Rus Healy, Chief Technology Architect, Annese & Associates
One of the compelling aspects of the technology business is this—just when we become comfortable with the solutions we offer, sweeping changes occur with our customers and the markets in which we work. These changes require us to rethink not just our roles, but the market as a whole.
Cisco contributes significantly to these market changes. They like to call them “disruptions,” and there’s a good reason for that: These disruptions often reinvent the way we do business with our customers. Once these disruptions come into play, I see a typical progression of events with these stages:
Stage 1: A major technology innovation emerges, often through a start-up.
Stage 2: Early adopters validate that the market exists and establish its viability.
Stage 3: Competitors emerge; manufacturers make serious investments.
Stage 4: Leaders appear among the competitors.
Stage 5: Consolidation begins as large players acquire and continue to develop the new technology.
Stage 6: Over the course of a couple of years, standards are developed, clear leaders emerge, and smaller competitors disappear.
Stage 7: The market matures. Growth continues, late adopters come to the table, and people become comfortable with the technology. Sometimes, new household names emerge.
Businesses that are technology partners to their customers, from my standpoint as a VAR partner, usually become aware of the importance of these disruptions around Stage 2 and actively get involved around Stage 4. We set goals, create our business plans, choose partners, and create processes to deliver solutions. VARs often reach practice maturity during Stage 6, or even Stage 7. It’s not a trivial effort to reach this point; it takes a while, and the investments we make to succeed at it are significant.
A key challenge for VARs is moving that mastery to an earlier stage in the cycle. The investments we make to achieve that increase significantly as we move up the ladder. But strategically, this is an important effort for us; it allows us to cement our partner relationships, achieve credibility in our markets, and most importantly to expand our businesses in a profitable way. To our customers, ourand leadership in these technology disruptions include Tele presence and controller-based wireless solutions. Both have followed the same stages of progression, over different timelines, and Cisco has emerged as a leader in both cases.
Today we find the technology markets in the midst of two major market disruptions that are deeply intertwined— cloud-based solutions, and software-defined networking. I’d characterize “the cloud” as a Stage 5 or 6 disruption and software-defined networking as a Stage 3 or 4 disruptions. Cloud adoption rates are sky-high, with a 22 percent 5-year combined annual growth rate and organizations expecting to spend 53 percent of their IT budget on cloud-based solutions in the next 2 years.
"Cloud services and SDN are connected so tightly because both are necessary to stretch workloads from private clouds to public and hybrid clouds"
The investments the competitors are making in both markets are huge, but so is the upside. Cisco has committed to investing $1B on Intercloud, its cloud offering based on federations with massive, global providers. Cisco’s ACI (Application-Centric Infrastructure) solution set leveraging SDN is squarely focused on the “Internet of Everything.”
Large competitors loom in both spaces, and some have been there quite a while. All of them have a lot to gain by establishing strong leadership— cloud market share will bring SDN market share, and vice versa. A stumble in either jeopardizes the other.
Cloud services and SDN are connected so tightly because both are necessary to stretch workloads from private clouds to public and hybrid clouds in flexible, cost-effective ways. Both are at the heart of the growth of an entire ecosystem of cloud providers, networking manufacturers, and solution providers like VARs.
For customers, neither cloud-based solutions nor software-defined networking are particularly meaningful. CIOs and business leaders have closer-to-home questions—“How do these solutions help me compete? What value do they bring? How do they help reduce risk? Meet compliance goals? Enable growth? Save money?”
This is where VARs come in!
VARs need to be close enough to their customers to not just paint a picture showing where these solutions fit, but also to look deeply into our customers’ businesses to help them answer these questions by showing them strategies specifically crafted for them that help them meet their goals.
From where I sit, cloud services and software-defined networking provide ways for us to address one of the greatest needs nearly all of our customers have—business continuity. We can build great data centers for our customers—consolidating infrastructure, improving management, and saving recurring costs—but the CIOs I talk with lie awake at night not because of their own data centers and private clouds; but because they don’t have a business continuity strategy that they know will protect their business in case of a significant outage of any kind. Addressing this set of challenges is rarely something a business can do entirely in a vacuum— good partners are key.
CIOs each have methods they use to find and vetVAR partners best suited to help drive solutions to these challenges. These strategies are among them:
• A deep understanding of the business and the vertical market.
• Solid partnerships across strategic partners in the hardware and software space.
• A diverse customer base, which demonstrates competencies applicable to more than one vertical market.
• A proven track record, including backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity solutions for critical industries.
• Great project-management capability.
• Good documentation practices.
• Long-term commitment to you and your business as a partner.
I don’t question that Cisco will become a strong leader in SDN, as its core business is so strongly led by adjacent technologies in routing and switching. Cisco seems to have made the necessary commitment to achieve leadership status in the cloud solutions market as well. Because that market is still very much a changing and growing landscape, it’s fair to say that Cisco will have a key role. For CIOs, however, the key remains establishing strong VAR partnerships that outlast technology disruptions for the best long-term outcomes.