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Versa Networks Launches Channel Partner Program After 'Record' 2020

Versa's head of global partner marketing explains the company's channel strategy.

James Anderson

January 19, 2021

10 Min Read
Global WAN
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Versa Networks formalized a channel program to help partners attack the growing SD-WAN and SASE markets.

The San Jose, California-based vendor on Tuesday announced the new ACE Partner Program. “ACE” stands for “Accelerate, Captivate, Engage,” which Versa is trying to accomplish with the update.

The ACE program features a “ramp to revenue plan,” geared toward helping Versa partners build sales pipelines. Partners can also utilize the Versa Academy training platform. The Versa program requires partners to conduct training and certification for prescriptive sales, pre-sales and technical expertise. Partners can earn technical certifications for delivering Versa’s flagship Secure SD-WAN offering; its less expensive, cloud managed SD-WAN solution Titan; and Versa’s relatively new SASE offering. Partners will earn rewards for achieving competencies and can become “eligible for discount, sales and marketing benefits to open new revenue opportunities.”

The announcement came after a “record year” for the company. Versa last week shared numbers from a growth-filled 2020. It doubled its number of registered channel partners and increased its staff by 25 percent. Also, 150 service providers have now standardized their offering around Versa.

The ACE program targets VARs, SIs solution providers and MSPs. The announcement does not impact master agents and subagents, which will continue to engage as usual, according to John Atchison, head of global partner marketing.

Atchison joined Versa last August to help build the program. He recently spoke to Channel Partners about why he joined the company and how it is positioning itself in the market.

We have edited the transcript for length and clarity.

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Versa Networks’ John Atchison

Channel Partners: What does your new position entail?

John Atchison:  The biggest thing that attracted me to this position was leading a global function as the director of global channel marketing, being responsible for channel strategy, go-to-market and partner programs. Our partner ecosystem today is comprised of value-added resellers, system integrators, MSPs and, of course, our distributors. They were looking for somebody who was very hands-on, really understood the channels and has worked in the channel sector for a very long time. And that just happens to be me. That is one of my biggest passions: working with partners.

CP: Could you tell us about your previous experience in the channel?

JA:  I’ve been in the channel sector for over 25 years and have lived in the Bay Area for many years. I’m currently based in Southern California now, but I was actually in Silicon Valley for the longest time. So I’ve had the opportunity to work for some of the big players out there like Oracle, Juniper Networks and VMware. All of these positions were in leadership, having to do with the channels, whether it was in alliances, marketing, partner marketing or channel marketing.

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Then one of the things that I wanted to do at one point in my career was to work more in the SMB space. So if you look at Oracle, Juniper and VMware — they are primarily enterprise, big players. So I did work for a smaller, U.K.-based company called Sage. Sage oftware is a very focused on the SMB. They compete with financial software companies like QuickBooks and Intuit. I got a taste of what it was to work for a smaller company with a different target audience, which is the smaller businesses. The way you market to an SMB is very different than how you would market to an enterprise customer. That kind of introduced me to working with [fewer] resources and having to wear multiple hats. And then I then decided, “You know what — I really want to go work for a startup.”

So prior to joining Versa, I worked for another startup where I was the head of global channel marketing as well. But then I also had alliances marketing as part of my responsibility. With this startup, my biggest responsibility was to …

… create a global channel program from the ground up. And that’s what I did. And actually that wasn’t the first time I created a global channel program. That would have been my third time because I was involved in creating the global channel program at Juniper Networks. I also had the opportunity to create VMware’s global demand center program. I took a lot of the things that I learned at these big companies and was able to take all those skills and apply them at the last startup that I was with.

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Of course, I’d heard of Versa Networks before because of SD-WAN and what they were doing in the news. So I looked into the company, and they just so happen to be recruiting for a new head of global channel marketing. I was looking to go with a company that really had the technology. When you look at what partners are looking for to be successful in a particular sector, what they’re looking for is for a company that really delivers something that’s differentiated from what other vendors are offering to their partner base. And that company happens to be Versa. That got me really excited. I could take all of the experience that I’ve had at big companies and the startup and go replicate that. But [I would] partner with a vendor that has this market-leading edge technology secure SD-WAN. And then, of course, there’s also the SASE piece.

