How To Sell Software Defined Networking


How do you get up to speed and sell a complex technology such as software defined networking? Jay Dosanjh, Director of Worldwide Channel Sales at ADARA Networks gives solution providers an overview of the technology and general tips for tackling a new, complex technology offering.—Jennifer Bosavage, editor

VARs have to be prepared for ever-changing products and solutions when preparing to offer the latest and greatest to customers. Technology solutions, platforms and devices are constantly being updated or released, but when it comes to learning a completely new piece of tech, there is quite a learning curve. Consider software defined networking (SDN). It’s a new method of virtualization that sits on top of a network to prioritize traffic, increase the efficiency of infrastructure and more. The technology has a lot of complexity behind it and is a new idea that requires a large amount of education.

To really sell SDN, it’s important to get an understanding of the environment that has created a need for this technology. This is an age of innovative new technology. Devices such as the smartphone and tablet have changed how employees interact with a company’s network. This access is creating strain that organizations are slow to be able to manage. Data networks are like arteries and one clog can be fatal. New platforms are needed to manage the more dynamic environment and activity running across a network on an everyday basis. While OpenFlow protocol and software-defined networking may not be new pieces of technology to virtualization and networking experts, it’s a new tech offering for VARs. Solutions offer the promise of managing the flow of traffic and creating greater networking efficiencies through virtualization. And, they present an opportunity to sell a solution that will optimize technologies already in place offering VARs the unique opportunity to complement already robust portfolios. However, SDN is not the first technology to promise such rewards, so what truly makes this different?

First, SDN offerings are not a “rip and replace.” Most solutions should enhance legacy equipment without requiring a completely new technology investment. At some point, equipment requires replacement but it’s hard to invest in a completely new hardware system only a few years after it’s purchased. SDN ideally virtualizes all of the layers of the network, in some cases only certain layers (2-3 or 4-7), and sits on top of a network stack.

Second, SDN is a solution sell, not a box sell. Every network is built differently and SDN needs to be tailored to the needs or efficiencies desired of the network. Additionally, SDN can be used to prioritize traffic on the network. The customization of SDN is not what makes it a solution sell, though. Offering SDN requires a more consultative role from VARs. As it takes a deal of education and review of current capabilities to highlight the benefits that make sense for an organization at the time of sale, the VAR must take time to understand the current network environment before bringing in the sell. It’s also a large deployment and takes a lot of effort to ensure its being managed in the right way.

Third, SDN makes it easy for VARs to add value to any customer’s current technology portfolio. SDN not only complements a VAR and customer’s technology portfolio, but provides much needed security, interoperability and compliance functions showcases the benefits of the technology offering. This enables the customer to realize full ROI on already-deployed solutions, making the VAR a true partner for ensuring this happens.

While SDN is a new technology and requires education on the functionalities or features, the sales process is very similar to other solution sales. At a high level, the sale might follow this step by step approach:

1. Understand completely the current network setting
2. Focus on the customer’s problem
3. Dive into the SDN solutions and clarify how SDN enhances what already is in place while discussing the capabilities and benefits
4. Highlight the differences from competitors

The real win in how to sell SDN comes from an understanding around the technology and OpenFlow. It’s important to understand the playing field, how this technology significantly changes IT and the standards or technicalities that organizations need to be aware of. The process becomes more about education than a sales pitch. Make no mistake, SDN – like the cloud – will change how organizations utilize their networks.

Overall, SDN is a real innovation and is part of a larger effort to fundamentally change network infrastructure. It’s a change that has been long overdue. However, the introduction of a new, more efficient technology does not mean that organizations will be required to replace the infrastructure or solutions in place. SDN empowers organizations to overcome the physical limitations of their current network without a “rip and replace” strategy. For VARs, this is a real opportunity to become a trusted advisor on an up-and-coming network technology and provide value over a longer period of time. Better yet, SDN offerings won’t be competitive with other technology solutions already sold. VARs will play an important role in the adoption of SDN, and be a part of a movement toward a transformed information technology age, meeting the market demands of the rapidly expanding business landscape.