We are SDN-ready Unlike Our Competition: Extreme Networks

Theresa Caragol,VP, Global Channels, Extreme Networks, has revamped the company's channel approach.

CW: You masterminded the channel program at your previous company, Ciena. How different is it to work with a company that already has a legacy partner program?

Caragol : When I joined Ciena, they were trying to define their channel. While we changed that in five years, here at Extreme Networks, it's all about the channel. We are immensely channel-focused, and my challenge was to take it to the next level. The exciting part for me is that different geographies are doing it differently. India has its own way, while Latin America's doing it totally differently. While that's good, because it's entrepreneurial and that's how you win, we have to figure out how to apply best practices across the globe. That's essential for an organization whose channel-base is growing. We need to make some of the key partnerships truly global. To achieve this, we have already launched phase-1 of our global partner program, which ensures returns to partners who have invested in Extreme Networks.

CW: Channel enablement programs and marketing are two areas that partners say Extreme Networks has lagged behind in recent years. When you came on-board this April, did you look into these areas?

Caragol : Yes. I got in touch with a few partners across the globe. While they agreed unanimously that our products are great, they felt that Extreme was not using the channel very effectively and was not building business partnerships with the channel. I think there is a huge difference between channel and real partnerships. And, that's what I hope to be driving across the world.

CW: You have spoken about the need for the channel to be represented as a single entity. Considering that Extreme Networks' a decentralized organization, how will you ensure this happens?

Caragol : Before I joined, we did not have a formal channel structure. We had a global partner program, but it wasn't the same across continents. Our CEO, Oscar Rodriguez, recognized the need to have a formal channel organization. We hired some good talent to build an infrastructure that has a sales leadership in the region and a program enablement team that is supporting this sales organization which can better enable the channel. We are trying to bring normalization in partner programs across the globe. We have a global strategy and role-based regional execution. We also came up with a Global Partner Advisory Counsel, to provide a common platform for representatives of different countries to discuss various topics.

CW: You also had plans to rationalize your partner base, and cut underperforming partners. Do you think this is smart move, considering that most partners today work with multiple vendors and mostly go by customer preference? Is it fair to expect a particular partner to be active all the time?

Caragol : I am big fan of quality over quantity. I believe that it's better to have quality partners with whom we can have strong relationships. There definitely are a few 'tactical' partners who we work with whenever an opportunity arises. But there's also another set of partners who are very consistent across the globe. They have a high-level of technical competency and a deep customer-base with whom they form a very strong relationship. They are often regional in nature or vertical focused. They typically sign up with vendors that are best of breed, and then build a portfolio of multiple vendors. So, we may not be the big guys, but a lot of these partners are extremely keen on signing up with us. That's the profile we are interested in. Those are the partners that I want us to be investing into. It's not that we are not going to support the others, but presently, I am trying to build two levels of support.

CW: While Extreme is known for quality products in the datacenter space, partners feel that you need to focus more on OEM relationships so as to be a big player in the converged datacenter architecture space. Don't you think a lack of such partnerships will limit your growth, despite having some of the best products?

Caragol : We already have different ecosystem partners. On the physical security side, we have partnered with Axis and Milestone. Besides, on the datacenter front, we just announced that we are VCE Vblock ready, which is a key step. We believe that the ecosystem consists of solution providers, distributors, technology partners and consultants. That way we communicate and support each of them differently. The Advisory Counsel helps all these partners to act together and share ideas across the globe. We are creating a community among our partners so they will be able to benefit from each other.

CW: Is 'focus' your answer to competition from players like Cisco, who are into several things?

Caragol : We are going to remain focused. Campus, enterprise and education are going to be our key focus areas. From what I am hearing, the Avaya acquisition of Nortel has really worked out, and we see an opportunity there. The whole datacenter market is just beginning to get created. We also bet big on physical security. I want partners who can go all-out and look at multiple areas, and be able to sell our solutions accordingly.

CW: While BYOD holds a lot of potential, there seems to be a disconnect at multiple levels. CIOs in India think they don't find partners who have the right expertise, while partners feel that they need more handholding from vendors. How will your channel encash this opportunity?

Caragol : In India, our partners are already on the job. We are really strong in the education sector. A lot of partners have accumulated skills in BYOD as they grew. So it's not by design, but by default. We have a lot of tier-II partners who are surprisingly strong in mobility solutions. We have a significant number of campuses that are deploying BYOD solutions. We will gradually look at the enterprise segment as well. From a portfolio perspective, we are already pretty strong in BYOD.

CW: You were quite prompt in coming up with an SDN strategy. But SDN still seems to be in an incubation stage. Do you have clarity on how your partners should look at it as a market opportunity?

Caragol : SDN is a big focus within the company and I think we are well placed compared to some of our competitors. The reason is that we are the first to come up with a modular OS. We already have SDN capabilities in our products. Given the architecture of our OS, it's very easy to go into an SDN frame. If you take any of our competitors, they don't have a modular OS across their product lines, so they have to rebuild that before they become SDN-ready. I think we have our nose ahead in this space.

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