It was almost like the perfect storm for me to go work for a company that’s leading in the market and has the great technology. But to really apply everything that I’ve learned in the past over the last 20 or so years and be able to create something new.

CP: How has Versa’s channel changed over the years, and how is it changing in 2021?

JA: One of the first questions that I always asked for any of the positions I interviewed for is, “What are thoughts of the leadership team when it comes to how they see to channel and the role of the channel?” In my interviews with [CEO] Kelly [Ahuja], for example, I wanted to get his perspective. Where does he see the channel? What is the role of the channel? How is the company investing in the channel? One of the things that I wanted to ensure that whatever company I joined was that “partner-first” is the mantra that we as a company really need to get behind. I walked away with very positive thoughts about what their belief was. Based on the information that Kelly shared with me, the company needs the channels in order to be successful as a startup. In order to scale and grow, we need the channel.

So it’s that “better together” mantra that perhaps you’ve heard before; meaning, vendor plus partner is better together. Kelly is fully behind the channels, as well as [founders] Kumar Mehta and Aperva Mehta. At the highest level, they believe in the channel. They know that we need the channel in order to be successful. And for me, that was music to my ears, because we really need that type of support at the highest level of the company. I’ve worked for some companies where that wasn’t the case. It was very difficult as you as you go down in the different tiers at the management level. But if you have [support] at the highest level of the company, it makes it …

… much easier for the channel leader to then implement and execute a vision and a strategy that’s going to really benefit our partner ecosystem.

So to answer your question, Versa, from even before I joined the company, truly believes in the channel. And today [we’re] putting together a channel program that’s really going to reinforce our support for the channel. How do we make it easy for our partners to do business with us? Simplifying our internal processes, providing them the tools that they need to be successful in the market, enabling partners to go out there and to amplify our message. So we’ve got to train them. And how do we do that? How do we make it easy for them to get the necessary training?

Those are the things that we are really focused on, because by doing so, that is going to convey to the partner that we’re behind them. For me, those are very critical activities that need to be executed successfully in order for partners to be successful out in the market as well.

CP: How is Versa differentiating itself in terms of SD-WAN and SASE, and how do you position partners to deliver this technology?

JA: We have to kind of step back for a minute. What’s driving the opportunity for partners? Digital transformations are taking place out in the market. There are all these companies that are trying to differentiate themselves and their services. They’re trying to improve customer experience. They’re trying to be more competitive. So they’re going on these digital transformation initiatives. That has fueled the opportunity for partners. So partners today are looking to partner with vendors that are going to help them on the technology piece. When they want to join a program, for example, they’re looking for a vendor that’s going to provide them technology that’s going to differentiate themselves, but also somebody who is doing very well.

At Versa, in 2019, we were in the visionary quadrant of the Gartner Magic Quadrant, and in 2020 we [joined] the leader quadrant. And that’s huge for our partners because that makes their jobs much easier to be able to convince their customer base or their prospects that the solutions that they’re bringing to them are from vendors that are the leaders in a particular segment of the market. It just makes their jobs much easier.

Today it’s a $2.5 billion total addressable market for SD-WAN. If we just take 60% of that $2.5 billion, it’s about a $1.5 billion total addressable market here in the U.S. alone. That’s the opportunity that a partner could potentially tap into. In Europe, it’s about a $575 million opportunity. Asia Pacific is about $300 million. Latin America is slated to grow next year in 2021, but currently it’s at about $125 million when it comes to the total addressable market. So SD-WAN is growing and will continue to grow. But then, of course, there is the the new category that Gartner has created, the secure access service edge — SASE. That’s going to be growing over the next three to four years.

CP: Is there anything else you’d like partners to know about Versa?

JA: Three months ago, I joined the company primarily because of the technology. And as I said previously, technology and innovation are what’s going to help partners differentiate themselves from from other partners, because other partners may be carrying things VeloCloud at VMware, which I worked for in the past. But our solution is truly differentiated. Security is integrated into the base operating system. It is not bolted on like some of the other solutions in the market. I look at SASE as a super-set of secure SD-WAN. And within SASE we include other services like VPN as a service. We also have CASB and secure web gateway. Other vendors that are just starting to talk about SASE don’t even have those features. But Versa for sure is way ahead of the competition when it comes to SASE.

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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