NetApp to redo Canadian channel for flash universe

While NetApp has some good Canadian partners, it doesn’t have enough of them. Accordingly, three months ago a new Canadian channel manager was appointed to rework the channel, giving a stronger focus around both flash and converged infrastructure, and making changes to the partner mix.

Scott Strubel NetApp

Scott Strubel, Vice President of Americas Channel Sales at NetApp

TORONTO – For IT as a whole, and NetApp in particular, flash storage is not only the future, but the present. That was a key part of the message imparted Wednesday by company CEO George Kurian at NetApp’s Executive Briefing Centre on the Road event for customers and partners here. NetApp is positioning itself as ideally suited for a flash universe because of its ability to sell three different types of flash into three different markets. Their Data ONTAP file system software, optimized for solid state, is targeted at the mainstream enterprise infrastructure buyer. Their EF series is aimed at those looking for performance. The SolidFire portfolio is targeted at customers who want next-gen scale-out capability.

NetApp’s transition to emphasizing flash means changes are coming for its channel partners as well, as the partners of yesterday may not be the best suited for today, let alone tomorrow. That’s particularly the case in Canada, where NetApp is already doing well with flash.

“In Canada we have midsize enterprise economy, with a balance between public and private cloud, which is by definition a hybrid cloud environment,” said Scott Strubel, Vice President of Americas Channel Sales at NetApp. “We are picking up a lot of new customers in Canada with our FlexPod converged infrastructure offering, which is tightly aligned with [Cisco Canada President] Bernadette Wightman’s entire organization. We see a lot of new customers moving to it. Last year, less than a fourth, maybe less than a fifth of FlexPod sales were flash-based. We anticipate that in 2016, a majority will be flash-based.”

Strubel said that while some partners in Canada have been valuable in the move to flash, there aren’t enough of these producers.

“Some of our partners in Canada have done a very good job helping us lead the transition to flash, and there has been good communication between our product organization and the CTOs of these partners,” he said.

On the other hand, Strubel noted wryly that NetApp’s Canadian channel appears to be an extreme example of the Pareto Principle – the 80-20 rule where the top 20 per cent account for 80 per cent of production.

“We have probably between 150 and 170 registered partners in Canada – but less than a dozen are involved in strategically building a growing business among midsize businesses and the largest banks in Canada,” he said. “There are some partners we have that I’m not convinced we should be spending any time with, and there are others who are not even part of our program today that I think we should be working with.”

As a result, at the end of 2015 NetApp appointed longtime IBM Canada and Avnet exec Pete McNair as the channel sales manager in Canada.

“We have to shake up and reconsider who we want our partners to be,” Strubel said. “Pete McNair was brought in for a fresh set of eyes on building and rebuilding the channel in Canada around both flash and converged infrastructure.”

McNair said that changes will be made.

“Pete is creating a Canadian partner organization that will be a rich mix of VARs, with many moving to becoming system integrators, and also of service providers,” Strubel said. “That mix of partners will evolve significantly.

“There will be a combination of recruiting and enablement, teaching partners to get better,” Strubel said. “For instance, a lot of customers now hear things about hyper-converged, which means that we need to teach the channel how to get better at distinguishing workloads between converged and hyper-converged.