IBM closed its $34bn acquisition of open source provider Red Hat yesterday. CPI spoke to the partner bosses from both vendors to find out how Red Hat's channel fits into Big Blue.
Red Hat accreditations now count towards IBM competency requirements
IBM partners can now use their existing Red Hat accreditations as valid competency requirements in IBM's PartnerWorld programme.
The scheme is referred to as Red Hat Fast Start, and will fast-track existing Red Hat partners on IBM's competency stack.
John Teltsch, IBM's partner boss, said his priority is to scale the Red Hat business across IBM's 172 countries worldwide, and encourage partners to sell hybrid solutions to customers from the IBM and Red Hat portfolio.
"Mark [Enzweiler, Red Hat's SVP of channel sales and alliances] and I are tied to the hip; our teams have been working this for nine months," he said.
"We are enabling the Red Hat partners to move up in our competency stack. We've got multiple programmes and Watson AI-enhanced tools that give our partners the ability, both on the Red Hat side and the IBM side, to get into both of the programmes based on competencies and based on skills."
IBM partners can obtain a ‘provisional certification' in the Red Hat programme
There's no fast-track scheme in place for existing IBM partners to join the Red Hat partner programme, however.
IBM partners have to become Red Hat partners through a "standard process", according to Enzweiler. Red Hat will assess the partner's skills, vertical expertise and geographic presence and issue them a "provisional certification" on the programme. Partners then have a 12-month grace period to meet requirements.
Enzweiler told CPI that he couldn't make any promises that top-level IBM partners will be given an equivalent standing on the Red Hat programme.
He did however say that top-level IBM partners will receive "like-for-like programme participation" with Red Hat, including deal registration.
"We have an ability for partners to come in and become Red Hat partners today," said the Red Hat channel boss.
"I won't tell you that they will be at the exact same level - we have a set of tiers. The key is to make sure that they can have like-for-like programme participation. So we wouldn't take somebody who is a top IBM partner and move them into a Red Hat tier that doesn't allow them to participate in all the programmes like deal registration," he said.
Reassurances that IBM and Red Hat's programmes will stay separate
IBM CEO Ginni Rometty frequently hammered home that there were no plans to integrate the Red Hat business into Big Blue and that it will remain a separate and independent entity.
She also made assurances that Red Hat staff will stay put and there will be no physical merging with IBM staff.
Teltsch and Enzweiler said the same is true of each firm's partner programmes, with both execs emphasising that there are no plans to scrap the Red Hat programme and onboard its partners into IBM's.
"It has to be [separate]. The whole success of this thing is going to depend on separate programmes and keeping neutrality and incumbency top of mind. So absolutely the partners play in both worlds and we'll make it easy for them to do that," Teltsch said.
Around 300 Platinum-level IBM partners are selling with Red Hat today
In the months that followed the acquisition's announcement in October, IBM and Red Hat established a "clean room" process where information on each firm was shared through an intermediary.
As a result, during the window, IBM had no idea how its channel ecosystem would fit in with Red Hat's.
But now the deal has closed, Teltsch said he could confirm that there are around 300 Platinum-level IBM software partners today that are also selling Red Hat.
From a distribution perspective, IBM's global vice president of ecosystem programmes and business, Dorothy Copeland, added that the firms have a "surprisingly high" number of common distributors.
She said IBM and Red Hat have at least one common distributor in most countries.
Teltsch said that his focus will now be on "simplifying, eliminating and consolidating" IBM's "fairly complex" channel ecosystem.
"We want to get these net new, what I call next-generation partners into the IBM Cloud and Cognitive world. From a software perspective and cloud perspective, we have to continue to be more approachable and more accessible. The status matching we launched 18 months ago within the hardware division, we are now doing with security and with IoT. That's bringing on a lot of these competitive partners today that saw IBM as little too hard to do business with," he said.
Richard Potts, the IBM business manager of UK-based VAR SCC, told CPI that he was pleased to hear that IBM and Red Hat had no plans to merge partner programmes.
SCC has been an IBM partner for more than 40 years and a Red Hat partner for 14 years.
"IBM acquiring Red Hat could have been interpreted as a bit of a threat, where everything could've been incorporated into the IBM programme and some of the traditional Red Hat partners could have felt a bit disenfranchised. But there's none of that at all by keeping it separate," he said.
"The fact the programmes have been kept separate takes away any perception from those other vendors that it's an IBM-only play. It's not - it is relevant to all the other vendors that we work with. And keeping it separate is going to be an important part of that."
Potts added that SCC was planning on increasing its partnership with Red Hat even before its sale to IBM was announced.
"There are synergies between the two which we would obviously like to take advantage of. We see an ability to grow a Red Hat base into some of our IBM clients, so it's very complimentary," he said.
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