Every now and again a vendor comes along and does something so right for the channel that the sheer practical value of the program tends to overshadow the enormity of the potential.

The practical thing in question here is Cisco’s move on Sept. 11 to create a Master Security Specialization program that is designed to give boutique solution providers that heavily invest in creating a core competency around a particular set of emerging technologies the same level of discounts as companies that sell large volumes of Cisco networking gear.

Beyond security, Cisco channel chief Edison Peres says the channel should expect to see Cisco create similar certifications around other emerging technologies such as VOI (voice over IP) and wireless.

Peres says the certifications are necessary to entice boutique solution providers to more aggressively sell emerging technology products from Cisco. That’s because they feel at a disadvantage in terms of the work they do to evangelize a product versus their potential rewards. More importantly for Cisco, the program creates a way for them to sell more high-margin products around emerging technologies because most mainstream solution providers tend to focus on high-volume products that are under significant margin pressures.

According to Peres, it’s difficult to get mainstream solution providers to focus on emerging technologies because there usually isn’t enough volume in that product line to help them meet their sales quotas. And while Peres stresses that there is nothing to prevent one of Cisco’s gold or silver partners from getting a Master Specialization, the program is designed mainly to make it worthwhile for smaller solution providers that tend to have a lot of influence with customers in one particular area to work with Cisco rather than a smaller company that may have fewer processes in its channel program.

Click here to view exclusive channel research from Amazon Consulting.

Some mainstream solution providers may resent the fact that Cisco is trying to tilt the playing field around high-margin products toward smaller solution providers at their expense, but the fact remains that the need to make sure that there is a vibrant channel with lots of players developing innovative solutions outweighs the need to protect the margins of a few players.

This is true because over time the number of solution providers in the channel tends to narrow because of mergers and acquisitions, so creating programs like the Master Specification helps ensure that smaller solution providers will have a chance to grow into becoming the next generation of mainstream solution providers. Furthermore, one of the principal roles of the channel is to serve as a bridge over the proverbial chasm that any new product needs to cross in order to achieve mainstream adoption. But if vendors don’t specifically go out of their way to reward the time and effort needed to create to accomplish that task, then the bridges will never be built.

Other vendors, and in particular distributors, have occasionally come up with one-off programs designed to drive a particular product into the market, but what makes the Cisco effort unique is that the Master Specification is the first in a series of certifications designed to closely link the channel to emerging technologies. And as such, it’s one that a lot of vendors should think about emulating.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at michael_vizard@ziffdavis.com.