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How to Evaluate the Partners and Solutions in the Cisco Ecosystem

By Steve Blacklock, Sr. Director,Global Strategic Alliances, Citrix

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Steve Blacklock, Sr. Director,Global Strategic Alliances, Citrix

As CIOs respond to pressure to adapt their IT infrastructure to meet new business requirements, the breadth and depth of the Cisco ecosystem can be a tremendous benefit—if you can avoid becoming overwhelmed. The sheer scope of its partner network is critical for helping Cisco meet diverse and evolving customer needs, but it can also make it challenging customers to identify the right providers for their specific business and technology needs. Beyond the specific products and services offered by the partner, it is important to evaluate the nature of the partnership itself to make sure it is designed to drive real value, not just facilitate sales. Here are a few key areas to consider as you evaluate a vendor’s partnership with Cisco.

Alignment of Vision

In today’s tech industry, it’s almost inevitable that two companies with enough in common to become partners will also find themselves competing head-to-head at times. This doesn’t necessarily reflect a flaw or conflict in the partnership—it’s often just a matter of building out a complete and coherent portfolio. What matters more is the common ground on which the partnership is built, the shared vision that ensures that the two companies see the market in the same way and take a similar approach to addressing its needs. For example, while Citrix and Cisco have overlapping products in some areas, we also find many natural synergy points where we can enter markets together, leverage products that fit naturally together and provide joint solutions with a unified value proposition—in this case, enabling business mobility through Citrix solutions optimized to run on Cisco infrastructures.

The Customer’s Voice

If the partners in a technology alliance aren’t building their solutions based on customer feedback and demand, they’ll often end up building what I would call alliance shelfware: great technical solutions that no customer actually needs or wants to buy. Just as individual technology companies turn to customer advisory boards to inform their product design and development, the partners in an alliance should gather and share information from their joint customers to ensure the relevance and value of their solutions. Part of this input can come through including partnerships in the agenda for each company’s customer advisory board, but an equally valuable source can be the joint channel partners that sell the solutions themselves. From their position at the point of sale and implementation, these resellers and consultants can get firsthand feedback about what’s really needed to drive value. We saw this firsthand with the development of the Cisco Mobile Workspace Solution with Citrix, which combines Citrix Workspace Suite with Cisco infrastructure in a Cisco Validated Design (CVD). This part of our Cisco collaboration was sparked by conversations with joint customers and partners asking for an end-to-end solution.

Freedom of Roadmap

The joint solutions offered through the partnership should allow ample freedom to define your own roadmap and proceed in your own way. The total vision for a given partnership might be compelling enough, but it shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing, one-size-fits-all solution. Every company’s customer journey is unique, from their starting point, to the priorities that will guide their investments and implementations, to the configuration and use cases of the solution they end up with. In the mobile workspace arena, one company might already have implemented desktop virtualization and want to proceed to the delivery of Windows apps to touch-screen devices, while another might choose to begin with mobile device and application management or a unified app store. Make sure you can decide which elements of the joint solution to begin with and how to layer on additional capabilities over time and make sure your solutions can be flexible to meet these customer needs.

Breadth of Partnership

If you’re not careful, your vendor relationships could end up as prolific and expansive as the Cisco ecosystem itself. Before you commit to a partner that really only does one or two things well, take a step back and consider the full breadth of complementary technologies you’d like to build out around your Cisco products, now in the future, and look for a partner whose Cisco alliance is equally comprehensive. Our own partnership illustrates what I mean; Citrix collaborates with Cisco across mobility, cloud networking and cloud services, addressing a wide swath of customer needs. A broader partnership is also more likely to run deep and involve the kind of technology cross-licensing that can drive exceptional value. In our case, Cisco has OEMed the technology of our Citrix NetScaler application delivery controller (ADC) to create a product called the NetScaler 1000V, a virtual ADC appliance that’s part of their overall virtual networking infrastructure. On our end, Citrix has licensed vPath and RISE technologies from Cisco to allow for full networking integration of NetScaler with Cisco virtual and physical Nexus networking platforms.

Mutual Channels and Joint Partners

Just as an alliance can enhance the value of each partner’s products, the mutual partners and channels through which the joint solution is delivered can play an important role in the benefits realized by customers. By aligning channel sales and delivery models through a single framework, the alliance can build partner competencies on the joint solution, provide joint certifications, accelerate time-to-market for new solutions and innovations, and shorten implementation cycles. Resellers who are partners of both companies can also build more complete, better integrated and repeatable solutions incorporating their own value-added features. A well-designed alliance partner program will ensure that each customer can leverage the value of the joint solution as effectively as possible to address their unique needs. For example, the Cisco and Citrix Partner Accelerator provides partners with the technical and marketing resources necessary for a complete converged infrastructure solution for desktop and app virtualization. Partners benefit from specialized training, reference architectures and solution marketing tools to meet their customer's needs.

“A well-designed alliance partner program will ensure that customers can leverage the value of the joint solution to address their needs”

The relationships among your technology providers can be just as important as the relationships you build with them. Make sure the joint solutions and partner products you invest in are the result of a strong, deep and well-aligned alliance. 

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