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Cisco Tuesday officially launches its revamped Managed Services Channel Program to feature several changes that the company hopes will boost participation by its partners.

The primary change to the program addresses a serious barrier to entry problem Cisco has grappled with since the program’s first incarnation. Cisco is doing away with the previous requirement that its managed services partners had to have their own network operating center, one strictly audited from an equipment, staffing, process and capacity standpoint by Cisco. This requirement effectively locked out the vast majority of small to mid-sized partners that simply can’t afford the initial capital expenditure to build a NOC nor the ongoing operational expenses.

Under the new program, Cisco is allowing partners to deliver managed services through another, typically larger, partner’s NOC in what it describes as a “white label” arrangement. Practically speaking, this enables partners who otherwise could not participate in Cisco managed services to do so, while giving the partner that owns the NOC access to markets they might not otherwise serve, according to Surinder Brar, senior director of programs and strategy at Cisco.

In talking to partners globally, Brar said the demand for another NOC option was clear.

“We have these partner executive exchanges all over the world where 40 partners attend a meeting all over and we ask how many of them are offering managed services and almost every hand goes up,” Brar explained. “But when we ask how many of them have a NOC most hands go down.”

Cisco believes the change will also encourage more partners to collaborate. Certified managed services partners with a NOC that are open to white-labeling agreements will be listed in Cisco’s Partner Locator portal. Participation is not required.

In terms of the business model scenario, partner NOCs used in white labeling arrangements will be audited to make sure they conform to Cisco’s requirements for this kind of collaboration, but beyond that point all business terms and conditions between the two partners are set by them, he said.

Other changes to the revamped program include an additional certification tier. Much like Cisco’s broader partner program designations (Gold, Silver, Premier), the Managed Services Channel Program will carry three levels: Master, Advanced and a new level called Express. Express will most likely become the bucket for smaller providers participating in a white-labeling, shared NOC arrangement, Brar explained.

“These changes really let smaller VARs be able to offer a managed services solution,” Brar said.