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Brand-New NetApp Partner Program Represents ‘Foundation of the Future’

The software company is moving from Unified Partner Program to Partner Sphere. We break it down.

Kelly Teal

October 18, 2022

4 Min Read
The Future

By the end of next April, the NetApp partner program will feature just one iteration: Partner Sphere.

On Tuesday, the software company took the wraps off changes it’s launching at the start of its new fiscal year. In short, NetApp is consolidating all of its existing partner programs into a single initiative.


NetApp’s Stephanie Ladner

“Fiscal year ’24 is going to be a wonderfully transitional year for our partners,” said Stephanie Ladner, senior director and global channel leader at NetApp.

NetApp ranks among the many legacy tech firms transitioning to a cloud world. As such, Partner Sphere emphasizes cloud and services over on-premises hardware and resale. It adapts to all partner types, Jenni Flinders, senior vice president, worldwide partner organization at NetApp, told Channel Futures.


NetApp’s Jenni Flinders

“We’re going beyond the traditional partners who have been fantastic partners over the years,” Flinders said.

In terms of which types of channel experts, in particular, NetApp wants to attract, Flinders told us: “The whole enchilada.”

Even so, NetApp Partner Sphere really embraces partners with services expertise. And the company is shifting to a competencies approach, rather than specializations. With this move, NetApp will push partners to earn competencies in three areas: cloud solutions; hybrid cloud; and artificial intelligence and analytics.

That compares to NetApp’s current Unified Partner Program construct, which deliver specializations for Cloud Preferred, FlexPod, SAP, AI/ML, Data Protection, Data Security, Hosting Service Provider, Infrastructure, Spot by NetApp Preferred, as well as designations including Integration Services Certified, Lifecycle Services Certified and NetApp Keystone Services Certified.

Partner Sphere reduces the number of specializations required and calls them “competencies.” Partners have to demonstrate their capabilities across the four aforementioned domains, and certainly before they may progress to a higher tier.

How the New NetApp Partner Program Is Structured

To that point, the new NetApp partner program features the following levels: Approved, Preferred, Prestige and Prestige Plus. As with any such channel effort, partners will gain benefits and support as they ascend.

“Partners can travel among those tiers based on capabilities and commitment to NetApp,” Flinders said. “We also allow partners to measure their ROI through increasing support and benefit from us.”

That means, says NetApp, that partners who generate “the most impact” (read: make the most money) will reap the most rewards — specific marketing campaigns, proposal-based market development funds, value-based incentives and more. For example, Preferred partners will get business training and enablement, while Prestige gains access to advanced workshops with NetApp specialists, Flinders said.

“Partners are really excited about the cloud focus and services focus … because that’s obviously more lucrative,” Flinders said. Plus, she added, each partner “can choose how deep they want to go with NetApp.”

As such, a managed service provider, for example, could opt to just pursue a competency in hybrid cloud. Or that firm could tackle AI, too, for instance, especially if it runs its own network operations center.

“Each partner is unique,” Flinders said.

Look for Co-Selling and More

Once NetApp rolls out the simpler Partner Sphere, look for training and enablement – sales and technical – to “increase dramatically,” Flinders said. NetApp also will invest in more co-selling and co-engagement.

“You want to drive co-selling,” Flinders said. “It enables a deeper relationship with the customer. … That’s a really important factor for us.”

Again, NetApp Partner Sphere will not go live until the end of April 2023. This gives all NetApp partners about five months to prepare — and decide which at tier to start and invest accordingly in the new competencies.

“The key thing here is we’re coming to market early to give partners time … based on what their certifications are today,” Flinders said. “If they are short anything or we see an opportunity for them to expand, we’ve got lots of time to work with them on that. … This is not all start-from-scratch and reinvest.”

NetApp partners recall that the company just updated its partner program in 2020. That’s the nature of the channel beast, frankly. Many companies frequently tweak their indirect approaches as technologies and business models evolve. This time, Partner Sphere will stand as the structure upon which any changes will be made, Flinders said.

“This will become the foundation of the future of partnering with NetApp,” she said. “It’s such a positive and exciting step for us.”

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Kelly Teal or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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