Cisco merges cloud, managed services partner programs

CloudsCisco has announced plans to merge its partner programs for MSPs and cloud partners into a new single go-to-market approach, dubbed the Cloud and Managed Services Partner Program.

The company has run a managed service provider program for years, but just launched its cloud partner program in April of 2011. However, the move by managed service providers towards offering cloud-based solutions has made a combination of these two programs make sense, said Arjun Lahiri, senior manager of worldwide channels at Cisco.

“We took a look at the cloud program and the managed services program, and we heard there were overlaps,” Lahiri said. “We wanted to have a single engagement form a program standpoint.”

Perhaps the biggest change for many solution providers that fall under the program: Cloud and MSP partners will now be eligible for rebates under Cisco’s all-encompassing Value Incentive Program (VIP).

Previously, there had been separate rebate plans for cloud and MSP partners. But Lahiri said that with the launch of VIP 21 on January 27th of next year, MSPs and cloud providers and builders will have access to not only VIP rebates, but the company’s suite of other incentive programs, including TIP (Teaming Incentive Program), OIP (Opportunity Incentive Program) and SIP (Solution Incentive Program).

The program includes a simplified pricing model that the company believes will be most welcome to cloud service providers looking to make sure they have consistent terms and conditions over the long term, as well as new and simplified branding for Cisco partners and Cisco-powered services and managed services. Before, Cisco simply had too many partner-facing logos, Lahiri said.

“Many different logos doesn’t drive differentiation – it’s far better to have a couple, and then really drive them,” he said.

The company is also adding program-level go-to-market benefits, the types of which were previously only available on an opportunity level. This includes cloud-specific MDF to help partners build demand for their offerings

“This is more than a partner program, it’s a full go-to-market program around cloud and managed services,” Lahiri said.

The program will come in three levels – Express, Advanced and Master.

At the top level, Master, partners will have to have designations for 2 Cisco Powered Services or Cisco Powered Managed Services, as well as ITIL-approved processes, some Cisco-certified sales and technical personnel, and must be delivering SLA-based services to customers.

The Advanced level carries similar requirements, but with only one Cisco Powered Service or Managed Service required. And at the Express level, partners don’t need to have a Cisco Powered Service designation, but most simply offer Cisco-based services.

That last differentiator, while small, is important to Cisco. Cisco Powered Services are basically reference architectures for a variety of IT services, including IaaS, hosted collaboration, hosted collaboration for the contact centre, and TelePresence-as-a-Service. And Cisco Powered Managed Services include 13 different offerings, also validated reference architectures, ranging from MPLS VPN, to Internet Service, to Unified Contact Centre, to Application Performance Management.

Cisco-based services, required at the Express level, are more simply just that – services that are built on Cisco architecture, or use Cisco solutions.

For existing managed services partners, the main change for the new program will be the requirement of at least one Cisco-Powered Service to advance beyond the Express level. But Lahiri said “many” of the company’s partners in the space already have one or more of these designations, and will automatically be dropped into the Advanced or Masters level, depending on numbers. The company’s cloud provider partners, meanwhile, will basically start out at the Advanced level at least, as offering a Cisco-Powered Service has been a requirement of that program for some time.

For those who need to get a designation, the company will typically offer a 12-18 month transition period to meet that requirement, Lahiri said. Partners will start having to qualify under the new requirements for their first re-certification after August 2013, he said.

For its part, Lahiri said Cisco will work to further simplify the Cisco Powered brand, and to drive it to higher prominence, giving partners an important leg up when it comes to differentiation in the market.