NetApp | Driving Data Authority in Hybrid Cloud

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Spotlight on Hybrid-Cloud |

From being a very storage focused organisation to putting a lot of focus towards becoming a Data-based organisation – NetApp has come a long way and is today enabling a lot of innovation in the hybrid cloud space and creating huge value for its partners as well as customers.

Kaushal Veluri manages the Channel ecosystem for NetApp in India and SAARC. He defines his entire career as three pillars of Sales, Channel and Marketing. He spoke with Zia Askari from about the company’s current focus and how it is working along with the channel community in India.

Today what are the key priorities that NetApp has towards channel community?

NetApp as an organization has undergone a transformative change from what it was a couple of years back. We were very storage focused and were known in the market as a storage organization. Today we have completely changed to be known as a Data Fabric, or a data-based organization. We call ourselves the data authority in the hybrid cloud.

Classically, the reason for that really is due to the hybrid environment of the customer infrastructure environment – either the customers’ entire infrastructure is on-prem, or it is on a colocation basis, or it is on a public cloud. This infrastructure typically is a combination of all of these, so it is a very hybrid infrastructure. While the infrastructure is hybrid, how do they manage data? That’s where NetApp comes into play.

NetApp helps organizations store, manage, analyze data across a hybrid infrastructure, whether it is on-prem or it is on a colocation, or even if it’s on a public cloud. The most interesting thing that a lot of customers or channels typically end up asking is, if the customer is moving to the cloud, then is the storage story over? This is where NetApp as a storage organization comes into play, even if there is a cloud component, there is a NetApp story there because it is about building a Data Fabric across this entire space of hybrid infrastructure. And here the channels play a very important role.

They take that message externally to the market and inform the customers and the environment that it is about managing data across a disparate environment.

It is the Data Fabric which enables the smooth data management and we need our channel partners to be able to take that message out. Interestingly, India is 100% channel driven organization. Everything that we do in India is through our channel partners, not just from a fulfilment perspective, but also for helping us take that message out. NetApp as an organization is a lean organization because our belief is that a robust channel ecosystem is crucial to reach out to the Indian market.

We work very closely with channels to help us reach out to the marketplace. We work with them and enable them through various programs to take that message out that NetApp is the data authority of the hybrid cloud.

Why is NetApp making changes to its channel partner programs for 2019? Why now?

I think over a period of the last couple of years, we have constantly looked at how we can evolve working along with the channels. If you look at the channel ecosystem, it’s not just about resellers only, it’s about value added resellers, value added distributors, ISVs, the cloud service providers, the system integrators as a multitude of all of these people that operate in the channel ecosystem space. It’s very important that you have the right messages and the right programs that will appeal to the channel members and the ecosystem to be able to take that outside.

Also, almost every single channel partner today, is trying to become or has become a system integrator, whether it’s a regional SI or a national SI. Customers are no longer looking at boxed players or siloed partner organizations. Customers are aware of their business problems and demand the channel partners work with the vendors or with the OEMs to help solve the business problem. In that evolution, it’s also important that not only do we help our partners in that evolution, but also support them. We are evolving in that space as well. It’s about evolving along with the channel partners and making those changes along with them. I do very strongly believe that when we look at a channel ecosystem, there are three layers or three axes in which we need to support them. I always talked about the fact that whether it’s a new wave, whether it’s about scaling, or about revenue, or about service.  At the end of day, it must be a mutually beneficial business.

No partner or OEM is in the business of charity. It must be a mutually beneficial one. So how do we support the channel partners? We help our partners on rebates like net new customers in delivering new customers to us. NetApp is evolving with the portfolio of products and solutions; therefore, how can we help our partners introduced new solutions to the existing customer? We introduced Net new portfolio kind of rebates. And then of course, anything that you bring from competition. So that’s the revenue part in addition to working with them and helping them do that or helping them on margins on the regular deals.

