Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

The cloud is a major focus at VMware’s VMworld conference, but given that the cloud has been front and center in virtually every IT event, analyst report, press release or news story for many months, it was pretty much a given that it would be. Since VMware launched its vCloud initiative a year ago it has seen some interesting traction, including an explosion in service partners wanting a piece of the action, surging from 150 to more than 1,000.

According Charles King, principal analyst, Pund-IT Research, VMware is continuing to execute on a strategy that has become increasingly evident since Paul Maritz became CEO and president. "First, focus on what you are doing, not what you’ve done. Second, elevate the discussion beyond what customers want today to what they will need tomorrow. Finally, create and execute on efforts that benefit and attract partners."

The end result, said King, is that VMware has taken its game to a new level that both acknowledges the value of its traditional hypervisor technologies and rises above it. "By focusing on its own strengths and its partners well being, VMware is charting a cloud-destined course that customers should find easy (and competitors could find difficult) to follow."

During a Q&A session with reporters and analysts, Maritz paid tribute to the competition, but said the challenge right now is helping the company’s existing 150,000-plus customers, and that the channel is essential to making that a reality. Overall, the channel accounts for more than 90 of VMware’s revenues.

"Selling indirect through the channel is a critical part of our strategy," he said. But if the channel is a key component of VMware’s ongoing success, it’s a component that is changing as customers demand solutions rather than products. This means talking to different people about the business value of solutions, and that requires a different set of partner skills, he said.

VMware’s channel partners made up approximately 20 percent of VMworld attendees, said Ben Matheson, senior director, global partner marketing. And rather than the traditional one-day conference held the day before customers arrive, this year’s event expanded the channel content for the 2,400 attendees to run the full conference. Overall, the company has 22,000 partners, about half from the Americas, including almost 700 from Canada.

In April the company announced it would be consolidating its various channel partner programs into one umbrella program called the VMware Partner Network. In addition to simplifying its channel efforts, it also moved to a competency focus. The program consolidation was completed two months ago.

Matheson said the most successful VMware partners are those who sell software and provide services around VMware deployments. In the past, those two elements were separated in different partner programs, but now they’ve been brought together. The competency certifications are based around four different areas — infrastructure virtualization, business continuity, desktop virtualization and virtualization management — and will provide partners with a way to differentiate their skillsets, Matheson said.

As part of the evolution of VMware’s partner program to competencies, is the inclusion of more than a focus on technology. "There’s sales training, technical training and post-sales training," said Matheson. "When we say a partner is competent& they don’t just sell our product, but service and support it. We make sure they’re competent across all different dimensions."

While not disputing his ultimate boss, Matheson said the company has a healthy mix of efforts focused on selling into its installed base, as well as going after greenfield opportunities, especially in SMBs, and through the channel. Four-five years ago, VMware was all about selling into greenfield, he said. "All we were concerned about was getting new customers."

Today the company has more than 150,000 customers, with the top 5,000 dealing directly with VMware in some fashion. As Maritz said, a key focus is on getting these customers to grow from 30 percent usage of virtualization to 100 percent.

"However, we’re not going to forget about the small-medium space because that’s untapped." More of them use our products than others, said Matheson and VMware has just introduced SKUs like the Essential product and promotions targeted at this market.

He believes the competencies will be the lynchpin for launching into new markets, and that VMware’s channel will jump at the opportunity. "The reason why our channel partners love VMware is there’s usually a 11x drag when selling virtualization." That’s a lot of product and services to add on to a deal, he said.

Both deal registration and lead management are included in the VMware Partner Network, said Matheson. Currently, partners can get 16 points if they register a deal. And in the next quarter the company will roll out SolutionPlus through which partners can earn an additional point for registering the new products.

Driving leads to partners is also important, he said. The VMware Grid is a simple-to-use, permission-based email engine that generates real-time leads for partners. It’s really taken off, he said. During the last 45 days 500 partners have executed lead-gen campaigns, all of them trackable.

VMware has just announced that its next Partner Exchange will be held February 8-10 in Las Vegas and there’s an early bird discount for signing up before the event.

Click here to see other headlines from eChannelLine