Rancher Labs Launches Partner Program Around Open Source Container Management

Rancher Labs, an emerging vendor in the world of container technology, launched a formal channel program Tuesday in response to rapid, and somewhat unexpected, adoption of its technology by solution providers.

The startup, based in Cuptertino, California, only let loose the 1.0 release of its Docker container management platform in March. At the time it was thinking a formal channel program was still a year or two away, said Shannon Williams, a co-founder of the company and its vice president of sales.

But by the end of the summer, roughly half the projects deploying Rancher were being undertaken by third-party implementation partners, who came asking about a structured program after discovering the open source solution.

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"It's a testament to how fast containers and Kubernetes and the work we are doing is taking off. And organizations are already putting that in production," Williams told CRN.

Rancher's platform manages clusters of Docker containers, working at the layer above container orchestration solutions like Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. The software has been downloaded 1 million times to more than 10 million nodes.

The container management category is becoming crowded as enterprise customers are increasingly deploying container-based architectures at massive scale—Docker Datacenter, CoreOS Tectonic and Mesosphere are products also vying for that market. Williams said Rancher's solution is the only one that's wholly open source.

What Rancher learned as a partner ecosystem started organically to develop, Williams said, is that the channel is complex, and solution providers are not all alike.

The roughly 20 launch partners in the Rancher Partner Network fall into three overall categories, he said.

Some partners are born-in-the-cloud managed services providers, specializing in concepts like DevOps and Agile development. Others are more traditional resellers with existing practices integrating VMware and other virtualization solutions.

Then there are consultants looking to containers as the next evolution in how they build applications for customers. Those firms aren't looking to resell the product or provide ongoing support, Williams said, but would like to demonstrate certifications around design, training and implementation.

The recognition of its budding, heterogeneous partner community led Rancher to implement three tracks in its partner program, offering different benefits, pricing models, and options.

What's common among them is the training component—all require a deep understanding of not only Rancher's technology, but the entire container stack, especially Docker Swarm and Kubernetes, for which Rancher offers commercial distributions.

Josh Lindenbaum, vice president of business development at Redapt, one of the inaugural partners based in Redmond, Washington, told CRN that while Rancher's program is new, the company's leaders know what they're doing in building a robust channel.

Rancher's founders did just that at their previous company, Cloud.com, which was acquired by Citrix.

"We now look forward to taking the ride with them on Rancher, which appears poised to be as or perhaps even more successful than Cloud.com," he said.

"We see their rolling out a formal partner program as a logical progression of their business," Lindenbaum told CRN.