Joint ventures are difficult to manage on any level, especially when the nature of the product being offered has a lot of dependencies involved. Solution providers in particular get frustrated having to deal with the same issues over and over again.
In that context it’s good to see Cisco and NetApp moving to address some of these potential issues as it relates to their recently formed FlexPod initiative that integrates NetApp storage with the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) platform.
In the absence of a formal organization that has been set up as a joint venture, vendors have historically had a tough time talking to the channel with a unified voice. Brian Allison, director of data center go-to-market solutions says that Cisco and NetApp are trying to address that issue by providing FlexPod partners with unique branding tools, access to a dedicated FlexPod help desk for post-sales engineers, priority access to lab resources and access to Cisco professional services and FlexPod technical consulting accelerator tools, templates, validated designs, leading practices, and business and technology methodologies that can all be accessed either via Cisco or NetApp.
Thus far, Peter Howard, senior director of data center alliances at NetApp, says that 22 FlexPod Premium Partners have qualified for this initiative, which gives them access to 20 Cisco Validated Designs that support hypervisors from VMware, Red Hat, Microsoft and Citrix.
The biggest problem with any joint ventures in age where customers are trying to reduce the mean time to business value is that the number of vendors involved in delivering a particular solution only serves to increase the amount of time it takes to deliver the ultimate solution. Of course, if there were not two or more vendors involved in the first place there probably wouldn’t be as much need for solution providers. But it’s still incumbent on vendors that have decided to align their offering to make that process as frictionless as possible in a way that spans engineering, marketing and sales. Too many of the strategic partnerships that are aimed at the channel have little more to back them up than a press release. No matter how you look at a joint venture there is always going to be risks for the solution provider. The real issue is to what degree those risks can be mitigated by leveraging the resources being provided by the vendors.
As vendors try to leverage one another’s channels, solution providers should take a good hard look at how much in the way of actual resources are being committed to those partnerships. Unless those resources are in place, the cost of selling and supporting that solution is going to be invariably higher. Almost by definition that means less profit for the solution provider.
As a general rule, solution providers should analyze what vendors are more trouble than their worth. There is a tendency for vendors to want to shift as many of their go-to-market costs on to the backs of the solution provider, which is often gussy-upped under the guise of sales enablement. There’s nothing wrong with sales enablement per se; just as long as the level of vendor resources being made available are actually in some proportion to the level of sales the channel is being expected to attain.