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2011 networking channel trends: Can partners keep up?

The top five 2011 networking channel trends display expansion and growth in networking service, product and solution offerings, keeping partners on their toes going forward.

The top 2011 networking channel trends show exciting growth for technology, and also for partners that are expanding their knowledge base and portfolios. With all the rumors, scandals, and services and product announcements this year, partners have a lot to keep up with going forward.

As the year has progressed, the top five stand-out trends include partner involvement with managed service offerings, keeping up with the rise of mobility and mobile devices on the enterprise network, making a dent in the cloud arena, staying competitive and up to date with new network security risks and solutions, and finding opportunities to offer services to customers of their own.

While all five of these trends have advantages and challenges that partners will face, one thing is for certain -- they all mingle together in the world of rapidly evolving technology. Each trend can be found in some form in another, indicating to partners that becoming familiar with just one or two of these growing trends won’t quite cut it. To ensure that partners are well-rounded and equipped to suit all the needs of customers -- as well as build on their own market footprint -- partners should aim to stay ahead of the curve with each trend.

1. Managed services

This year, a major trend in the channel market has been to offer managed services to customers. Network admins and engineers are finding that with new threats to the network such as the rise of mobile devices in the enterprise, they cannot fully do their day-to-day jobs while simultaneously manage the network. 

So, customers are turning to partners to help them manage and monitor their network through dynamic service offerings. These managed services -- which in various cases are both on-premises and remote -- allow customers to focus on their jobs while partners monitor the network for general activity, intrusion detection, devices trying to access the network and more. Whether managed services are focusing on one or all of these issues, partners are able to get a full view of the network and rectify any problems that may occur without disrupting the network and the daily workflow of the customer.

Many partners have come out with managed service offerings this year, including Pavlov Media, whose offerings provide remote management for combined wired and wireless LANs for apartment complexes and college campuses.

Global Cash Access (GCA), which partnered with Nexus IS and Switch Communications to better enable high-volume cash transactions in Las Vegas casinos through remote management services, is also seeing the results of these service offerings through the channel.

2. Mobility (devices)

Another top trend this year was mobility and all things that come with it. Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are flourishing in the enterprise, and organizations and partners are coming to terms with it. Now the question is -- how do you bring in mobile devices without disrupting or jeopardizing the network’s health?

One answer to that call was made during Cisco Live 2011 in Las Vegas. Cisco not only announced its version of the tablet, the Cius, but it also pushed the fact that it isn’t any regular tablet. This tablet is meant to be in the enterprise, not meant for consumers. Cisco also announced Cisco Quad, social networking technology meant for the workplace. With those two combined, it seems like bringing mobile devices into the enterprise shouldn’t be too much of a headache, right?

Some IT shops are still hesitant about mobile devices in the enterprise, as managing them can be exhausting and pricey. So, companies such as Virtela are providing a cloud-based mobile device management service that partners can resell to ease those woes, while providing monitoring, security and time and cost savings to customers.

3. Cloud

Partners are also finding this year that they are playing an integral role in cloud, and if they aren’t already, they should be. As vendors are providing more cloud services, channel partners must keep up with these offerings and ensure that they are fully equipped to sell them to customers.

A CompTIA study this year revealed that partners will have to transition from the traditional reseller model of just selling a “box” to getting more involved in models, customer relationship models, integration, custom app development and on-going maintenance to ensure the cloud is working for end users.

The primary way for partners to get the new knowledge they need is through proper training that vendors will need to offer. Not only will partner roles shift with the new information and skills they need to resell, but vendors will need to rethink their own ways of offering information and training to partners.

One piece of essential knowledge that partners will discover as they transition to their role in the cloud arena is that the security risks are raised to a new level. As partners build clouds for customers, the customer will have more time and focus for other things. However, attention to security should be a main focus for both the partner and customer. Accelera Solutions, offering on-premises secure private clouds and public cloud services, knows all about cloud security requirements. To ensure a safe cloud offering, whether it’s a private, public or hybrid cloud, it is essential to ensure regulatory compliance, a close and trusted partner/customer relationship and an understanding of the basic components you have to work with.

4. Security (next-generation)

As time goes on and there is more and more clutter on the network, security becomes a higher priority and bigger focus for network admins and engineers. The days of having a firewall that facilitates port and protocol identification do not suffice in the time of mobile devices in the enterprise.

Results in a study conducted by TechTarget this year, show that respondents demand next-generation firewall features for their network in order to feel as though they are truly protected. Top concerns included deeper port and protocol identification, application-awareness, and user identity access and management. Some say that the idea of a “next-generation firewall” is passé and an obvious need, while others say that a multifunctional, next-generation firewall will take the place of other solutions on the network and cause less clutter.

Yet what does this all mean for partners? Just as network admins and engineers need to keep up with this trend, so will partners. In order to sell a more complex firewall solution, partners will need to become more versed in its capabilities through in-depth training and education.

Securing the borderless network as a result of the heavy mobile device presence in the enterprise will also force partners to stretch their knowledge. It’s unavoidable -- people are bringing mobile devices onto an enterprise network whether network admins like it or not.

In order for partners to give customers what they demand, Mike O’Brien, Channel Chat blogger, advises partners to understand how to work around customers’ work/life balance. While conforming to that trend is all well and good, some aspects are non-negotiable, such as security. While locking down the network isn’t an option, O’Brien offers virtualization as an alternative. However, partners must be firm when talking to customers regarding device support, access, remote monitoring and network performance.

5. Partners offering services

As technology demands grow and customers want more service offerings to keep up with those demands, partners feel the pressure to up their offerings and knowledge base. So much so, that some partners are beginning to offer their own services.

This year, one partner implemented wireless LANs in healthcare facilities, which offered both benefits and challenges. While it is essential for partners to build a wireless LAN that is stable enough to handle a heavy flood of mobile device and multimedia applications, in a health care setting, new challenges such as indoor-outdoor coverage and Wi-Fi with 3G and 4G networks present themselves.

Along with the technical challenges, partners can face the task of enduring a much longer sales cycle and more education on the customer’s part, as understanding the technology and potential issues can take longer for this particular environment. A hospital setting is much more sensitive to implementation, so partners need to take the time and effort to ensure zero downtime and extensive preplanning.

Cisco also took notice of partners selling services at the Cisco Partner Summit in New Orleans with its focus on cloud computing opportunities for partners. Although many questioned Cisco’s focus based on the fact that its revenue fell in 2010, Cisco preached their attention to partners and how they can best close sales as the shift to cloud services continues.

According to Cisco, partners will offer services such as building private and public clouds for customers, building their own clouds and selling hosted applications and infrastructure, reselling cloud applications from existing providers, as well as handling monitoring and management as virtualization takes hold. By working with partners to beef up their portfolios, Cisco hopes their offerings will re-enforce the fact that its focus on helping partners is successful and clear.

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