Cisco's partners globally say they are positive about their relationship with the vendor compared to its competitors, but said there was a continued learning curve between them with some bumps along the way.
At the Cisco Partner Summit in San Diego, some of the company's largest distributors, resellers and system integrators expressed their support for the vendor's extensive efforts to simplify business and strengthen its channel programmes.
But they also expressed concerns over the balance between their own and Cisco's role in delivering services, as well as over the support for them to deliver value and differentiate themselves.
Andy Cocks, chief technology officer at IT services firm Dimension Data in Singapore, understood to be Cisco's largest such partner globally, expressed general support for Cisco's strategy: "They [Cisco] have the strong technology and they give us a lot of space to go and add the value - with services ranging right up to advising customers on security policy."
But he added that pressure remained on the channel: "It's mainly up to us to go and add this value, to find and employ the people with the skills."
The topic of Cisco's involvement in the services market remained a sore one among some partners. Cisco itself made clear at the event that it did not want to encroach on partners' services revenue. But an executive at another large services partner, who asked not to be named, said: "We have no issue with Cisco on the technology level - the strategy is clear. But I think some partners feel challenged by Cisco on the services side - it is making a lot of its moves there."
At the Partner Summit, Cisco executives spoke extensively of the importance of Cloud, mobility and video technology, with a "smart network" as the backbone. However, delivering the cloud and its infrastructure is presenting both opportunities and challenges for the channel.
Cocks at Dimension Data said Cloud computing would present another learning curve for vendors and their channels. "The problem with the cloud is many customers just want the service and they don't need to care what infrastructure it's on. Do you have Gmail? Do you ask what servers and network infrastructure Google run for that, or do you just use it?
"It's the same for businesses. The challenge may be in defining how the vendors can help the channel be successful here, but not at the expense of other traditional managed services and break/fix services that continue to generate demand."
Dan Forbes, a VP at distributor Westcon's dedicated Cisco subsidiary Comstor, in Canada, said he considered Cisco's partner engagement to be "second to none", and that it had taken the right steps to be up to date with, or ahead of, the key networking technology trends.
"They've got the broad base on which they can make an acquisition, and pull it though with their expertise and the other technology in place. A great example of this is their acquisition of [video conferencing vendor] Tandberg, and how that fits the overall picture."
Renata Randi, marketing and alliances director at services firm Promon Logicalis in Brazil, said Cisco had taken the Partner Summit as a useful opportunity "put into perspective" all of the different technological and partner announcements being made. At the event, Cisco announced a number of programmes for the midmarket, for cloud and for services delivery.
But she said Cisco's claims, of moving to reward value addition by the channel rather than simply profitability of the account, reflected the vendor's existing model: "They have always done this."
Javier Priego, chief executive at services firm Evox, added that he felt "the drive from Cisco is still really to sell more", in spite of the comments made around value.
He said he felt that Cisco "has honest intentions with the channel, compared with many other vendors", but added: "I think they still have some way to go for their messages to reach their sales force on the ground. Sometimes there is more motivation for volume there I think." Priego said he was pleased, however, to have the "valuable" opportunity to express opinions directly to Cisco executives at the Partner Summit.
Zoltan Szarvasy, sales director at services firm Magyar Telekom in Hungary, expressed confidence in Cisco's channel programmes but said he would like to see more support on specific deals he makes. "Generally, dealing with Cisco is very good, and they do listen to our needs. They're a good company to share feedback with," he said.
"However, we did have an issue on a deal where another partner came in late to a negotiation and won the deal - I think we would have liked more support from the vendor when we had worked on the deal for some time."
Randi at Promon Logicalis added: "There's a definitely a learning curve going on between Cisco and its partners, rather than it being perfect. But that's normal. They are good at sharing their plans with the channel."