In the coming year, F5 Networks will commit more resources to its partners than ever before, as the application delivery networking vendor sets its sites on bigger pieces of the security infrastructure, data center and cloud computing pies.
At F5 Networks' Agility conference in Chicago, where more than 560 partner representatives and 275 customers are in attendance, F5 has championed partners as the big push behind its march to $1 billion in revenue -- a milestone it expects to reach as its fiscal year ends in September.
What's coming next, said Steve McChesney, vice president, channel sales, Americas, is more from F5 in the areas of partner planning, partner marketing, partner services and partner-led profitability. Several key programs, including F5's current accreditation program and forthcoming certification offering, are designed to better equip partners taking F5 products into all pieces of the data center sale, from storage to security.
According to McChesney, F5's average deal size through partners is nearly $100,000 -- more than double of what it was a decade ago, and 10 percent larger than the previous year. McChesney urged partners to embrace the full gamut of F5 resources, including DevCentral, F5's user community portal for helping partners share best practices, built software and hear from F5 engineers.
DevCentral, said McChesney, offers access to more than 80,000 users and 500 pieces of sample material to "jumpstart" F5 projects.
Overall, F5 partners have a rich opportunity to have business transformation conversations with users on a cloud migration path. Using industry research from Enterprise Strategy Group and other sources, Dean Darwin, F5's vice president, worldwide channels identified three trends happening with customers on a worldwide basis.
First, he said, server virtualization is becoming ubiquitous, even if 58 percent of organizations have virtualized less than one third of their servers. Second, IT-owned workloads still dominate the customer landscape, and 59 percent of customers have not yet virtualized any mission-critical applications. Third, dynamic IT is still more a vision than a reality.
But those trends still reflect the reality of how channel partners need to engage customers. F5, said Darwin, solves a lot of the problems customers have at the application layer -- a point made repeatedly by other F5 executives at Agility -- and partners need to bring F5 products in as business conversations, not as product resale.
"The selling lanes have changed," Darwin said, referencing financial legend Warren Buffett's thought that "only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked."
Coming rapidly into focus, Darwin said, are that large VARs and systems integrators are building their own cloud offerings, and are looking to partner with cloud providers, such as Rackspace, as cloud services agents.
That makes all the sense in the world for F5's channel, Darwin said, because its products and services fit between so many different data center disciplines.
"And we are absolutely getting into the ring when it comes to security," he added, referencing a push by F5 to become better known as a security infrastructure player as much as it is an application delivery networking vendor.
"F5 can be a door opener for a lot of discussions," he said. "The closer you get to the application, the healthier you're going to be and the more business discussions you're going to have."
Tim Abbott, solutions architect at Trace 3, a security solution provider and F5 partner based in Irvine, Calif., said Trace 3 had in the past positioned F5 before as a load balancer, or for its Global Traffic Manager (LTM) capability in the BIG-IP platform, or any one or several capabilities the F5 product set offers. The upsell opportunity, with more customers looking to make their data centers more efficient, is enormous.
"We're only scratching the surface with our customers on all the features it can provide," he said.
Trace 3 sells the entire F5 portfolio and has seen its F5 sales grow nearly 40 percent year-over-year. F5's positioning -- for partners to focus on the business transformation that comes from optimizing applications -- is spot-on, Abbott said.
"Who cares about servers, we care about the applications," he said. "When you're virtualizing an infrastructure, you're asking what applications are you trying to virtualize and how are you making that application better to the customer. Once you figure out what applications you want to virtualize, you'll get the funding. If you can make the app faster, the doors are open. Once those doors are open, I can sell you the F5 product."
Next: F5's Vendor Partnerships Bear Fruit
Partners said that another big piece of F5's appeal is how its products can fit with those of data center-focused vendors with a big stake in the cloud computing move.
Rackspace, for example, told F5 partners Thursday it will be doing more to encourage joint F5-Rackspace solution sales.
Robert Fuller, vice president of worldwide channels, and John Engates, CTO, at Rackspace, said that hosted cloud provider will grandfather F5 partners into the tier equivalent, in Rackspace's channel program, of their F5 Unity partner program status -- an announcement that brought applause from the F5 crowd.
"Let's bridge that into the Rackspace program, so you get the high-level compensation," Engates said.
The companies will partner in other ways, too. F5 plans to credit the F5 portion of a solution hosted at Rackspace toward an F5 partner's partner tier attachment, Fuller said. There will also be joint sales development between the two companies, and payment acceleration options that let VARs draw from future compensation payments by Rackspace to offset upfront costs.
Storage ace NetApp was another F5 vendor partner at Agility touting greater vendor alignment between the two channels. Jim Sangster, senior director of solutions marketing at NetApp, said he's seeing the opportunity for NetApp storage and F5 infrastructure sales to expand, with more customers looking for seamless migration paths to cloud.
"The discussion around the applications is really what it's all about," Sangster told partners.