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The low-down from Honolulu: Cisco’s collaboration bent

I’d be remiss if I didn’t report in this week from the Cisco Partner Summit, where I’m helping the company’s Industry Solutions Partner Network team with some breakout panels and communications activities.

The themes I’m about to recount were plucked from the main keynote address hosted by Worldwide Channel Muckety-Muck Keith Goodwin and featuring Goodwin’s ultimate boss, Cisco CEO and Chairman John Chambers. For those of you who aren’t/weren’t here, some highlights:

1. Partner to Partner Collaboration: This topic gets a big-time boost with the introduction of something called the Cisco Partner Exchange. Basically, this is a social network where approximately 8,500 Cisco Certified Partners, managed services providers, distributors and application partners can search for other partners that might be able to extend their reach on a particular project. Cisco is backing up this introduction with a channel survey it conducted with Illuminas Research that found collaborative projects between Cisco partners accounted for approximately 31 percent of revenue within the partner ecosystem. Another very compelling case for collaboration: 78 percent of the resellers who responded to the survey (about 500 in call) reported that collaboration helped them increase deal/project sizes. Partner Exchange is meant to support collaboration in cyberspace by letting partners create skills profiles that include not only info about their Cisco specializations but about other technologies they might support.

2. Data Centers: Cisco is upping the ante with both a new set of Nexus switches (developed by Nuova Systems) as well as incentives for VARs investing in a data center practice.

The Nexus 5000 Series are meant for consolidation projects. It supports 10 Gigabit Ethernet PLUS Fibre Channel over Ethernet Data Center Ethernet and virtualization. The new switches are supposed to start shipping in May starting at $36,000 for a fixed configuration, 40-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch. Cisco also evolved its Value Incentive Program and will start rewarding VARs that invest in a data center practice starting in August.

3. Software: This one is a bit of a surprise, given how other vendors are supporting and selling their software as a service (Saas) offerings. That is, by selling them direct. But, Keith Goodwin says Cisco is creating a referral program for its WebEx offerings that will not only reward partners for the initial deal but for recurring activity on the service. You can expect this program to emerge in the next two to three quarters. What’s more, WebEx will continue to morph to allow for more and more different types of connections (and collaborative settings) that are independent of device. Hmmm. Is Cisco becoming a software company?

John Chambers was his usual prophetic, evangelistic self, focusing on developments that are drivin where he is asking Cisco to place its bets. The company now has 22 priorities, which range from very broad initiatives such as mobility to very specific ideas, such as “routers in space.” Talk about an emerging market! Collaboration and Community are the two big themes underlying most of Chambers’ thinking. Focus on markets in transition, Chambers advises partners, if you want to increase revenues. “If you focus on your competition, you are already behind,” he said.

I buy most of this, certainly, but the one thing that niggles at me as I write this is the big push that Cisco is putting on collaboration through tools such as social networks, video conferencing, instant chats and so forth. It’s not that I don’t believe this is the way to go, it’s just that I think many people are overwhelmed about how to handle many of these services – many of which currently reside in different silos. I believe in the power of the individuals, but collaboration in chaos could actually result in a decrease in productivity. My two cents.

More later this week from (poor me) Hawaii.

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Heather, I'd be interested in the hallway vibe from Cisco partners about business trends. We are very concerned that it will be a difficult year, and things seem a bit tougher now than even at the start of the year when Cisco lowered the bar. What do you hear?