NetApp Canada bolsters storage channel

Since Network Appliance Canada Ltd. morphed from a satellite office to a subsidiary of the parent U.S. corporation in early 2001, the company has

been making some serious inroads with regards to this country’s storage management and content delivery solutions.

About 60 per cent of Network Appliance’s revenue is channel-driven. That’s compared to a year ago, when the company had only two VARs, one of which went bankrupt. For Jas Sahota, national channel manager of Network Appliance Canada, it’s been a balancing act of sorts.

Whether dealing with enterprise clients whose managers would come from the U.S. and bring an American perspective to Canadian-born business needs, or expanding the Network Appliance channel in Canada (from a party of one to 12 regional resellers), Sahota has spearheaded an initiative that could reap Network Appliance significant returns for years to come.

The company has 27 employees in Canada. Sahota said a primary goal of his was to give Network Appliance Canada a local flavour – an imperative element for success north of the 49th parallel.

“”Our channel partners play a key role in what we do, we recognize the unique geographical requirements of doing business in Canada,”” said Sahota, a Canadian citizen himself. “”Our objective from the beginning was to set up a Canadian entity, increase our coverage, and that at least 50 per cent of our business is driven through our channel partners. Why not 100 per cent? A lot of large companies prefer to deal direct. It’s the customer’s decision.””

Sahota has been selective in the resellers he forges partnerships with to boost confidence in Network Appliance’s channel.

“”If you’re (as a partnering VAR) going to be there, the commitment, the investment, it has to be up front,”” he said. “”In return, from a demand creation point of view, we have a number of focused events that we ask our channel partners to participate in regularly.

“”We expect, from our partners, new business by leveraging their strategic relationships, a total solution selling approach – we don’t want to do assessments, we want our channel partners to do assessments.”” He added that Network Appliance Canada uses its partners to provide its clients with essential services after the initial sale, similar to the methodology employed by Cisco Systems Inc.

As part of its relationship growth efforts, Sahota explained Network Appliance prefers to broaden its channel partner’s relationships with Network Appliance’s application and vertical partners. Moreover, the company has aligned itself with IBM Global Services to explore potential revenue streams in the telco space; a market strategy that Sahota said would eventually bring returns to the channel.

By comparison, Network Appliance’s business in the States is about 15 per cent channel driven.

According to IDC Canada Ltd., the storage market in Canada could grow to about $4.3 billion by 2003, of which about $1.5 billion is external storage. “”Network Appliance has an opportunity to emulate their success in the U.S. market with a dedicated Canadian sales presence and with a wide range of product offerings that can speak to the unique company mix in Canada,”” said Alan Freedman, IDC Canada’s research manager for workstations, servers, and storage in Toronto.

Looking ahead, Sahota said Network Appliance Canada’s greatest challenge is turning its mind share into market share.

“”In order to do that, I’m looking at increasing the training (for VARs), increasing more visibility for the channel on a personal basis,”” he said. “”With channel partners, if you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. You’ve got to be jockeying for that mind share on an ongoing basis. One way you can do that and do it effectively is having Network Appliance’s resources supporting the channel partners.”” Thus, encouraging its channel partners to leverage the advantages of Network Appliance’s relationships with its application partners; including the likes of Oracle, Cisco, IBM, and others.

“”In today’s environment, no longer can organizations afford to go out and hire direct sales people,”” he added. “”As a result, our channel partners have become our leverage vehicle to broaden our scope in the market, and that’s what we’re looking for in a channel partner.”” Sahota figured there’s $1 billion worth of storage opportunities in Canada.

Last November, Network Appliance Canada announced it had confirmed several channel partnerships including ones with Kanatek Technologies Inc., Open Storage Solutions Inc., and Mainland Information Systems Ltd.

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