Executive Editor Jennifer Follett and I are just arriving in sunny San Diego, where, on Tuesday morning, the 2012 installment of Cisco Partner Summit will kick off.
Plenty of pomp and rah-rah Cisco stuff expected — this is, after all, a conference some insiders somewhat lovingly refer to as Ciscopalooza — and we’ll be bringing you a daily dose of what’s going on here, from keynotes to press conferences, as well as the stuff you really want: the behind-the-scenes action and what’s being said behind closed doors and over cocktails, not just in carefully choreographed, tightly-controlled Cisco executive meet-and-greets.
Having covered Cisco in-depth for years now, my first high-level observation is that Cisco is heading into this year’s Partner Summit with the wind at its back. Partners are upbeat, and as Rob Lloyd, Cisco executive vice president for worldwide operations told CRN in an exclusive interview last week, Cisco’s been through a pretty rigorous period of self-examination and come out the other side decidedly fitter, happier and more productive.
Rest assured you’ll hear references aplenty this week to how Cisco trimmed $1 billion in operating expenses and finished doing so a quarter earlier than hoped, that its Partner-Led strategy for midmarket and SMB sales is taking off; that its cloud program has made believers of a channel community immensely skeptical of cloud programs; that it’s preserving market share in many core networking areas industry pundits saw as threatened; and that it’s more focused on partner profitability than ever. (To that end, watch CRN.com on Tuesday for details on two particular areas Cisco says will make partners big bucks in the coming years.)
Oh and we’ll probably get some delightfully indelicate criticism of HP and Huawei — Cisco’s arch-nemesis and emerging arch-nemesis, respectively — whom Lloyd described in no uncertain terms as completely untrustworthy.
Traditionally, it’s a good conference — one of the best as far as tier-one vendor partner soirees go. Nice locations — a few smart birdies are telling me that Montreal is the planned destination for 2013, though Cisco never announces next year till the last day of the current show — plenty of good eats and abundant drinks, a lot of discussion both public and behind closed doors about all things Cisco-related.
But Cisco Partner Summit is an especially important port of call for me because it’s an opportunity to say hello and slap some backs with the Cisco partners I trust to tell it like it is. These are the partners that tough-love Cisco, that raise hell when things go wrong — i.e. who positively shredded Cisco when things got particularly gnarly during the 2009 and 2010 supply chain stop-up — and that make sure their calls get returned by VP-level people when there’s a pressing issue.
In other words, our favorite group of folks: a no-suffer-fools-gladly crowd with a very low tolerance for corporate B.S. And I tell you, they’ve been near universal in their praise for Cisco’s hard work this past year, and I haven’t talked to a single one who isn’t having a better year with Cisco this year than they were last.
We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed this. In its Q1 end-of-quarter IT hardware channel survey, researcher Piper Jaffray said that of the major networking, storage and infrastructure companies it focused on for the quarter — including Cisco, EMC, HP, F5, Juniper, VMware, Dell, Fortinet, Polycom, NetApp and Riverbed — Cisco had the most favorable results of any group of reseller feedback, with nearly half of the resellers Piper interviewed reporting sales that were above plan in the quarter. One big driver? “Ramping demand for UCS,” Piper analysts stated.
So that’s the scene. On top of the usual bump-intos and casual greetings throughout the show — what can we say, we’re just that popular! — Jen and I will be sitting down with more than 40 key Cisco solution providers, from monster, nationally-known Gold partners to smaller, more niche-specified VARs, and also spending time with Cisco’s top corporate, technology, services and channel executive team. We’ll share as many insights as we can both here and on the main CRN.com page.
Keep in touch throughout the week and be sure to tell us what you’ve observed, too.