Zend Betting PHP Will Follow Linux in Channel

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The PHP app server company is looking to ramp up its channel with a new program, believing that the programming language is poised for the kind of growth enjoyed by the open-source operating system a decade ago.

[caption id="attachment_26723" align="alignright" width="150"]Lisa Anderson, director of channels at Zend Technologies Lisa Anderson, director of channels at Zend Technologies[/caption]

It’s an open-source technology that has grown a solid backing in many parts of enterprise IT, but is largely done on a “do-it-yourself” basis with little vendor or channel support behind it. That could describe Linux a decade ago. Or, Zend Technologies is betting, it could describe PHP today.

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Zend, based in Cupertino Calif. produces Zend Server, application server middleware for running Web and mobile apps written in the popular PHP (originally Personal Home Page, now largely considered PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) programming language.

Executives say PHP in general, and Zend in particular is at the beginning of the “hockey stick” phase of growth experience by Linux before it, which gave rise to companies including Red Hat, SuSE, and Canonical. And like those companies when Linux started coming into the corporate mainstream, Zend is now looking to grow its channel ranks to help it scale.

Like many software startups, Zend has been focused on direct sales. And like many software startups, growth has brought a growing desire and need to work with solution providers. Currently, the company says it has about 100 partners worldwide, with channel strength particularly strong in EMEA. In North America, it has a handful of partners in key markets in the U.S., and is looking to build a partner base in Canada.

To support that growth, it has revamped its Zend Solution Partner Program to include more marketing collateral and supports, and to introduce sales enablement training to complement its existing technical training offerings. It’s also expanded the program from a flat program to one with three tiers as it seeks to both expand its partner base and get closer to a few key partners.

“Our major focus is on creating the go-to partner model,” said Lisa Anderson, director of channels at Zend. “It takes a lot of time and effort for partners to commit to us, and we feel that we should also commit to those partners.”

The new program will differentiate partners as Select, Advanced or Premier based on a mix of revenues with the company and technical certifications held. At each progressive level, partners get additional benefits and higher margins on the software they sell. But Anderson said the company’s training is increasingly focus on how partners can expand the services they provide around a Zend Server deployment. That has always been application development, but the company sees opportunities for additional types of professional services for its partners.

Elaine Lennox, CMO at Zend, said the company has become widely known as “the PHP company” despite the fact that it is focused on driving revenues through Zend Server, and not through custom development jobs. That puts Zend in a unique position to pass leads over to partners, something it’s making an important part of the partner program.

“We sell the platform, but we’re not a custom consulting and development company,” Lennox said. “Despite that fact, customers keep calling us with those kinds of opportunities. We want to get the [Zend Server] platform out into our customers, and our partners want to take on the custom development projects early in the process.”

While the company is largely distributing leads to its go-to partners, it has added deal registration to the mix for partner-discovered opportunities.

Anderson said the company has engaged with a variety of systems integrators, ISVs and resellers. Typically, the only common element amongst partners is some existing experience and skill in PHP development. The company is looking to build its channel base from scratch in Canada, and while it has coverage in most U.S. regions, Anderson said the company is looking for key partners across the U.S., particularly in the central and western regions.

The company declined to discuss the optimal mix of channel and direct sales for the company, but said that growing the channel business faster than the direct business is “one of the top two priorities” for the company’s sales operations this year.

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