Palo Alto Networks looking to transform channel to next-gen model in Canada

Palo Alto’s increased emphasis on the cloud is changing the skillsets required of partners. While they are adding some new ones, they are also encouraging partners to evolve their own business models.

Karl Soderlund, VP of Americas Channel, Palo Alto Networks

Palo Alto Networks was one of the original next-general firewall innovators. Now, however, as cybersecurity security continues to evolve rapidly, Palo Alto is adapting its own offerings, most notably with the announcement of a new cloud-based application framework to be available in the new calendar year. Accordingly, they are also evolving their channel. While they are remaining consistent to their traditional use of channel partners for their complete go-to-market, and remaining loyal to the partner base responsible for building their success, they are also looking to shape their channel to the future. That’s the case in Canada as well, where the company is seeking to ensure that its channel going forward remains on the cutting edge.

“Palo Alto has always been 100 per cent channel-based,” said Karl Soderlund, Palo Alto Networks’ recently appointed VP of Americas Channel. “It’s part of the DNA. We have 4400 partners globally, from the largest global SIs down to small geographically-focused security practices, with our legacy being the latter. We do not complete with partners from the services side, and we have great alignment with our own sales people.”

That channel today remains a fairly even blend of the different partner types.

“There’s a healthy balance right now.” Soderlund said. “The traditional next-gen firewall is a network play, but there’s an opportunity for every type of provider. The smaller partners tend to be Silver partners, but many of these are very successful. The large portion of net-new partners come from this segment of the market. Some partners are investing in us more than ever, and those have great returns. There’s an opportunity and a home for everyone who wants to work with Palo Alto Networks.”

“The Canadian market mirrors that,” said Rob Lunney, Palo Alto’s Country Manager for Canada, who like Soderlund is relatively new in his role. “Larger customers tend to gravitate to larger partners, who are present in the major cities, but smaller players do an excellent job for us regionally. The Canadian security market continues to grow, and Palo Alto is growing at 2-3x the growth of the Canadian marketplace, as we increase our public profile in Canada. We are doing business with a wide cross- section of the Canadian market, including the Fortune 100 and the Canadian public sector, and from Vancouver to Halifax.”

Palo Alto Networks also has a significant position in the Quebec market.

“We have a strong presence there, and have close to 20 per cent of our sales resources in Quebec,” Lunney said. “We have hired a bilingual sales manager, and are looking to increase our presence in the public sector there.”

Palo Alto’s go-to-market strategy with its internal teams is to have a sales rep, an account manager and an engineer work together.

“We have these teams in Vancouver, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec,” Lunney said. “They all work from home. It’s part of the company culture. They also work at partners’ locations, as the idea is to be in front of customers as much as possible.”

Soderlund said that while Palo Alto will remain committed to its existing partner base, it is also looking for new skillsets, both from internal development of existing partners and recruiting new ones. The company’s announcement at their June Ignite customer event of the forthcoming new Palo Alto Networks Application Framework re-emphasizes their focus on the cloud with a new consumption model. Through it, developers write apps to the Palo Alto security platform, which are then able to be adopted as a cloud-delivered security app. The Framework uses cloud-based APIs that let a developer access the Palo Alto infrastructure, and look at sensors and enforcement points, and is supported by Palo Alto services to automate the process and provide threat intelligence ingestion and syndication.

Rob Lunney, Palo Alto’s Country Manager for Canada

“We think that this makes us unique in the marketplace,” Lunney said. “Customers are still getting bombarded with two sets of messages on the respective advantages of end-to-end platforms as opposed to best of breed solutions. In our Application Framework, point solutions play a different role, and are fully integrated and automated within the broader platform. So while it enables specific point solutions, it doesn’t ask customers to deploy more appliances, more boxes, more complexity. They can have best of both worlds – best of breed within the security of a broader platform.”

This development of new consumption models, which also includes offerings like firewalls-as-a-service, requires engaging customers differently, and a new partner approach.

“As more customers develop hybrid cloud strategies, we are encountering more born-in-the-cloud partners, with experience in moving to AWS, Azure and Google,” Lunney said. “That requires a very specific new expertise, whether from a large partner or focused niche partner.”

Lunney said that their existing partner base, at least their strategic partners, get it.

“We don’t need to bring partners around on this,” he said. “The strategic ones are very much in tune with us about the impact cloud is having on the market. In many respects, a bigger acceptance of change needs to occur more among the customer base than among our partners.”

“Our priority in transforming the channel here is around education and alignment – not a carrot or a stick approach,” Soderlund said. “Partners now see the customer priority around security. If we educate them and align them with our sales force, they are motivated, and then we see success and growth.”