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Big Data Startup Confluent Ratchets Up Channel Efforts With New Program, Executive Hires

The software developer is counting on the new partner initiative to help expand sales of its Apache Kafka-based platform for managing streaming data.

Confluent, developer of a system for managing streaming big data, is stepping up its channel efforts, recruiting partners who can provide systems integration, application development and consulting services around the company's real-time data platform.

The company also has been staffing up its executive ranks and in recent weeks announced the hiring of a chief financial officer, chief marketing officer, and sales and business development executives.

Confluent was founded in September 2014 by the creators of Apache Kafka, the open-source message broker system that provides high throughput and low latency for managing real-time data feeds. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup has developed a platform and related development and management tools around Kafka that organizations use to manage streaming data.

[Related: 10 Big Data/Business Intelligence Emerging Vendors You Need To Know About]

"Confluent has experienced strong growth as Kafka usage continues to accelerate," said co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Neha Narkhede, in a statement.

Confluent started its channel program in the second quarter and now has more than 70 partners, about half of which are consultants and systems integrators – both global and "boutique," according to the company. The rest of the partner base is made up of technology partners including cloud platform providers, database vendors, software container company Docker and operational intelligence software company Splunk.

The company's goal is to eventually assemble a partner roster "in the hundreds," said Jabari Norton, vice president of business development, in an interview with CRN.

Many of Confluent's early customer wins have involved a partner that provides integration or application development services, many in big data transformation or digital transformation projects, Norton said.

"We're seeing that partner involvement and engagement pay off early," Norton said, noting that IT startups often don't begin enlisting solution providers to grow their sales until later in their development, initially focusing on direct sales to early adopter customers. "I think we'll see lots of evolution here," he said of Confluent's channel strategy.

One integration partner, Kogentix, includes the Confluent software in its technology toolbox the company uses to build custom advanced analytics solutions for customers.

"It's part of our core reference architecture," said Tim Eckard, sales vice president at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Kogentix. "About 50 percent of the solutions we build have a streaming component to them." Enterprise customers use the technology to more quickly integrate and report on streaming data, Eckard said, while the number of Internet of Things applications is also on the rise.

Kogentix provides the Confluent platform on a reference-sell basis with the company bringing Confluent into some sales situations and vice versa. That will accelerate as Kogentix expands beyond building custom systems to developing packaged solutions that incorporate the Confluent technology. "We're already working with some of their account teams," Eckard said. "It made a lot of sense for us to become a Confluent partner."

Lightbend, a Confluent technology partner, markets an application development platform that businesses use to build new applications and modernize their legacy applications for distributed computing workloads. Lightbend has a go-to-market relationship with Confluent and provides interoperability between the two vendors' systems, said Brad Murdoch, Lightbend's corporate and business development vice president.

Murdoch said the two companies are exploring possible joint-development opportunities and a sales referral relationship is also a possibility. "They are really easy to work with as a partner," Murdoch said. "The Confluent program is really simple to get engaged with."

Through the new two-tier program partners gain access to best-practice information around the Kafka Connect framework, developer tools and other technology resources; marketing programs, content, sponsorships and other go-to-market resources; and participation in Confluent's beta programs. Consulting and systems integrator partners earn referral fees for deals they bring to Confluent.

The company also recruits authorized training partners.

Norton, the business development vice president, is a sales and business development veteran of such startups as Postini, MessageOne, Qualys and Scansafe. He recently joined Confluent from Hadoop software vendor MapR Technologies where he was senior director of partner sales and business development.

Norton said that two recently hired executives, Chief Marketing Officer Luanne Dauber and Worldwide Sales Vice President Todd Barnett, both recognize the value of the channel. Dauber joined the startup from Pure Storage where she was marketing vice president and was responsible for field and channel marketing. Barnett came from open-source software company Acquia where he was vice president of Americas sales.

Confluent also recently hired Cheryl Dalrymple as its chief financial officer. Dalrymple previously served as CFO for a number of venture-backed companies, including Polyvore and AdMob, as well as CFO at online information giant LexisNexis.

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