New Nutanix Canada country manager Robert Yelenich promises aggressive expansion

A month ago, Robert Yelenich moved from country manager of Commvault in Canada over to Nutanix, replacing Anton Granic, who had been promoted. Yelenich recently sat down with ChannelBuzz to discuss Nutanix’s Canadian plans for 2016.

Robert Yelenich

Robert Yelenich, Nutanix Country Manager, Canada

Robert Yelenich, longtime country manager for data protection vendor Commvault in Canada, is settling in nicely into his new role as Canadian country manager for Nutanix. Recruited by Nutanix to replace Anton Granic following Granic’s promotion to Vice President, Americas West and Canada, Yelenich sees a strong parallel between Commvault and Nutanix in Canada at the same stage of their growth.

“I joined Commvault in 2010, and it was similar in size to what Nutanix is today,” he said. “At that time, Commvault had roughly 300 customers and grew to over 1000. Nutanix today has about 200 customers in Canada. I’ve done this before – scale the business in Canada.”

Yelenich indicated that he was familiar with Nutanix even while at Commvault because the two companies have a history of partnering together.

“That partnering was how I was really introduced to Nutanix,” he said. “The companies’ DNA is very similar, and both have aggressive sales cultures. We found good synergies working together and each of us introduced customers into the others’ accounts. That’s why [when Granic was promoted] I was called and asked if I was interested in this position.”

Nutanix has a staff of 22 in Canada, including nine field reps and nine SEs. They sell through channel partners, although their internal people still have to carry the ball on most sales. However, Yelenich said some of their top Canadian partners are close to being able to do everything themselves.

“We are still working on channel enablement,” he said. “We have a couple of partners that are close to being able to go from start to finish with customers. We have some others who are interested in investing further, and are developing their skillset to be self-sufficient in selling the solution from end to end.

Yelenich indicated that the number of key Nutanix channel partners in Canada is relatively small.

“I would consider that under 10 of our partners in Canada would be considered ‘go-to’ partners,” he said. They have 20 to 30 other partners in Canada in their program, which reflects the way that Nutanix’s partner program is structured.

“At Commvault, we could sign one-off deals with partners and never speak to them again,” he said “With Nutanix, you sign up as a partner and commit to doing business with Nutanix. With Commvault, we had 50 partners at one point and we whittled that down. Having that many partners here isn’t scalable. There aren’t enough MDF dollars. We need to fine-tune our channel strategy to be with a select few partners, particularly the national partners.”

Nutanix in the last six months or so has been refining its overall message, emphasizing that it has moved from being a mid-market player to focusing on the enterprise, and indicating that hyper-converged is only one part of their aspiration, which in the long term is delivering an Amazon-like infrastructure for the enterprise cloud, as they further expand their fabric. Yelenich indicated that even in Canada, where startups focus on the 500-5000 person commercial mid-enterprise space which makes up over 90 per cent of the Canadian market above the SMBs, Nutanix is already building a strong enterprise portfolio.

“We are already installed at several of the major banks and the federal government, and have other significant enterprise customers,” he said. “We don’t have problems getting meetings.”

Yelenich indicated that in Canada however, they spend much less time talking about Nutanix’s larger vision than cutting through all the information about hyper-converged – good and bad – that customers see.

“Customers have access to a lot of information, and we find we have to distinguish between what’s notable and what’s just noise,” he said. “We don’t see customers going all-in on either on-prem or cloud. They are looking more at hybrid solutions. The big fear customers have is security in the cloud and lock-in with the big cloud providers. A lot of organizations are sending certain workloads to the public cloud, but we are putting the power of our file system to provide the flexibility and scalability they need. The iPhone generation is used to everything being automated, but is faced with all this legacy storage and compute all mishmashed together and becoming increasingly harder to manage. We can provide them with a revolution in flexibility.”

Nutanix’s development of its own free Acropolis hypervisor as an option to cut VMware hypervisor licensing costs in some use cases is increasingly important, Yelenich said.

“Acropolis can do a big portion of what VMware is doing today, but it’s not our position that a customer needs to adopt Acropolis or we wont be a good fit,” he indicated. “Acropolis will develop and scale further. It’s a big part of the secret sauce for Nutanix. It can be built out appropriately if it meets specific customers’ use cases.”

Yelenich also indicated that both their established partnership with Dell and their more recent one with Lenovo are critical in Canada going forward. While the future of the Dell relationship has been questioned by some following Dell’s announced acquisition of EMC and its stable of competitive hyper-converged offerings, Nutanix is proceeding on the basis that the Dell relationship won’t change.

“Dell has made it very clear that the partnership is very much intact,” Yelenich said. He noted as well that Dell’s software strategy involves working with a large array of competitors in this space.

“You can’t build a strong organization just on OEM-type relationships, but these ones are very critical to our success in Canada,” he said. “Our own VARs resell these products. We have also been working hand in hand with Dell in selling them. Dell reps can’t be superfocused on one area. They have to get in an account and then expand share of wallet, and working with us lets them do that and sell something that’s new. Since coming to Nutanix, I have yet to find a customer that’s unhappy with the product, and that reliability is also a big plus for Dell.”

The partnership with Lenovo was formally announced just a couple of weeks after the Dell-EMC deal – a timing that most acknowledge was simply a coincidence given the time it takes to set these kinds of relationships up. The first joint Lenovo-Dell products were scheduled to be available at the end of Q1, and while nothing has been formally announced, the products are there now.

“We have already sold a couple,” Yelenich said.

Nutanix also recently announced a partnership with interconnect vendor Mellanox, which is adding a networking component to the Nutanix platform. Yelenich indicated that while the desire for a networking component hasn’t come up in customer meetings he has been on, it certainly won’t hurt given Cisco’s entry into the space.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen mud and dirt kicked around like that,” he said, referring to Cisco’s hyperconverged initiatives, although he was gracious enough not to call them by name. “The competition here is offering a reference-type architecture, not a hyper-converged architecture. They do have the advantage of having a large customer base, because it’s always easier to sell to an existing customer. They can make what might appear to be an attractive financial offer, and the customer today is required to be very knowledgeable about these implications. A key issue though is that as we see more pressure on IT organizations to cut costs, how you do that with legacy technologies.”

Yelenich closed with a promise to expect a lot from Nutanix in Canada in the year ahead.

“We are just finishing up our Q3 in April, and we expect looking forward that we will grow this business tremendously,” he said. “We will mature our partner strategy. You can also expect to see some pretty exciting announcements from Nutanix in 2016.”

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