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Cisco Lays Out Vision for the Channel

Cisco, at a Cisco Partner Connection Week! event, this week addressed a broad range of channel partner issues, not the least of which is the impact machine learning algorithms and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) will have on demand for technical services.

Wendy Bahr

Partners are strongly urged to evolve at a time when machine learning algorithms will soon be automating almost every aspect of networking that today requires access to command line interfaces (CLI) at each router and switch. To stay relevant partners need to focus more on analytics that can be surfaced via the application programming interfaces (APIs) and exposed by software-defined networks (SDNs), says Wendy Bahr, senior vice president for the Global Partner Organization at Cisco.

“The opportunity now comes from API-driven analytics services,” says Bahr. “Partners need to move away from CLI at the box to digital services.”

Bahr says Cisco has no intention to force partners down that path, but it is putting in place more industry-centric competency programs to encourage partners to think more in terms of business processes. The first five industry certifications are healthcare, retail, manufacturing, media and entertainment and education. To qualify a partner needs to book at least $1 million in revenue in a vertical industry or generate 40 percent or more of their overall booking from customers in a specific vertical industry.

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At the same time, Cisco is still working through a simplification of the Master Networking Specialization it announced last year. That certification will require more business expertise to attain, but Cisco is doing away with formal audits in favor of allowing partners to demonstrate ongoing competency by, for example, publishing white papers.

Partners participating in these programs will become eligible to receive additional sales enablement and marketing collateral from Cisco in addition to increased visibility with the Cisco sales force.

Machine learning algorithms are at the core of Cisco’s overall intent-based networking strategy. Cisco expects that end customers will soon express a desired state that will be automatically implemented using machine learning algorithms. Cisco this week announced it is now extending that networking strategy out to Internet of Things (IoT) environments. Cisco also added a 100G Cisco Catalyst 9500 series switch and a new 25G member of the Catalyst 9000 Series to its lineup and revealed that its networking products are all available now via a subscription if desired. Today Cisco has 5,000 customers running the company Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), which requires the presence of a Cisco 9000 series switch.

Cisco also signaled it would soon be offering competitive promotions aimed specifically at replacing offerings from Nutanix and Palo Alto Networks and that is offering a $100,000 prize to the solution provider that sells an advanced platform spanning multiple Cisco products and services.

This week Cisco also announced it is consolidating its Cisco Spark and Cisco WebEx cloud services under one common Cisco WebEx brand as it gears up to compete more aggressively across the entire collaboration services category.

Overall, Bahr says in the last three years Cisco has spent over $397 million on sales enablement in the channel. Those efforts appear to be making their biggest impact in the small-to-medium business market that Cisco primarily serves through 160 distributors around the globe, which Bahr says collectively generated $14 billion in product sales and $2 billion worth of services sales last year. Most of the new partners Cisco has added in the last year entered the Cisco channel via those distributors, says Bahr.

Overall, it’s clear the Cisco channel is going through a significant amount of change as the way customers want to consume IT continues to change in the age of the cloud. As part of that shift, Cisco is trying to push partners towards managed services based on analytics that drives recurring revenue. How partners achieve that goal, however, may not be Cisco’s primary concern. They can build, partner or acquire those services as they see fit, says Bahr. The primary challenge for partners now, notes Bahr, is to start moving forward today versus simply waiting for the inevitable.

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