A10 Networks Touts Channel Incentives Behind Growth In ADC Market

Buoyed by some of its strongest-ever notices in 2011, A10 Networks is looking to attack the application delivery market with gusto this year, hoping that a mix of cutting-edge ADC products and channel incentives will help it take market share from F5 Networks, Citrix and other, larger ADC competitors.

"The plan is more engagement with the partners," said Jim Lima, senior director of channels at A10, in a recent interview with CRN. "There's a tremendous opportunity for the market here, so we're educating partners on how to sell."

Eight-year-old A10 now boasts about 1,200 customers for its AX series application delivery appliances. In the channel, through which it drives 100 percent of sales, A10 has about 180 registered partners. It has about 50 that it considers key strategic VAR and integrator partners, said Lima, who said he expects that number to grow to about 80 partners in 2012.

Last year brought across-the-board technology updates to A10's key product lines. Among the more recent were two new versions of SoftAX, the virtual appliance version of A10's ADC technology that runs on VMware, and also new AX series ADCs to address advanced server load balancing, IPv6 migration and virtualization concerns.

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The three new AX appliances, introduced in October, are the entry-level AX 1030, midrange AX 3030 for 10-Gb connectivity environments and the higher-end AX 5200-11. Each uses A10's 64-bit Advanced Core Operating system, and among their collective attributes, A10 claims the AX units can offer over 4.5 million Layer 4 connections per second and the industry's lowest cost-per-connection for compact 1 rack unit and 2 rack unit appliances.

The updated products are critical to growing A10's stature among solution providers and customers, especially as the company sees increasingly favorable coverage in the mainstream business press. Last year, for example, it was ranked No. 54 on Inc. 500's annual ranking of the country's fastest-growing private companies -- reporting about $55.1 million in revenue for 2010 -- and No. 2 on the Silicon Valley Business Journal's list of fast-growing private companies. Its three-year growth rate, according to A10, has been 3,786 percent.

As they sought ways to get VARs to lead with A10 products, Lima and his team began to revamp A10's partner compensation structure, and as of last year began offering new spiffs and other incremental incentives.

For example, a VAR sales representative that brings A10 a qualified deal receives $100 on an A10 credit card, and another $100 if the project reaches the proof-of-concept and evaluation phase. Partner sales engineers can receive $200 if the project reaches proof-of-concept and they're involved in the installation, and both sales reps and engineers can receive another $300 each if the deal closes.

A10 is also looking at a margin incentive program that compensates partners with additional margin for qualified deals. A10 further plans to roll out a VAR certification program later this year, Lima said.

"Spiffs and other incentives aren't a total answer, but if we can give partners to bring us into deals they learn about us, they learn more about the architecture and they're going to win more," Lima said.

Bear Data Solutions, a San Francisco-based solution provider and No. 185 on CRN's 2011 VAR500 ranking, signed on with A10 Networks about a year ago, said Don James Jr., Bear Data's CEO.

"We didn't know much about the product at the time, and we decided to give it a go," he said. "Our tech guys really liked the product and our people seemed to have an easy time partnering with their account execs. They're not super well-known so there's still a bit of evangelizing that has to happen, but if you can get to that first meeting with the end user, they're in the hunt on any cost bake-off or technology bake-off."

Bear Data also sells all of A10's major ADC competitors, but James estimated that Bear Data reps are leading with A10 in about 20 percent of pertinent customer engagements. A10, said James, has been good about protecting deals and has also supported Bear Data's marketing and sales events.

As A10 continues to grow, James said he'd like to see more formalized account strategizing with key partners like Bear Data.

"As they get more mature there's opportunity to do an annual account plan with executive management, where they say we'll do quarterly commitments based on X-number with Bear Data, and bring us into more opportunities," he said. "That process has been mainly ad hoc [with A10] so far, and more driven on kind of a rep-by-rep basis."

Next: A10 Versus Competitors

Another big push from A10 is around joint marketing and sales strategies with companies such as Arista Networks, Dell Force10 and Palo Alto Networks that have data center technologies complementary to A10's.

"We still believe there is a significant advantage in best-of-breed solutions," Lima said. "We'll be looking for common channel partners with our partners from various technology areas in data center and security, for example, and going out and doing some joint webinars with partners that we have in common."

As A10's brand awareness grows, competitors have taken aim. In July 2011, the company counter-sued Brocade for patent infringement following a similar patent suit filed by Brocade months earlier. Market leader F5, which controls about half of the Layer 4-7 switching/ADC market according to most researcher estimates, also sued A10 in late 2010, prompting a countersuit from A10 shortly after that.

But to Lima, there's room for everybody. Increased interest in application delivery control -- especially as customers optimize their data centers and embrace virtualization -- is growing the overall market, Lima said, and there's an opening for smaller competitors with aggressive strategies even as the ADC vendor landscape continues to consolidate.

"F5 and Citrix aren't going to fall on their face. Cisco has a big channel and then you have Brocade and even Radware," Lima said. "But there's a lot of business out there to be had."