In the hot seat: Fishing in the storage channel

In the hot seat: Fishing in the storage channel

Steve Bracken is A/NZ channel sales director for storage provider, Network Appliance. In this interview, he talks about a local channel structure that continues to grow swiftly, the balancing act of maintaining a direct sales force - and what this year holds for the business in general.

What brought you to Network Appliance?

Steve Bracken (SB): I was working at Simms International which was focused on memory, primarily Kingston Technology. Then we picked up some staff and the opportunity to resell Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) storage products, which was one of my first experiences with enterprise storage technology.

When the Compaq relationship kicked in [with DEC], it wasn't quite the same. So I started looking for something new. I ended up with a relatively small Australian reseller called Provision where 90 per cent of its business was Network Appliance. It was really pioneering the technology in the Australian market with Optus and Telstra and I was with them for a year before Network Appliance bought it. That was six years ago. I've been with Network Appliance ever since.

How is NetApp's channel structured?

SB: We have a direct model and a channel model. Our top accounts - Telstra and Defence - are managed by direct account reps, but there are very few of those. The rest of the market is open for our channel partners who we sell directly to - there's no distribution in place. We also have a channel partner for the NZ market.

Because a lot of our opportunities are large dollar value, but small in number, it is a business model that doesn't find a lot of value in distribution. Even the distribution partners we have in the US and Europe don't hold stock because we build to order.

What does the channel offer NetApp?

SB: I think the investment we make in direct sales reps has them solely focused on a few accounts so they can make the type of revenue we expect to get out of those. Our strategy is to keep reps focused on those direct sales while the channel brings us into the customer base we don't have the people resources to focus on. Partners also bring a lot of complementary technologies such as tape libraries, networking infrastructure, services capability to some degree and backup software applications. Some of the larger customers are able to do it themselves, but in the mid-market the channel partners provide a lot of value and integration capability. They also have that deeper knowledge around those third-party products.

Are you looking for new partners?

SB: We are always looking for new partners and, in fact, we recently signed Volante. There will always be opportunities for new partnerships but we're not interested in one-off, opportunistic partners. We want people with the skill sets and the focus to take us into customer bases where we aren't today.

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