It’s also simplifying the process so that we help our partners. It has really made the entire rebate earning extremely simple. We no longer ask them to claim anything, it is our responsibility. If you bring in a new customer or a new portfolio, it is our responsibility as NetApp to be able to pay that rebate without you having to claim it. The Data Fabric story is also important to us and in that scenario how do we help the partners take that story out.

We do constant skilling and helping the one that we run, for example, we will be commencing a nine city Partner Academy Program. We go into nine cities starting November till mid-December, and help our partners there pass on the new message, help them learn that message, help them understand that and then take it out to the marketplace as well. We do that on a regular basis.

Also, when you look at the old partners and see partners that have survived or 20-25 years have constantly done something new, or they’ve looked at the next wave of technology that coming out. Like the PC sellers have become server sellers; server sellers have become SIs. They are constantly looking at the next wave. How do we help them tap on to that next wave? That’s where we really start talking about AI/ML.

We start talking about DevOps, as a thing, including IoT. And how do we as NetApp play in those spaces. We build an ecosystem, we work with our partners, we help them understand that and take it forward. When you talk about changes, it is essentially helping the partners evolve and working along with them and their evolution as you go from one step to the other as well.

What makes the partner program more inclusive, going beyond hardware focused partners?

It goes back to the aspect of how you help the partner become an SI. Because as the partner evolves, and as they go and talk to customers, they must address the business requirements. For example – a customer is talking about moving to the cloud with a compliance requirement riding on it, the customers need to save a lot of the data onto a cloud space and where they can retrieve at any point of time, how can the partners help them do that? Now if the partner is only talking about hardware infrastructure, then that becomes very difficult for them to start talking about that. We work with our partners to help them understand the story of Data Fabric. Because the movement of data becomes a critical aspect. We work with them on that space and help them evolve.

Inclusiveness is the next component. It’s not just about selling a storage box. It’s about a solution and building a data solution for the customer. Talking about the new technologies, like AI/ML. Here we talk to our partners about how we at our end are building an ecosystem with let’s say, NVIDIA, and how we are building an ecosystem there in the AI/ML space and then together with NVIDIA, go to our partner and explain to them about the association and what thing we offers, jointly, for the customer.

If the customer is talking about containerization and DevOps, we work with our partner like Redhat to provide solutions. Together with RedHat, we go to our channel partners help them understand the solution we offer for our customer in the container space.

In a nutshell, inclusiveness goes beyond just the hardware. And it gets into the fact of helping the partner also build a solution that addresses the business needs of the customer. For us, it means working with our ecosystem partners, like NVIDIA and RedHat and Commvault and even Cisco and building that ecosystem. And then working with them and going to the partner and helping the partner build a solution that they can take to the customer. That’s where I think the inclusiveness bit beyond hardware comes into picture.

What is your opinion about the new emerging technologies coming in multiple level of cloud play which is more often dictated by the enterprise customer that we want this element to be done this way? So, in that kind of scenario, what is the value add from NetApp?

If you look at the cloud play that the enterprise or the customers are driving today, is step-by-step evaluation of the products and solutions. However, we have moved beyond the evaluation stage of the cloud. A lot of customers today have moved their bits to the cloud, whether it’s a tertiary application, or a couple of applications, they’ve started working in the cloud space, and they’ve started expanding, and they’ve started implementing cloud to that aspect as well. A lot of customers who’ve gone to the cloud, experimented with it and realized not everything is geared on the cloud and they would want to bring back something on to on-prem and public cloud as well.

When you look at that the play of the cloud movement, NetApp’s huge value addition comes again from the data aspect. How do they move data between these infrastructures? We talked about the fact of building a data pipe that extends beyond, right from on prem to maybe a colocation or even a public cloud. NetApp has an edge to core to cloud story – anything at an edge, is where we can help you collect data. Right from machines in the manufacturing, which is constantly running sensors and collecting data or connected cars, right where the car is running, which has almost become like a computer today and collecting a lot of data from the sensors. Now how to collect data over there? What we do then is bring data from there into the core, which is your data center and help move that data very efficiently. Now the next question arises is how do you store the data and how to run analysis engines on that? And then if you want to back that up or store it on the cloud, how do you move the data to the cloud? So that entire aspect of edge to core to cloud is something that NetApp helps our partners and our customer understand very well.

