CRN Software Defined Data Center Roundtable: Solution Providers Need More Vertical Application Skill Sets In A Hybrid World

If channel partners want to "maintain their relevance" with customers, solution providers need to invest more in application development, said industry leaders attending the CRN Software Defined Data Center Roundtable.

"Jeeves, Docker, all these tools that the developers want to use – that's part of what the channel needs to embrace," said Paul Miller, vice president of marketing for HPE's converged data center infrastructure. "It's not, 'Hey I'm going to stand up something on SQL.' I'm going to go stand up some SQL that has this application tool built on top or this service built on top. And that's where the channel needs to embrace DevOps as the mega trend that is kind of driving software-defined and cloud. … If you think about why the public cloud was popular, it's just a big API."

As IT shifts to a software-defined world, top executives from leading channel vendors agreed that solution providers should be investing both organically and inorganically in application development teams.

[Related: CRN Software-Defined Data Center Roundtable: Industry Leaders Say 'AWS Isn't The Cheapest Solution']

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Chad Dunn, vice president of product management and marketing at Dell EMC, said most solution providers have the skill set to attack today's market with solutions like hyper-converged infrastructure. However, he does see a skills gap in the channel when customers are seeking to migrate to cloud-native workloads. "That a lot more specialized, and that requires a lot more precision and some new skill sets," he said.

With many businesses choosing a hybrid model, a mix of on-premises and cloud solutions, customers are seeking answers to where their workloads should live. Understanding how and where workloads live is becoming increasingly critical for channel partners.

HPE conducted a recent study with IT research firm Forrester surveying over 500 customers. The study found that two-thirds of the customers came to leverage a hybrid approach by accident.

"They're all going in the cloud and [customers] realized, 'Oh, I can't move because of this this compliance issue. I can't move because of data sovereignty. I can't move because of cost," said HPE's Miller. "Two-thirds ended up with a hybrid state by accident, and then had to go figure out, 'Okay, what do I do with my data strategy? What do I do with my security strategy?'"

"So there is this conversation that partners can have by first saying, 'Yep, the world is going to be hybrid. You're going to have a cloud strategy. Let me have a conversation around where your apps should live. How you should think about your data strategy and deploy a hybrid strategy that makes sense,''' said Miller. "That keeps partners relevant to their customer."

The top executives said the channel should begin investing resources this year to build new revenues streams through DevOps while continuing to balance their current sales objectives. If they can't grow an application development team quickly enough, acquiring or partnering with another solution provider is a plausible alternative.

To help the channel in this pursuit, vendors are trying to broker deals between solution providers and application development specialists.

"Part of our charter in what we do is to be able to broker some of those type of relationships [around application development]," said Frank Rauch, vice president of VMware's Americas Partner Organization. "Whether they actually buy them or they just partner with them, we need to be able to get there one way or another."

To help lessen the burden on application development teams, some vendors are making API's easier to learn, deploy and manage for DevOps teams in the channel.

Big Switch Networks is at the forefront of the channel charge to help partners adapt to the new era of DevOps/application development. "In order to make the whole DevOps experience simpler … our products are natively built on an API. Our own GUI, our own CLI, leveraged the API. So every time a user uses a GUI workflow or a CLI workflow, underneath it's our software set of APIs," said Prashant Gandhi, chief product officer at Big Switch. "So we make the automation very, very easy so you get up and started. We have shown that within 15 minutes, a workflow can be automated from a GUI to a Python-based automation."

Gandhi is encouraging solution providers to double down on application development training. "You have time to train your people to go from that small crack team to a larger set of folks in your main organization," he said. "You don't have to do everything organically. You can do it inorganically by through acquisitions and partnerships to get this talent into your organization."