Cisco Channel Program Rewards Security Expertise

The networking giant is launching a new designation for partners that specialize in delivery of its security technologies to help channel players and customers find each other.

Cisco Systems introduced a new channel program on Sept 11 aimed at highlighting its partners that have built significant know-how around the planning, installation and support of its security technologies.

Under the new initiative, Cisco channel players who meet specific guidelines will be branded with the label of Master Security Specification in an effort to help those companies market their skills to potential customers, and in the name of helping users track down those firms best qualified to help them move their network security projects forward.

In addition to helping to identify its channel partners who have proven an ability to deliver Ciscos security tools, including its much-publicized NAC (network admission control) device authentication technologies, executives with the San Jose, Calif. company hope the program will encourage more firms to build expertise in the systems-defense arena.

The program will be offered to Cisco resellers and service providers of all sizes, and those firms that qualify for Master Security Specification will receive the same 42 percent discount on the networking giants products that it traditionally offered to only its sizable, gold-level partners.

Cisco will also use the designation to actively recommend companies to customers that are looking to ramp up their security efforts, and other resellers who have not built out their own security practices.

"This program is a response to what is going on in the security environment as customers seek partners that have pulled together all the various pieces and can offer end-to-end security solutions," said Susan Don, worldwide security channels lead at Cisco.

"These are companies that have experience working with products of an advanced nature that have self-defending network capabilities."

The program, and specifically the product pricing discounts offered to those that earn the Master Security Specification title, will help level the playing field between smaller companies that have focused on security and larger firms that may have won deals based on their ability to offer customers a better deal on Cisco technologies.

Larger resellers will be able to take advantage of the program as well, said Don, as Cisco will be able to more easily connect those firms with customers seeking help in their security projects.

"This is both about validating expertise within our partners and communicating with customers, and maintaining a healthy channel," said Edison Peres, vice president of worldwide channels for Cisco.

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"It builds loyalty in the customers long term and keeps the channel ready to adapt to new technologies; it creates a brand that our partners can aspire to offer themselves."

Resellers qualifying for the program must be able to prove they have expertise with helping customers integrate at least four of five different types of Cisco security products including its NAC, intrusion protection, secure communications, secure applications and security management technologies.

Partners qualifying for the designation must also provide five reference customers who can attest to their abilities in delivering the security tools.

Peres said that roughly 20 to 30 percent of Ciscos 2,000 existing channel partners should immediately qualify as Master Security Specification providers.

The company is also considering creating similar Master programs for resellers specializing in technologies including VOIP (voice over IP), wireless communications and data center consolidation over the next two years.

At least one Cisco reseller lauded the introduction of the security specialist mantle, saying that the title will help his firm market to customers seeking their particular skill set.

In addition to finding new customers, the program should help bridge the gap between channel players and users who already have other Cisco partners delivering their networking technologies, said Jay Kirby, vice president of sales at Houston-based reseller Troubadour.

"Weve made a serious investment around increasing our abilities with Cisco security technologies over the last two years and this will really help allow us to make the most of that work and differentiate with customers," said Kirby.

IT executives at one of Troubadours Cisco security customers, Driscoll Childrens Hospital of Corpus Christi Texas, said that the program will be a benefit to companies looking to improve their operations.

"At the end of the day having a partner that understood exactly what we were trying to achieve and having that depth of experience allowed us to get additional funding for new projects, and thats always a big deal," said James Ballou, CIO at Driscoll.

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