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One day last week, Dan Warmenhoven was enjoying a relatively relaxing day compared with the intensity of what his day would have been had he stayed in the chief executive’s office of NetApp. While he sat in his new cubicle down the hall from his former office, his successor, Tom Georgens, was in New York getting grilled by financial analysts and investors.

“Not having to present to analysts in my calendar is not something that I’ll be missing,” Warmenhoven said with a chuckle.

Eight weeks have passed since Warmenhoven turned over the reins to NetApp after a long and well-planned transition of corporate power. He assumed the sole role of chairman of the board, while Georgens picked up the strategic and corporate mantle for the storage appliance vendor. But after 15 years at the helm, Warmenhoven never intended to fade quietly into retirement, lay low until the next corporate gig came along or assume some emeritus role. No, Warmenhoven took on a new role—channel evangelist and NetApp’s chief advocate for storage in the cloud.

While he doesn’t technically report to anyone (after all, he’s chairman of the board), Warmenhoven now works for Julie Parrish, the company’s vice president of worldwide channels. His role is pretty clear and simple: foster relationships with large vendors, carriers and integrators and persuade them to standardize their solutions—cloud or otherwise—on NetApp gear.

“The question was, Where can I add value? And I wanted to make a positive contribution to [Parrish’s] goals,” he said.

Warmenhoven did not choose his channel role lightly, and it’s not some passing fancy that will give way to other corporate priorities. Instead, Warmenhoven in the channel is a reflection of NetApp’s need to both better engage with partners and create an ecosystem of cloud-centric partners that will use NetApp storage gear and management systems in the services they deliver.

NetApp was founded nearly two decades ago as an alternative to the predominate storage standard of the day: storage area networks. The mission was to disrupt then-SAN market leader Sun Microsystems. Through much trial and tribulations, NetApp not only established itself as a storage player, but virtually created the NAS marketplace.

But the storage market, like the broader IT marketplace, is changing rapidly with the evolution of service-based delivery models for all aspects of the infrastructure. NetApp’s traditional go-to-market was to sell to the individual. Now, it’s trying to figure out how to sell to service providers that will use its equipment in the data centers to provide services to multitudes of customers.

“We are in transition, and that’s partly because our customers are in transition,” Warmenhoven said. “This changes the way we sell and who we sell through.”

Selling into the cloud is not something that NetApp has much experience with. And NetApp’s roots as a direct sales organization and limited involvement with systems integrators don’t give it much of a foundation for selling as part of holistic solutions. NetApp’s legacy is selling products into customer environments irrespective, for the most part, of the components surrounding them.

Warmenhoven’s role is to cultivate relationships with large software vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, and to maintain relations with quasi-rivals such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard. And build new relationships with carriers and big outsourcing houses such as CSC and Accenture.

“These partners that we’re looking at are way bigger than we are. They want to know that we take this seriously, and having the chairman and former CEO calling on them is a huge advantage,” Parrish said.

The stakes are incredibly high for NetApp and companies like it. There is a paradigm shift that Warmenhoven describes is happening to all the large equipment manufacturers. As technology consumers migrate from large capital expenses to recurring operational expenses, they’re disrupting the traditional sales model that equipment manufacturers have enjoyed for the last 30 years. Worse, the cloud or services sectors are a finite space, meaning that service providers will consume less technology since they can scale it far more efficiently than individual companies.

Capturing more share of the cloud and services space is the next new frontier. And that’s where Warmenhoven comes in for NetApp. A precursor to his new role came last year when Royal Dutch Shell awarded German telecom giant T-Systems a mammoth multibillion-dollar contract to completely outsource its IT operations. When NetApp sold direct to Shell, it only got 30 percent of the business. NetApp working with T-Systems standardized storage in the outsourcing model, and now NetApp has 100 percent of the Shell business. That’s the power of selling into the cloud: share shift.

So now Warmenhoven embarks on a journey as an ambassador for his channel chief, Parrish, and his company, NetApp. His mission: to open doors at large partners and convince them that NetApp is the standard for their solutions and services.  As Parrish says, people tend to pick up the phone when the chairman of the board is calling.

As more hardware and software vendors look for their place in the cloud and services world, they may, too, turn to the likes of people like Warmenhoven to serve as chief channel ambassador.

Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. Click here to read his blog, Secure Channel, for the latest insights on security technology and policy trends affecting solution providers. 


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