SDN Watch: ADARA Networks Makes Big Bet On Channel10:52 AM EST Mon. Nov. 12, 2012
ADARA Networks isn't the flashiest of the emerging software-defined networking (SDN) startups, but it's way out in front of a challenge few of its SDN brethren have tackled thus far: articulating a value proposition for the VAR channel behind a commercially available SDN platform.
The SDN space -- and by extension, the network virtualization and software-centric data center segments -- is flush with interesting startups. But very few have solidified channel strategies, let alone launched programs and opened up through two-tier distribution. ADARA has done all of those things and a major reason for that is also pretty simple one: advocacy.
"What you hear a lot of is that these companies see the channel as an annoyance," Eric Johnson, ADARA's CEO, told CRN in a recent interview. "We understand that the care and feeding of that distribution model benefits the enterprise customer. I will tell you we've also had a lot of service providers approach us and say, 'Would you deal with us directly like the other SDN vendors do?' But we believe in the channel."
San Jose, Calif-based ADARA offers what it describes as a "full-stack network," in that customers can acquire pieces of a fully virtualized, flexible network infrastructure or go whole hog and purchase a Full Stack Engine (FSE) that integrates each of the seven layers of the OSI network model.
The individual products include its Apollo access point routers, Gemini multicast routers, Mercury application delivery routers and Taurus gateways. The Mercury, Gemini and Taurus products, along with its Orion cloud computing and SOA platforms, combine for the FSE implementation. ADARA supports all levels of network virtualization, from flow, path, interface and route to intra- and inter-domain and VLAN scaling, and can offer virtualized object storage.
Johnson said ADARA needed to have a commercially available product as soon as possible because as customers grow more aware of the SDN concept, they're not going to want development-grade tools. They're also going to want it to work as much as possible with their existing network infrastructure, he said, so the addition of SDN assets has to include overlay.
"A lot of the [SDN] vendors talk about that what customers have to do to deploy this is just rip and replace and put their system in. That's incredibly irresponsible. What customers invested in is a good investment and your system should be able to leverage it as much as possible," Johnson said. "The most egregious cost is when you're asking customers to use specific, proprietary technology, but if you're on every open standards body there is, saying 'We're open,' and then you hook them with a proprietary product, that's even worse."
Johnson and his team also didn't see the benefit in focusing on just one or two areas of the networking stack, as several of ADARA's SDN brethren do.
"Some of these guys make great virtual switches, but they make only virtual switches," he said. "Some of them make virtual controllers, some of them make virtualized load balancers. We think you have to do all the things that virtual networking is able to provide."
With ADARA and other SDN startups coming onto the radar, venture capital investment and M&A activity are expected to heat up. VMware's blockbuster $1.2 billion deal for Nicira over the summer served as a kickoff to what many analysts believe will be a few years of SDN-centric acquisitions, and Johnson freely admitted to CRN that ADARA is open to offers.
"We're in play," Johnson said. "But what you will see, if we're independent, is us heading toward a public offering. We want to work with progressive-minded, value-added partners and have the best relationships."
NEXT: Why Partners Should Care About ADARA
Johnson likened the SDN trend to when Web browsers became widely available in the mid-90s: huge productivity gains based on the fact that average users could surf and use the Internet much more easily. SDN features, when applied right, unlock the benefits of virtualization and software-centric data center architecture.
"We get to try to do again what we did in 1994 as an industry," Johnson said. "That's what we're delivering here."
ADARA shifted from a direct sales model to 100 percent channel sales in February of this year, adding certifications around engineering and sales to its training program and creating an Elite level of partnership for its more advanced solution providers. Expect it to scale the program significantly over the next year, Johnson said.
"I don't care how brilliant you are, you need to partner," Johnson said. "You can't possibly think up all the permutations of how your technology is going to be used, and there's always other ideas about how to secure it, how to market it. There are a million things you get in return when you talk to the channel."
A number of solution providers already have taken the plunge with ADARA.
"Everything out there today is networked, whether it's local, in the cloud, on the WAN, and everyone is working virtually," said Tim McKnight, vice president of sales and marketing for Total Computer Group, a Melville, N.Y.-based solution provider. "We started looking into SDN and understanding it a bit more and what it can solve for clients, and we looked into ADARA and I was very interested."
Total Computer Group has an ADARA demo lab set up and has already worked through a few proofs-of-concept.
"I have a client that has multiple sites nationally and is spending $900,000 a year on circuits," he said. "We showed them the ROI behind the POC we put together. When you can do that, their eyes open. They're skeptical, but they say to you, 'If this is true, then this is huge.' You have to go for their pocket and show them exactly where the money comes back to them."
McKnight said ADARA, as a startup, can offer him time and resources that a major vendor can't or won't, and he saluted ADARA for recognizing that.
"I like their business model," he said. "We're not a product-of-the-month type company and the products change every month anyway, so that's not what brought us in. Eric's a sharp guy and he knows exactly where he's going with this."
Joe Ambrosole, president of NetConnect, a Staten Island, N.Y.-based solution provider, said ADARA's appeal is how it opens new business opportunities.
"You have to differentiate yourself as soon as possible, and that's a hard thing to do today," he said. "This is different. Its allows me to bring in new technologies to existing clients and it has opened doors for NetConnect into new enterprise clients."
ADARA also recognized that its sales are more of a platform integration than a networking resale, so it was quick to put resources into its partner sign-ons, Ambrosole said.
"Being a new technology, it is sometimes difficult to sell and configure," Ambrosole admitted. "We rely on ADARA's team for high-level technical support, which they continue to provide. The big companies don't give a smaller reseller personalized attention. I get that with ADARA because they need the product moved and they need to gain visibility. So they're out there helping me move the product in a way the incumbent players do not."
Customers are just beginning to embrace SDN concepts, Ambrosole said, and he agreed with other solution providers that they're more apt to buy on cost savings vs. the excitement of new technology.
"I'm not saying these switches and routers of today will disappear tomorrow. But eventually they will," Ambrosole said. "The appeal right now is that you can put these in as an overlay to the existing network and speed up performance. Customers put data into the same pipes they already have and they get better performance."
NEXT: Tech Data Fills In The Gaps
In addition to partner recruitment, ADARA made another key move earlier in 2012: an exclusive two-tier distribution relationship with Tech Data, which can help evangelize the technology as well as gain ADARA some much needed market visibility with VARs and integrators beyond its immediate grasp.
"Optimizing the network is a little tricky, and any time it's new technology like this, it's confusing," said Tech Data's Tim Orselli, senior manager, government, health care and systems engineering. "ADARA actually sends in their engineers to help out with that at no charge. It's important they get the demos out there and everyone is visible so that people can see that this is working."
The connection between ADARA, Tech Data and many of ADARA's nascent partners is Alex Buonincontri, director of channel sales for ADARA's Eastern region. Buonincontri is a well-known channel presence, particularly in the New York area, for his 18 years at Tech Data, and after copping the distributor's Field Sales Rep of the Year award, decided in 2011 to make a change.
Buonincontri met Johnson following a presentation Johnson gave to Tech Data's field sales team in the third quarter of 2011. From there came a relationship and then Buonincontri's decision to join the company in February 2012.
"I made the move to ADARA because the company provided a great opportunity for me to bring solid SDN technology to the channel and support solution providers in bringing it to their end-user clients," Buonincontri told CRN. "I look forward to our future growth in the IT marketplace."
PUBLISHED NOV. 12, 2012