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With WAN optimization having transcended "niche" status as a market segment, solution providers are looking to ally with the vendors who will not only keep the technology from becoming a commodity, but also best position the channel to bring WAN optimization into the cloud era.
Those trends are creating a shift, solution providers say. There's no argument that the appetite for WAN optimization is increasing among businesses. Gartner, for example, recently pegged the growth of WAN optimization from a $700 million market it was in 2006 to an expected $1.9 billion market in 2011, and a tenfold increase from that over the next five years.
But does that mean more opportunity for VARs that sell WAN optimization?
"Two years ago I would probably have said yes," said Larry Chaffin, founder and CEO of Pluto Networks, a Lewis Center, Ohio-based solution provider. "But now there are so many partners out there, where before there weren't, and the market is getting saturated just like routing and switching was. If you think about how many people sell routers and switches now, that's happening with WAN optimization. Before it was a specific niche of partners who did it and did it well, and they were the ones driving everything."
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Vendors, Chaffin said, have to fine-tune their channel programs to make sure the feet-on-the-street VARs get their share of the pie and keep the technology from box-pusher status.
"It's to be expected with the growth of the product," Chaffin said. "So I guess it would really depend on what the vendors are willing to do to step up for the channel."
Like many solution providers that sell WAN optimization, Chaffin partners with Riverbed Technology, which remains the marquee vendor in an increasingly more crowded market. But Pluto also recently added Certeon, a fast-rising WAN optimization startup based in Burlington, Mass. that's aggressively courting channel partners with an all-software WAN optimization platform and big profitability promises for VARs.
His loyalty to Riverbed hasn't waned, Chaffin said, but he sees room for other players on his line card, too. Certeon, which offers a 100 percent software-based WAN optimization that's also hypervisor- and hardware-agnostic, became a particularly compelling option, he said, especially with Certeon pushing aggressive partner incentives.
"For us, it was, we had many customers looking to do more virtually and not wanting to put appliances everywhere," Chaffin said. "Riverbed does have a solution for that and we do have customers there, and you also have your Blue Coats, your Silver Peaks and your Ciscos. But a lot of it came to customers looking at different technologies and different prices, and for whatever reason, they were turned off by Riverbed."
For WAN optimization, Pluto now carries Riverbed, Certeon and also Fastsoft, a provider of Web acceleration software.
"I think all three of them are different plays for our customers," he said. "And it's what's going on in the market. I can give you an instance where I was called by a CIO, and they were looking between Riverbed and Cisco, and I gave my opinion on why he shouldn't buy Cisco because of what he was going to run into, and it came down to price. Riverbed could only go a certain amount off, but Cisco doesn't have that problem -- Cisco will give whatever to win the business."