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EMC partners assess company's journey to channel friendliness

At EMC Global Partner Summit, EMC partners discuss how their experience of doing business with the vendor has changed.

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LAS VEGAS -- Leading storage vendor EMC Corp. hasn't always gotten the highest marks as a channel-centric vendor among partners, but that seems to have changed over the past couple of years judging by partner sentiment at EMC Global Partner Summit and EMC World here this week.

EMC is quite open about needing its partners as it aspires to move to third-platform technologies -- and in the process become more of a solutions vendor than a products vendor.

Speaking at the Americas Partner breakout session on Wednesday, Tony McCoy, vice president of Americas service providers and alliances at EMC, said, "[EMC] can't do what [it] needs to do to move from the second to the third platform without you," admitting to EMC's dependence on the couple of hundred partners in the room.

We're very much an EMC service provider, but we're not part of their program.

Jeff Chaffin,
business development manager, data storage and protection practice sales, Hayes

Why can't it?

Because EMC is really good at selling products; its partners, however, are better at selling solutions, McCoy said. "That's what you do; that's your business," he added, noting that the lion's share of the company's business revenue is driven by the channel and is growing.

And to make it easier and more profitable for partners to do business with the company, the company also introduced a streamlined Business Partner Program this week.

Steve Woesner, system engineer at Red8 -- formerly named Insight Integrated Systems, a 30-year-old value-added reseller, systems integrator and managed service provider, and an EMC partner for about four years -- said EMC is becoming a better partner vendor, but that wasn't always the case.

"EMC was more of a 'we do it on our own' kind of company, and not as channel-friendly as some other vendors we do business with. But, I really noticed a difference in the past couple of years," he said.

A NetApp Inc. partner since 2000, Red8 partnered with EMC because it offers a broader product portfolio. Red8's customer base is primarily midsize companies, although it also works with several large enterprise customers. The partner has about 200 employees and four offices in the U.S. Red8 also runs a significant IT leasing practice and provides asset management and lifecycle services.

"With our asset management business, EMC knows that we can add other value to the deal that they might not be able to do, either through the assets that we own and lease or for our relationships with our customers. It's those relationships that keep EMC in the game," Woesner said.

As a solution provider, Woesner liked what he heard about the EMC Business Partner Academy, especially since Red8 works with EMC federated solutions. The Business Partner Academy, which was announced this week, is the company's new home for training and curriculum resources, which have been streamlined to eliminate overlap and remove redundant trainings.

That's also the case with Mike Flores, senior systems engineer and principal architect with the storage and backup practice at Computex Inc., a 20-plus-year-old solution provider based in Houston with six locations and more than 200 employees. The company, which specializes in the oil and gas industry, became an EMC partner about three years ago as storage began to evolve more into niche markets and found that Hewlett-Packard Co. wasn't "cutting the mustard" or was late to the game, according to Flores. Computex sells EMC's federated portfolio.

While Flores said he has been satisfied with EMC's roadmap and the documentation his company needs to implement solutions, he said he has been a little disappointed with EMC trainings and certifications.

"A few times when I've had to take classes and tests, I found that there was a mismatch between versions and the content wasn't applicable," he said.

That's extremely frustrating to the engineer, who pointed out that when he and other engineers are not working on customer architecture implementations, he's studying and getting certified.

"There's money behind those certifications," he said, noting that they're critical to the services that Computex provides. The improvements that EMC announced around the new Business Partner Academy are good news to Flores.

Alexander Smith, senior analyst at Canalys, a market research and consulting firm that covers the IT channel, noted that EMC wasn't the same channel-focused company five years ago as it is today.

"EMC has changed dramatically in the past two years," he said, with some internal transformations that have enabled it to engage with partners in a more proactive way and with less channel conflict.

Noting that the needle is moving in a more positive direction for partners, especially since EMC is transitioning from engaging in "a little channel business to quite a lot," Smith said that the Business Partner Program looks like it will deliver a consistent structure across partner types with clear requirements and rewards.

The industry analyst noted that EMC's new partner program and its focus on Platinum partners is in line with larger trends in the industry, where vendors are more discerning about which partners they'll invest with.

"It's a two-way street. It's not a matter of the size of a partner's company, but vendors want to invest in partners who invest in them; that's business," Smith said.

At this point, whether to invest more with EMC is a big unknown for Hayes, a 28-year-old service provider primarily for state, local and education (SLED), based in Tallahassee, Fla. The partner holds a lot of IT contracts with the state of Florida and has been an EMC partner for about eight years.

Jeff Chaffin, business development manager of data storage and protection practice sales at Hayes, said the company has had some challenges as it has tried to grow its business into more of a services partner with EMC.

Chaffin explained that Hayes has rolled out several cloud offerings in the past year, some of which are based on EMC products, but not all, and it's tough for a regional player to start as a cloud service provider for EMC. "EMC has traditionally had a high entry point insofar as the skill sets a partner has to have on staff, the amount of training required, the amount of spend you have to have. Our ability to remain and be competitive [in] buying their products versus some of the national players -- such as Presidio or SHI or a partner of that nature -- who tend to have a much larger spend and [advantageous] service provider pricing models … makes it difficult for us to get there," Chaffin said.

In fact, he said Hayes had a strategic plan a year ago to move into EMC's cloud service provider program and just couldn't do it. The company built its own cloud with EMC solutions and began selling cloud services, but it has been unable to break through the barriers to entry with EMC, namely meeting the amount of spend and resources.

"We're very much an EMC service provider, but we're not part of their program," he said, adding that his company falls between the cracks with EMC.

A challenge for Hayes is that 95% of its business is SLED and the sales cycle for this market segment is anywhere from nine months to several years, and the technology adoption is behind that of the commercial sector.

"We expressed our concerns to EMC and we think they heard [them]," Chaffin said. Hayes is not the only partner in this type of situation, he said.

Hayes might not be one of the big cloud service providers that EMC looks for, but it operates in a niche market and garners a higher percentage of the IT spend from its niche customer base than a company like Presidio does, Chaffin said. "But then to EMC, we're the small player," he said.

The issue for EMC is to find a solution to benefit partners like Hayes -- which works with EMC through the distribution model -- while balancing its commitment to its larger partners, which have sway inside EMC.

Still, Chaffin said he's excited and anxious about EMC's new programs and hopes they benefit his company.

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