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Following Extreme Network’s acquisition of Enterasys last year, the merger of the two organizations’ channel programs, had been a work in progress. Now, Extreme Networks is rolling out a revamped channel program that, not only combines much of the best of what both companies previously offered, but also adds a couple of new twists.

At its annual partner conference, Extreme Networks is walking partners through all the nuances of the unified Extreme Partner Network (EPN) channel program, said Theresa Caragol, vice president of global channels. The most significant new aspect of the program is that it opens up a wealth of new services opportunities for partners, she said.

Rather than reserving those opportunities for themselves in the way other networking vendors have done in the past, Caragol said, those service opportunities will now be driven through the channel. They are critical because they increase the profits of partners at a time when pricing pressure on networking equipment is under intense pressure.

The good news is that a major shift toward software-defined networking (SDNs) is increasing the demand for those services. Most IT organizations like the idea of being able to leverage SDNs to manage their networks at a higher level of service. The challenge is that many of them lack the internal expertise needed to make that transition.

Obviously, the transition to SDNs will take years to play out. But Caragol noted that Extreme Networks has embraced the Project OpenDayLight approach to SDN that guarantees customers that that the SDN software they invest in today will be able to run on any network infrastructure they choose later on.

Although Extreme Networks and Enterasys played in the same networking space, there was surprisingly little overlap in the customer and partner base for the two companies, Caragol said. Extreme Networks’ partners tend to be fiercely loyal, even though the company may not have anywhere near the number of partners as Cisco, she said.

For example, long-time partner Personal Computer Systems (PCS) is seeing a range of upgrade opportunities across both wired and wireless networks. PCS CEO Ed Waldroop said that the education segment, where both companies have been historically strong, is seeing a lot of upgrade activity in the wireless network spaces, thanks to the rise of mobile computing. Longer term, Waldroop expects that upgrades to SDN environments will drive a lot of opportunities, as well.

Extreme Networks is squarely focused on the convergence of wired and wireless networks. The degree to which this convergence coupled with the rise of SDN creates an opportunity to displace larger rivals such as Cisco remains to be seen. But one thing that is for certain is that the level of disruption in the networking space that is creating that opportunity isn’t likely to come around again any time soon.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.