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SolarWinds recently launched a major effort to clarify and unify its global partner program, with the appointment of Jeff McCullough as vice president of worldwide partner sales. With over 20 years’ experience in IT channel sales, McCullough comes to SolarWinds from Park Place Technologies, where he led the launch of that company’s new channel program.

In an interview with Channel Insider, McCullough detailed SolarWinds’ current product focus, as well as his plans for a reimagining of the company’s partner program.

Shifting to Observability

From IT asset management (ITAM) to database management, SolarWinds’ range of offerings is focused on helping customers successfully deliver IT transformation initiatives. “We have a diverse portfolio of products, but they all essentially solve various problems that customers have in managing their IT infrastructure and keeping their IT operations running smoothly,” McCullough said.

Jeff McCullough SolarWinds
Jeff McCullough, SolarWinds

The company recently began a product transformation effort towards observability, a shift from simply monitoring โ€“ determining what’s happened โ€“ to understanding why an event has occurred. An additional AI layer “provides analysis and observations about what’s going on in the environment and why things are happening both on premises and in the cloud,” McCullough said.

That’s a logical response to a common customer pain point – dealing with the massive amount of events organizations are confronted with.

“We have upwards of 300,000 customers around the world, and all of them essentially have one commonality, which is that they have an endless number of events happening in their environment,” McCullough said.

The challenge is to make sense of that volume of data, and that’s where SolarWinds hopes to stand out. “We know we can help customers understand what’s happening in the data center, and we want to bring that next level of capability to it,” McCullough said. “The AI logic that we can layer on top โ€“ the AI ops approach to our vision for both on-prem and the cloud, we think, is really going to differentiate us in the marketplace in terms of aligning to how customers are doing IT today.”

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A Subscription Model

The shift to observability is being implemented alongside a product transition from perpetual licenses towards a subscription model that gives customers access to a broader range of SolarWinds’ portfolio than they may have had before.

“From a customer perspective, you’re actually going to get a much bigger suite of SolarWinds products included in those observability platforms,” McCullough said. “That will significantly increase the value to the customer and align to a different consumption model that for just about every customer is lining up more and more to the way they want to operate and fund their IT.”

All of this is intended to provide new opportunities for both partners and customers. “As we embark on observability and we transition to these new models, including our shift to subscription, for our partners it’s really an opportunity to have a different conversation with customers about their IT operations and to move from transactional opportunities to strategic opportunities,” McCullough said.

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Secure by Design

SolarWinds CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna joined the company in January 2021, soon after a high-profile breach of the company’s Orion platform was disclosed. At the time, Ramakrishna published a blog post detailing the company’s plans to respond by focusing on three key areas: further securing its internal environment, enhancing its product development environment, and ensuring the security and integrity of its products.

And all of that fits the concept of observability. “The opportunity here for us is to not close doors but actually open the doors, let people understand what happened and why it happened โ€“ and for our customers, to understand what we’re doing about it, and for the industry, here are the lessons learned, and here are some best practices that we believe really help improve everybody in total,” McCullough said.

Following Ramakrishna’s focus on revamping security, all of SolarWinds’ products now follow secure by design principles. “It’s about building security into not only the functionality and the products, but the actual development of the products, ensuring that those products are secure end to end from the time we’re developing them all the way through release and update,” McCullough said.

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Empowering the Channel

Although upwards of 60 percent of SolarWinds’ business is done through partners, McCullough said the company’s partner business model has varied by location โ€“ so SolarWinds will also be working in the coming months to unify and clarify that model globally, providing incremental changes along with guidance to partners.

“As our partners get more and more global in nature along with their customers, it’s really important for us to have a global scope to our partner program โ€“ and, at the same time, to do a better job of spelling out the opportunities for partners to accelerate and grow with the SolarWinds business,” McCullough said.

Without disrupting current partners’ experience selling SolarWinds products and associated partner-branded services, the plan is to support partners that may not be able to deliver services themselves. “We’re introducing a set of SolarWinds-branded service products that partners can sell,” McCullough said. “They can sell those products, make margin on selling those products, and we’ll have a service network that can come in and do the delivery.”

Investing in Partners

Alternatively, partners that choose to become certified to deliver SolarWinds products can both sell and deliver those products at a greater profit. “There’s base money to make just reselling services, which is a good step โ€“ and there’s a certified partner strategy that allows partners to sell those products and deliver those products, and make even more money,” McCullough said.

And none of that precludes partners’ ability to continue to offer their own branded service products. “We think that strategy both builds on the strong capability that’s in the market, and also helps partners up-level their profile in the market by being certified branded,” he said.

The broader message to the company’s partners, he said, is simple: “We’re investing; that investment is going to drive growth; and that growth is going to drive profitability.” That means investing not just in the program and benefit structures, but also in people, growing the company’s field organization and marketing team to support partners as they grow.

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