This week I attended my first Cisco Partner Summit and found it was a really great event. Unlike other partner conferences there is very little technical content but a great deal of partner and market focused content, what I would consider to be the right information for a true partner event. It’s a great venue to meet with Cisco executives and others that are not always easy to connect with due to schedule and location. As always, Cisco throws great events and their people are beyond helpful. You can’t go 50 feet in a Cisco event without someone there ready to help you.
If you know Varrow you know we are not like most traditional Cisco partners. We focus on the data center and edge routing and switching is really something we only do when it’s tied to a data center project. We are also not heavy in to Unified Communication and Collaboration….yet. It’s been interesting to see how Cisco has evolved over the last couple of years. When I went to Cisco Live two years ago it was very light on data center and virtualization, but now has very strong content for that area. This year you could see that same focus and consideration at the Partner Summit. It’s about data center and cloud…and more cloud..and cloud again..with a bit of cloud…though UC and Collaboration still are a major talking point with some really great new products and technologies…but I’ll worry about those later.
For Cisco customers there were some interesting announcements. Cisco is starting up a sort of certification for their partners who show skills at deploying both cloud infrastructure and full cloud environments. That’s an important distinction that I was happy to see Cisco acknowledge. Infrastructure, such as servers, storage, and hypervisor are one thing but a true cloud environment with provisioning, management, chargeback, scaling, etc is very different. Because a vendor can do one doesn’t mean they can do the other. For Cisco partners it should be a good program to help promote their skill sets and talent. As the person responsible for the Cisco relationship at Varrow I was extremely happy to see that this new program did not require yet another series of exams or certifications to carry but instead will be tied to other partnerships and knowledge. For example, at Varrow we have a very strong relationship with VMware, EMC, and Citrix and these show our capabilities with other cloud infrastructure and components.
Cisco knows how to throw a great event. The keynote on Tuesday started and ended with great music showing off the style of the host city of New Orleans.
You can’t help but want to listen to John Chambers and hear his vision for the future as well watch a cool technology demo. The same can easily be said for others such as Edison Peres (Sr. VP, Worldwide Channels) as he talks about how Cisco aligns with their partners and continues to refine their processes and programs. Maybe not exciting for customers, but absolutely interesting for us vendors. The rest of the afternoon that day was spent in “theater specific sessions”…that basically means everyone from North America gets in a large room and we talk about channel programs and other general information. I wasn’t there for a lot of that as I took the opportunity to meet with some of our Cisco counterparts.
One nice thing from Monday was the backpack.. Remember how I said Cisco people were helpful? Well, I almost never bother to get backpacks at events even though everyone gives them out. Usually I donate them to a local charity (Cisco has this option at Live) or to a user group as a prize so I didn’t bother to get one on Monday. Wednesday night my current bag started having issues so I asked on Twitter if anyone had a spare bag and on Thursday morning someone from the Cisco team had one ready for me. Thanks Lang!
Terrible picture but a good bag.. Not flashy like most conference bags (You can’t see the Cisco in black on black near the bottom). Also on Tuesday night I went and had dinner with Dave Alexander of FireFly and of Unified Computing Blog fame. He was kind enough to introduce me to a couple of Hurricanes at Pat O’Briens. The best part of these conferences is having time to sit down and talk with people you rarely get to see.
Wednesday was not a great day for me. I either got a stomach virus or a mild case of food poisoning from the day before… I couldn’t eat anything all day but I did get to all of the sessions that I wanted. The morning keynote was again, excellent. Padmasree Warrior (Cisco CTO) and Michael Capellas (Chairman & CEO of VCE) did a great presentation showing the vision fo Cisco and their aligment with VCE as well as with other partners..but at Varrow it’s all about the V+C+E… The other sessions I attended throughout Wednesday were centered around the new data center partner certifications I mentioned earlier as well as some basic channel information.
Thursday was my last day at the conference and even though I couldn’t stay for the big event that night I did go to a couple of really excellent sessions. The first was “What customers REALLY want!” by Scott McKain. This was a really interesting session diving in to how customers relate to their vendors and what they really want. It’s not just customer service, it’s not just getting the job done, it’s about the entire experience of working with a partner or vendor along with how that relationship evolves. One thing that stuck out was his comment that “Customers don’t want you to make it right, they want you to get it right.” As a rapidly growing partner we have hit our fair share of problems and I think our customers would say we always do what it takes to make it right but his comment really struck a cord with me as I work to continually increase quality so we don’t have to “make it right”. Excellent session. Scott spoke at last year’s Partner Summit and was requested back. I bet you’ll see him again next year and I highly recommend you see him. His book “Collapse of Distinction” is now on my reading/listening list and I’m looking forward to it. The second, and final session, was “The Orange Revolution” by Chester Elton. While adding yet another book to my list he went through some of the traits of building really exceptional teams and what truly motivates people. Since I’m finally reading “Good to Great” I figured this would make a great followup book to that.
All in all, except for the sickness on Wednesday, it was a great four days and I’m looking forward to the event next year. Being the type of partner that we are I was hesitant about this summit but I’m glad to say that Cisco has finally come around to our way of thinking (or something like that…) and it was very beneficial. Also, this was my first time actually in New Orleans. Many years ago I was in Slidell helping some great folks at the hospital there but never in New Orleans itself. Great city…was really disappointed I lost Wednesday night due to illness and couldn’t enjoy it. The good news is that I was able to get some excellent crawfish etouffee at Bon Ton Cafe before I left town.
I love to eat when I travel and if without this I may have considered this trip to be a failure…