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As containers such as Docker continue to gain momentum as vehicles for eliminating the complexity associated with deploying applications on IT infrastructure inside and outside the cloud, channel programs aimed at enabling IT services firms of all sizes to tap that opportunity are starting to emerge.

For example, earlier this year Docker Inc. revamped its channel program as part of an effort to increase its focus on partners selling not just container services but also the entire Docker Inc. management stack. Now, smaller companies that make up the Docker ecosystem are following suit.

Rancher Labs, a provider of container management software, has launched its first global channel program. Shannon Williams, co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing at Rancher Labs, said interest in container technology in the channel started to pick up six months ago. To make it simpler for potential partners to work with Rancher Labs, the company’s channel program is designed to provide training and leads as well as enable Rancher Labs to raise the visibility and expertise of its partners, Williams said.

Rancher Labs is looking to work with three types of partners, including consultants, traditional resellers and organizations that are setting up managed service practices around containers, Williams said.

At present, the container opportunity is split across three deployment models. Most organizations prefer to deploy containers on top of virtual machines or in a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment because they don’t have the tools needed to manage and secure containers running on bare-metal servers. In time, however, more containers will run on bare-metal servers inside and out of the cloud using, for example, container orchestration engines and container-as-a-service (CaaS) platforms running inside and out of the cloud.

As that occurs, demands for management tools from vendors such as Rancher Labs that can span all those deployment models should increase. At the same time, however, legacy vendors such as VMware are racing to extend their reach across a variety of container and virtual machine deployment models.

Solution providers across the channel would be well-advised to come up to speed on containers sooner than later. As container applications start to make their way into production environments, large swaths of enterprise IT environments are likely to be utterly transformed in ways that have a major impact on every layer of the IT stack. The most important thing for solution providers now is to make sure they stay relevant to customers that might be quietly making a massive shift to containers without ever bothering to inform any of their key IT solution providers.

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications, including InfoWorld, CRN and eWEEK. He currently blogs daily for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, Channel Insider and Baseline.