The channel is critical to software-defined networking sales in the enterprise.
While direct SDN sales to large cloud hosting providers, financial institutions and other leading edge enterprises is the first step in software-defined networking (SDN) adoption, large players represent only 20% of the total potential market audience. To reach the other 80%, vendors will have to enable their channel partners to sell SDN to small, mid-sized and even more typical large enterprise organizations.
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In software-defined networking, applications define the network
SDN technologies already promise substantial benefits to the enterprise data center network, enabling the network to adapt dynamically, and allowing for provisioning of network services (Layer 2-7) for new server workloads.
Beyond that, SDN technologies will enable IT to “tune” many parts of the network to specific applications in businesses of all sizes. This creates the potential for a large ecosystem of SDN applications, including those that improve network management and lower network operational costs.
It is these applications and their accompanying services that will most benefit channel partners. The enterprise SDN market for software and hardware will reach $1.6B by 2017, according to Doyle Research. The network channel has long been challenged by a market in which they must sell boxes (typically Cisco) at the lowest possible price. But SDN technologies move away from this hardware-centric model and offer channel partners a way to help their customers modernize and tune their networks to specific application requirements, resulting in improved application performance and optimized networks.
With SDN, channel partners can sell the following value-adds:
- Network upgrades and migration for SDN: Channel partners can even help customers with extensive physical hardware migrate to SDN without rip-and-replace by using overlay networks.
- Layer 4-7 services including software-based WAN optimization and network security: Quite a few SDN Layer 4-7 apps already exist on the market. These services will be less expensive to buy than their hardware counterparts and can reduce OPEX via centralized management features.
- Professional services: Partners will act as an on-going consultant in the planning of a more flexible network with reduced customer OPEX using SDN technologies.
Creating an army that can handle SDN sales
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The promise of SDN requires large numbers of trained engineers who can migrate networks to SDN, manage these networks and develop unique SDN applications. Technology providers will need to spend the time and money to train their channel partners to understand the value of SDN and how to implement it. But channel partners are accustomed to taking on this kind of training. They've done it with data center network fabrics and other cutting edge technologies. Once trained, the channel can provide the "feet on the street" necessary to implement new SDN technologies.
This won't be a short process, so initial efforts to sell SDN to leading edge technology users in cloud hosting and financial services will continue during 2013. But in order for broad scale adoption, the channel must be engaged to keep expected growth continuing for 2014 and beyond.
About the author
Lee Doyle is Principal Analyst at Doyle Research. Doyle Research provides targeted analysis on the Evolution of Intelligent Networks: SDN, OPEX, and COTS. Lee Doyle has over 28 years experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets. For more information please see his website at doyle-research.com and email him at email@example.com.