for the past few years, have been defensive about the value that these new delivery models bring to businesses should have gotten the message that it's time to sit up, take notice and act.
Bova stated that this year has validated what she and others have been saying about the role that the channel will play in cloud services. "It's really manifesting itself," she said.
Bova pointed to cloud service brokerage as an example, noting that 10 of the largest global systems integrators and eight to 10 of the largest telcos have a cloud service brokerage play, and the three largest distributors -- Arrow Electronics, Tech Data and Ingram Micro -- have an aggregation play. She also noted that attendance at cloud events is growing exponentially.
"People are coming to the realization that this trend will continue and partners are beginning to find their way to cloud services," Bova said.
The new disruptors
Another trend that manifested in 2013 is that born-in-the-cloud service providers are pushing the envelope in ways not seen from incumbents in the ecosystem and are taking advantage of the nexus of forces -- social, mobile, cloud and information -- according to Bova.
Whether it's the use of custom mobile applications to improve sales performance in the field or the streamlining of huge amounts of data with algorithms and analytics to improve patient care at small doctors' offices, the born-in-the-cloud providers are developing applications with open application programming interfaces to harness the power of what is out there in the market today.
Watch out, incumbents. "We're really seeing some cool stuff being developed by these born-in-the-cloud guys," Bova said.
On the technology side, SDN became more of a known entity in 2013. Call it a "getting to know you" phase.
Vendors announced SDN strategies, including how they were going to develop partner relationships around the technology. "Not that SDN is a big market driver -- that will take time -- but it's now on the radar of partners and on the radar of vendors to develop partner strategy to support SDN moving forward," Edwards said.
For many legacy networking partners, that means a shift in thinking from selling a piece of hardware for X dollars to moving to a licensing model -- which is a big change.
"Now partners are thinking about it and how they're going to work their businesses on delivering around SDN," he said.