VMware Canada channel chief Simon Powell assesses first year on the job

Powell said that in addition to VMware honing in on a more partner-driven strategy, the new announcements at VMware Explore, and the philosophy behind them, will also open up new opportunities for partners.

Simon Powell, Director of the VMware Canada Partner Organization

LAS VEGAS — When VMware Canada veteran Tara Fine was promoted to a global role last year, Simon Powell, who had worked on the VMware Canada team for years, was named as her replacement as Director of the VMware Canada Partner Organization. Officially the change took place on December 1 last year, but in reality, Powell had been acting in the role since last year’s VMware Explore event. Powell sat down with ChannelBuzz at Explore this year to discuss how the Canadian channel has been evolving, and where he sees it heading going forward.

Powell had spent five years working on Fine’s team, most recently as Head of Corporate Resellers in Canada.

“This role doesn’t feel much different, because I have been so ingrained with  these partners,” Powell said. “Before corporate resellers, I managed the government business, and the Tier One business.”

While the flexibility and autonomy that Canadian channel chiefs can vary significantly depending on a specific company and its culture, Powell said that he has the ability to be flexible in pursuing Canada-specific objectives.

“Whether its aligning through Pete Near’s solutions engineering organization, working on channel strategy with Tara, or on broad Canadian issues with [country manager] Claude Reeves, we follow corporate policy but are fairly flexible in that we have the ability to ‘fail fast and pivot’ if needed,” Powell said..

For instance, Powell said that he had recently expanded the role of an individual on his team to cover global partners.

“We can make that kind of change quick, between Claude, Tara, Pete and myself,” he indicated.

While VMware’s strategic direction has been shifting over the last year to place the emphasis squarely on the multi-cloud universe, Powell said that has not really had much impact on the partner mix in Canada.

“Our key strategic partners in Canada, who tend to be traditional resellers, have not changed, and remain ones like Softchoice, Insight, and CDW,” he noted. “We are seeing some interest from ones like SADA, a  Google-only cloud partner. We have been meeting with them as part of our effort to expand Google partners in Canada. MSPs have become more important, and are a significant expansion of the ecosystem for us because they stretch beyond a manufacturing play.

One of the announcements made today at the event was the expansion of VMware’s partnership with NVIDIA. While the companies had been longtime partners, the new relationship around Generative AI will make NVIDIA more significant to VMware’s Canadian partners.

“We have worked with NVIDIA for a long time, first around video cards, then DPUs [Data Processing Units],” Powell said. “They are one of the biggest players in enterprise AI, but previously our relationship with them in Canada was more opportunistic. The partnership around Generative AI will see this reframed, and  this will put them at the forefront here.”

Powell stressed that the significance of this new opportunity is to both integrate with NVIDIA’s hardware and their software APIs.

“In Canada, we have had customers who want to rapidly get these capabilities,” he said. “This will expand the number of Canadian businesses who will be able to leverage Generative AI.”

Powell said that the Generative AI announcements were the most significant for partners at the event.

“In Canada, there is a definite perception that in some area, in terms of technology adoption, we lag in some areas behind the US,” he stated. “But in  Canada, customers are calling VMware and asking for Generative AI. I think it will be impactful all across the cloud, and for partners, there will be some real excitement there. Generative AI alone will be $7 trillion per year, led by services, and our Go-to-Market is making it clear that partner services are now at the forefront of what we do.”

Peter Near, director of solution engineering for VMware Canada

Peter Near, director of solution engineering for VMware Canada

“In Canada, we also think that private AI will have a big market,” said Peter Near, national director of solutions engineering at VMware Canada. In Canada, data sovereignty has always been an issue, and there are also separate private sector issues. For example, to make decisions on loan approval, a financial services company needs to make sure that it is trained on Canadian data – ideally your own company’s data. And you also want to make sure that your data doesn’t get used to train your competition.”

Powell noted that in addition to NVIDIA, VMware is making a boatload of strategic partner announcements at this event, with many partners also putting out releases of their own about strengthening their VMware relationship.

“VMware is expanding our ecosystem, and we are making some pretty heavy announcements around expanding partnerships with major OEMs like Lenovo, and HPE,” he said. “These were relationships where once we were dipping our toes in, and now we are building co-branded solutions. For me, I think that is very impactful.”

Powell also emphasized how the changes in their Partner Connect channel program, which went live earlier this year, showed how VMware has fundamentally reshaped their channel outlook to make themselves easier to work with.

“We are evolving constantly, and Partner Connect is a perfect example of that,” he said. “PartnerConnect was a huge evolution. It was time to meet our partners where they are. Managed services was also a big evolution. We have been able to build out a program to where our partners want to be. There was a time where we built programs and incentives from a VMware-out lens. Now we take a partner-in approach.”