We always talk about legacy and building our product Data Fabric. It’s not about just data residing in one place. In fact, the best thing that I always recall is, in the earlier days data center used to be a building. Because it was a center where the data was stored. However, data centers are no longer physical buildings. Data can be anywhere inside multiple devices and multiple locations, which was managing the data. So how do you now help them with Data Fabric? How do we build a fabric around the data that is managed? I think that’s where we build up that value that comes in from NetApp perspective for the customers and the partners. For the partners, it becomes very interesting because while we provide that health and that infrastructure in the Data Fabric, the aspect of building services and implementing and running that efficiently for the customer. And that’s what our partners helps us do that. And here the whole value addition for the partner comes in. It’s no longer about just selling the AWS or Azure; it’s about building a complete service. That’s where I think the value that the partners see and how we can help them build a data story around that entire aspect.

What are some of the innovative applications or innovative segments that you will see, holding huge potential for partners and NetApp?

I think the biggest next wave that the partner should be looking at is AI/ML and I think that’s one of the things that we are encouraging all our partners to look at very seriously. A lot of organizations and if you look at that, the data is being collected and it is about learning insights from it. It is very interesting when you start talking about AI and ML, two completely different aspects. And AI is all about learning and understanding from data. Machine learning is about helping an algorithm that the machines can learn and become better over a period.

We believe in where the next phases lie. We are engaging our partners to start building skills around the AI/ML space. And we are working with our ecosystem partners to be able to help our channel ecosystem build skills. The other focus lies on the DevOps aspects, as the entire containerization effort that a lot of organizations are still doing, from a Kubernetes perspective, I really believe that something else that that that our customers are going to adopt over a period of time very rapidly. So, we’re encouraging our partners to start looking at that seriously as well.

Also, the hybrid cloud infrastructure for us is about how do you build a hybrid cloud infrastructure and on a hyper converged one. Our customers have experimented with the public cloud, and they’ve seen the agility and the burst and the cost benefits that come with that.  Now some are also looking at private cloud. That is where we believe an HCI or hybrid cloud infrastructure becomes very helpful. We are encouraging our partners to look at these three very, very seriously.

We are also starting to look at beyond our tier one cities. If you look at NetApp, a lot of our business today is in our tier one cities of NCR, Bombay, Pune and so on. We are starting to look at the potential beyond that such as Nasik, Aurangabad, Vizag, Trivandrum, Chandigarh and Jaipur and so on. We see a lot of potential that exists there as well. We are starting to see if we can find good partners in those spaces in those cities, who are also solution partners and can help take that solution to the marketplace. Because it’s a combination of it’s very interesting the tier two city, because it’s a combination of a partner who initially be good at transacting in a very fast manner, but at the same time have a solution mindset. Because the customers in these tier two cities are also evolving, they also have business needs and they also wants solutions to match that. So, we are planning expansion and new partners in the tier 2 cities as well.

What is the strength of your channel ecosystem and what kind of expansion you are looking at?  

On an average, there’s a lot of partners that we work with but typical 20% of our partners gives us about 80% of our business candidate. We have the top 30 to top 40 odd partners who transact regularly with us. We are looking at how we can grow our partner base who is transacting with us on a regular manner, because that gives us the opportunity to reach out to the marketplace. The other is looking at the next rung of cities and seeing how to grow our partner base in the cities and help us expand and reach into the marketplace as well. We look at how do to ensure that our partners are transacting with us regularly. At the same time, increase the reach into the Indian marketplace by going to the next rung of cities and looking at finding good partners over there as well. Those are the two angles that we look at for our partner ecosystem.

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