Chambers: Cisco network smarts mean partner profits

Cisco's drive to build more intelligence into networks will profit its partners, its top executive said.

Cisco Systems' drive to build more intelligence into networks presents new profit opportunities for its channel partners, Cisco President and Chief Executive Officer John Chambers said Wednesday at the company's annual partner conference.

Cisco began several years ago on a path toward networks that can act as the glue between distributed storage, processing and applications, with security also built in to the infrastructure, Chambers said. Now partners have to act -- and make some changes -- to tap into emerging demand for those networks, he said.

"The time to change is when things are going well," Chambers told thousands of representatives from value-added resellers, application developers and system integrators gathered in San Diego for the Cisco Partner Summit this week.

Exhorting the audience, "we need to evolve together," Chambers seemed to acknowledge the concerns that some channel partners have about changes to Cisco's partner program announced this week, including more stringent requirements for Premier, Silver and Gold certifications.

To be certified as a Premier partner after March 2008, resellers will have to qualify for four specializations: routing, switching, wireless and security. Getting those requires testing and may involve taking courses, some of which are free and some for a fee.

Silver and Gold partners will need even more specializations. However, two current Premier partners at the event said expanding into new capabilities could be a hardship for them and other Premier partners, which tend to be relatively small.

Infinity Technology, only has six engineers on staff, according to Gene Gliniecki, director of networking and telecom at the company, an Internet service provider, system integrator and application developer. Training for new specializations would most likely have to happen on their spare time, because they need to be on call during business hours to serve customers, he said.

Wireless in particular is very difficult, said Thomas Haack, chief executive officer of Thomas Technologies Ltd., in Rockwall, Texas, who said his firm used to do some wireless work. The company has some routing and switching expertise, but specializes in security.

Most premier partners are small companies like Thomas, which has just 25 employees, Haack said. They don't have the resources to stay up to speed in four technologies, he said. However, he welcomed the idea of the newly announced Master certification, which will recognize a channel partner for the highest level of expertise in a particular area. Letting many specialist firms cooperate on a project would create a network of highly skilled providers, he said.

One area where Cisco falls short is in support for its channel partners, Haack said. Cisco's Technology Assistance Center was slow to respond to a recent call about a conflict among Cisco firewalls, he said. Unfortunately, in such cases, the customer always blames the reseller, Haack said. Gliniecki is happier with Cisco's support for small partners, which he said is much better in his state than that of Cisco rival Avaya Inc.

The drive to make more resellers into one-stop shops should make things easier for customers, according to IDC analyst Ken Presti.

"If I've got five channel partners involved in my infrastructure, I own the complexity," Presti said.

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