Channel Interest in SDN Products Rises Sharply

By Michael Vizard  |  Print this article Print

The challenge facing solution providers is figuring out what might be the best path to pursue to take advantage of the software-defined networking opportunity.

Other software-centric SDN players include Adara Networks, Embrane, Tail-f Systems and Midokura. The providers of these SDN offerings, which are designed to run across heterogeneous environments, are aggressively moving to build ecosystems across the channel.

Embrane, for example, delivers its SDN technology in the form of a virtual appliance that can run in any hypervisor environment. The company just extended its channel reach by recruiting World Wide Technology (WWT), which added Embrane to a mix of enterprise products that already include Cisco networking equipment.

According to Bob Olwig, vice president of business strategy and marketing for WWT, Embrane is a natural complement to a more hardware-centric approach to SDN that will make it easier for WWT to deploy the technology in heterogeneous environments.

"SDNs are still in their infancy, but based on everything we've heard, we think Embrane will be complementary to both Cisco and VMware," Olwig said.

Embrane CEO Dante Malagrino said one of the challenges that channel partners face when selling SDN is that vendor messages focus too much on revolution and destruction. He said customers want to be able to naturally extend their existing networking environments without being forced into a hardware upgrade or having to standardize on one particular virtual machine environment.

"Customers want to be able to embrace SDN in a way that doesn't necessarily impact their relationship with other vendors," Malagrino said.

Meanwhile, Adara Networks CEO Eric Johnson contends that a true software-centric approach shouldn't be tied to either a physical device or a hypervisor. "SDNs should be truly vendor-agnostic," he said. "In our case, we're not trying to protect legacy systems."

Johnson said heterogeneous approaches to SDNs allow solution providers in the channel to hedge their vendor bets, while also transforming how their IT services practice is organized and delivered. Instead of organizing around servers, storage and networking, solution providers will increasingly be required to provide a more holistic approach to managing converged infrastructure.

"We see SDNs as accelerating the shift toward converged infrastructure," said Johnson.

In addition, he said that as SDNs mature as part of the emergence of programmable virtual data centers, there will be a noticeable shift in how IT organizations allocate their budgets. As products and technologies lower down the stack become more of a commodity, organizations will increase the number of IT projects they can take on. That means more of the IT budget will be allocated to services, which are usually the most profitable part of any engagement for a channel partner.

The emergence of SDNs will be one of the most disruptive events to occur in enterprise networking in recent memory. The challenge facing solution providers is figuring out how to educate customers about SDNs in a way that does more to expand the market.