Increased network complexity, constant security challenges, and talent shortages are driving enterprises to depend more on channel business partners, including managed service providers, system integrators, resellers and other tech providers.
Greater use of partners by enterprises is expected to continue over the next few years, experts say. IDC in its research on the future of industry ecosystems found that by the end of 2023, almost 60 per of organisations surveyed will have expanded the number of partners they work with outside of their core industry.
Cisco, too, expects to see extensive growth in partner sales. “We believe that by 2027, 47 per cent of what Cisco sells will be sold through a managed service,” said Alexandra Zagury, vice president of partner managed services and XaaS sales with Cisco’s global partner organisation.
A variety of market-destabilising factors – including the pandemic, supply chain shortages, continuing cloud adoption, and growth in infrastructure-as-a-service options – have created a turning point for the channel community and given enterprises more opportunities to form higher-value partnerships to help fill gaps, drive innovation, and disrupt entire industries, IDC stated.
Organisations are expanding their industry ecosystems to include an array of different participants that complement their skill sets or provide capabilities they may not possess, IDC stated.
Managed security services
In the networking arena, there’s been a trend toward more closely integrating network and security operations – a shift that can lead to a variety of challenges for IT organisations.
“The old way of looking at networking and security teams was to approach them as siloes. An organisation had a network team, a security team and an application team that worked separately,” Zagury said. As technology gets abstracted to platforms, and enterprises adopt a platform approach, the disciplines are coming together, she said.
“Now it's about providing secure network experiences that have observability layered on top so that you can detect attacks before they happen,” Zagury said. “So, connecting all of these things to deliver customer outcomes is really important for business partners, because you can no longer separate the technology from the operation of that technology.”
The merging of networking and security resources is one of the key trends driving an uptick in the use of managed service providers (MSP).
Recent Cisco-sponsored research by Canalys found that MSPs expect most future revenue growth to come from endpoint and network security. “MSPs are developing managed security practices faster than the resellers that have cybersecurity licensing capabilities,” Canalys stated.
Detection and response capabilities will be critical to the growth of these cybersecurity services. Currently, many customers’ cybersecurity investments fail because too much focus is placed just on protection, Canalys stated.
“It is vitally important for channel partners to learn from the actions of threat actors, particularly the ways in which they breach defences and go undetected,” Canalys stated. “The challenge is channel partners know how to sell and deploy protection, but detection and response are areas that need significant resourcing and improvement.”
Spending on cybersecurity products and services that provide protection is projected to grow by 7 per cent each year to $186 billion in 2026, driven by investment in areas such as cloud and identity security. Detection and response, meanwhile, are projected to grow by 34 per cent each year to reach $112 billion in 2026, according to Canalys.
Network observability and AI
Another area of investment that’s on the rise is network observability.
Full-stack observability (FSO) tools can correlate data from application, networking, infrastructure, security, and cloud systems to streamline troubleshooting and optimise performance. Cisco sees an emerging opportunity for partners to take its observability technology and package it as a managed service. “You will see us talking a lot about managed FSO and that opportunity for our partners,” Zagury said. Cisco is expected to roll out new offerings for business partners at its upcoming Partner Summit.
AI stands to strengthen the observability trend.
AI will fuel the greatest opportunity of the next 10 years, which is to take the data and telemetry from all these different technologies and provide observability for our customers, Zagury said. “Cisco can take the data from our networking systems or our security systems or collaboration systems and bring it all together to create these observability use cases, and an AI is just going to help bring this all together.”
In the bigger picture, business partners that specialise in AI are on the path to expansion, experts say.
Some of the larger channel providers already offer AI services. World Wide Technology announced an AI lab where customers can compare, test, validate and train AI large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT-3.5, Google Bard and others through its Advanced Technology Center (ATC), for example.
“Because our new AI lab environment is composable, different vendor components can be swapped in and out, allowing for fast customisation and scaling, and enabling you to test different configurations depending on your current environment, future needs and business objectives,” WWT wrote in a blog detailing the new lab.
Traditional consulting providers such as Accenture, Deloitte, IBM Consulting, KPMG, and McKinsey Company offer AI services as well.
Cisco is focused on how it embeds AI technologies to assist, augment and automate, Zagury said. “Then, depending on how we go to market and how we choose to monetise this, I think you'll start seeing some more partner specialisations,” she said.
Networking opportunities for the channel
Integrating networking gear is also a growing area for partners, and soon channel sales of networking products will exceed channel sales of servers, Canalys predicts.
“Servers are currently the largest IT infrastructure category for the channel, driven by demand for cloud infrastructure services – more than half of all servers in 2022 were shipped to the hyper-scalers,” Canalys stated. “However, this will change by 2027, as channel sales of networking products surpass servers for the first time.”
Today, the combined sales of switching, wireless LAN and routers account for 36 per cent of infrastructure sales through the channel, according to Canalys. This will grow to more than 40 per cent over the next five years, according to Canalys.
“Networking sales are booming, driven by Wi-Fi 6 rollout to support hybrid working in offices, as well as digital transformation across as education, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing,” Canalys stated.
Additionally, campuses will undergo a major refresh cycle over the next three years, as Wi-Fi 7 becomes commercially available. The new standard promises to boost speeds by up to four times compared to Wi-Fi 6. It will require networks to be rearchitected with at least 50G access and 100G and even 400G core switches.
On the workforce front, IT staffing remains a perennial challenge; the demand for skilled professionals with sufficient knowledge and experience in emerging technologies outweighs the supply, Zagury said.
Enterprises are experiencing exponential innovation, and with that comes exponential complexity, which makes it very hard to keep people up to date and have the right talent at the right place, she said.
“It’s rare that any single vendor can offer, say, networking and security services end to end. And that’s when partners can get called in to stitch things together in a single services stack that can deliver the outcome an enterprise business wants,” Zagury said.