Want to work with Cisco Systems? Then answer this three-word question: Whats your specialty?
Rather than working with generalists, Ciscos new partner program emphasizes specialization like wireless, security and switching.
The challenge for Cisco partners is to choose where to invest their relatively limited training and marketing dollars to maximize their own profits.
Most of the offerings, introduced before and after the recent Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas, are reasonably smart bets for rank-and-file partners. But at least one specialty is a rather long shot for the foreseeable future.
Ciscos unified VPN client strategy, announced April 4, should be a hit with managed service providers (MSP) and enterprises that support large numbers of VPN users. Available now for the Cisco VPN 3000 Concentrator series, the unified framework eventually will enable VPN connectivity between all desktop, laptop and PDA clients, and all Cisco VPN-enabled concentrators, firewalls and routers.
Customers will be able to manage security policies from central loca-tions by "pushing" settings to up to 50,000 clients. Further simplifying VPN support, Cisco introduced the "user-proof" VPN 3002 hardware client appliance.
Cisco also released to the channel its multiclient VPN 5001 Concentrator, which supports all Windows, Mac, Solaris, Linux and Intel clients, as well as IPX and AppleTalk protocols.
Some partners are upbeat about that. "We can now sell a comprehensive VPN solution into virtually any businessopening a huge market opportunity for us," says Greg Byles, VP of sales at Global Technology Resources Inc.
Finally, Cisco has staked its claim to the growing managed security services market with new design and deployment assistance, training and certification programs for members of its Cisco Powered Network and AVVID Partner programs. (See www.cisco.com/go.cpn and www.cisco. com/go/securitypartners.)
Some Cisco MSP partners include Exodus, Genuity, Lightpath, SmartPipes and Telenisus Corp. Each offers at least one type of managed security service, such as firewall, intrusion detection or VPN.
Storage networking is another target of Ciscos initiatives. The Cisco SN 5420 Storage Router, which utilizes the emerging iSCSI standard, enables access to pools of Fibre Channel storage over IP networks. More than 60 resellers and system integrators have been certified for the SN 5420.
"The clear benefit of the Cisco SN 5420 Storage Router will be in providing storage access across customers entire wide area networks, and allowing distributed servers access to storage devices and backup resources," notes Eva Losacco, CEO of Forsythe Solutions.
The dark horse among Ciscos latest initiatives is the Cisco Cable (as in cable modem) Specialization. Broadband market analysts agree that cable operators are unlikely to pursue business customers any time soon. Extending cable to business districts "is very expensive and time-consuming," says Kneko Burney, director of e-business infrastructure and services research at Cahners In-Stat.
Opportunities for cable technology seem limited to new residential developments and multitenant commercial properties such as MerchantWired.com, a Cisco cable-based network of malls. General Growth Properties, which owns 130 malls, is another Cisco cable customer. But the market for cable specialists seems rather small.