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Docker Launches Two-Tier Channel Program To Support Expansion Of Enterprise Platform

The startup's channel maturity is catching up to its market position as the leader of a container tech revolution in IT.

Docker's channel maturity is catching up to the market influence of its game-changing Linux container technology with the introduction Tuesday of a two-tiered program for partners deploying its flagship commercial product.

The step up in channel sophistication was prompted by last February's launch of Docker Datacenter, a solution for enterprises looking to self-service container deployment — a capability Docker describes as Containers-as-a-Service.

The new program from the San Francisco-based startup leading the container tech revolution introduces Professional and Premier tiers for partners of all stripes who are reselling its enterprise container management platform.

[Related: Docker Acqui-hires Engineering Team Behind Aurora, A Crucial Twitter Technology]

While Docker has attracted a vast network of solution providers deploying its open-source technology — a container runtime that quickly became the de facto standard in the industry — a much smaller cadre of those partners are reselling Docker Datacenter.

The product bundles two essential services for large-scale container management and orchestration projects: Universal Control Plane, a container cluster manager; and Docker Trusted Registry, an image repository that runs behind the customer firewall.

Docker integrators say those technologies enable something increasingly sought by large enterprise customers: a continuous integration/continuous delivery pipeline for rapid software deployment.

Docker has had a partner program for more than a year, but a far simpler one.

That initial program focused on merely on-boarding "authorized" partners — consultants, resellers, global integrators and strategic partners like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and IBM — and certifying their capabilities across a few disciplines involving its technology.

"We're just taking the next step," said Alan Geary, Docker's director of channels and alliances.

The introduction of Docker Datacenter as an enterprise platform, and the global demand the product generated, expanded partner interest to build out and invest in practices actually reselling Docker, Geary said.

"And this growing ecosystem requires us to tier the program and recognize those experts in a bigger way," Docker's Geary said. "We had to tool up our enablement to have a scalable model there. We have segments that we are going to be engaging with and transferring knowledge around how to sell Docker Datacenter using our own experiences."

The new program adds resources through a partner portal and introduces a deal registration program and new accreditation tracks, he said. Margins and benefits for resellers will improve as sales ramp.

The more than 80 currently authorized Docker partners will transfer to either the Premier and Professional ranks, with a grace period to achieve the requirements mandated by the new structure to stay in those tiers.

Docker will also be launching distribution deals to make it easier to transact with partners — Synnex will be the commercial distributor for North America.

Docker hopes the new program will expand its base of resellers to somewhere between 200 and 300 over the next 12 to 18 months, Geary told CRN.

"We've been engaging with all partner types," Geary said. "We have a very loyal ecosystem of partners around the open-source. This program is primarily focused on business partners driving consulting revenue and subscription sales."

Chris Ciborowski, CEO of Nebulaworks, an early Docker partner based in Southern California, told CRN the program will enable more firms to resell Docker solutions, and those already doing so to differentiate their capabilities.

For a company like Nebulaworks that's "grown up in lockstep with Docker," he said, "it puts us in a little more rarified air, puts us in front of companies not just seeking to pick up a couple licenses, but to remove constraints in the IT supply chain."

In addition to developing its channel, Ciborowski said, Docker is looking to help partners showcase their capabilities as far as consulting and enablement.

"As the market matures, and companies pick up the technology, it becomes an easy way for their customers that need the enablement to connect directly to us," Ciborowski said.

Tim Hohman, CEO of BoxBoat, a DevOps-focused solution provider based in Washington, D.C., said the program will drive a channel expansion while making sure those most committed to the technology can excel.

"It seems to be set up to reward the partners that are investing in Docker, certifying consultants, getting sales folks and sales engineers trained up and that's right where we are," Hohman told CRN. "There's going to be a whole lot more partners that jump on the train, but the question is are they going to invest in talent and skills to go out and do successful implementations and position solutions like Docker Datacenter in the right way?"

BoxBoat is currently positioning Docker Datacenter with its corporate and government clients, and is seeing growing demand for the relatively new product.

While smaller companies can get away with open-source Docker solutions delivered with some advisory help from partners, Hohman said, larger enterprises face a more serious production struggle that necessitates the commercial product as they look to implement a continuous integration/continuous delivery pipeline.

"In bigger enterprises, folks understand the value of the commercial support and the value of the product itself," Hohman said.

The two-tier program is a sign of Docker's technological maturity and market adoption.

"If you only have a few partners, there's very little need to differentiate. But if you have the big boys talking to Docker as they are, like federal SIs and big global systems integrators, those guys are asking for differentiation," Hohman said.

But the new channel program doesn't only benefit those "big boys."

"For my company, we're betting our business on Docker, so these sorts of programs are critical for us because it's going to differentiate between people who are investing and not investing," he said.

In addition, the virtual portal the program introduces will be a boon for regional consulting partners like BoxBoat looking to keep their staffs trained and certified without spending exorbitantly on travel, according to Hohman.

Docker's Geary told CRN the partner base the program is looking to attract are "those that want to take that next step and implement an enterprise platform fully integrated and tested and supported by Docker."

While many more consulting partners are currently stitching together open-source Docker solutions and offering services on top, over time that model will find it difficult to keep pace with the rate of innovation.

"It's not hardened, tested, supported by Docker," Geary told CRN. "I think quickly customers will migrate to the enterprise platform, which is Docker Datacenter."

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