Sonus Networks Cements Channel Gains With Refreshed Partner Program

SIP infrastructure specialist Sonus Networks is pumping more resources into its still-new, yet quickly growing channel program, as it looks to continue its transformation from an exclusively carrier-focused company to a mainstay in the enterprise session border controller (SBC) market.

The revamped Sonus Partner Assure Program introduced this week features a new, two-tiered structure, through which partners can now purchase Sonus products through distributors including Westcon, ScanSource and Distribution Central.

In addition to its new two-tiered structure -- a feature Sonus said will arm partners with more pre- and post-sales technical support -- the Sonus partner program has been bulked up with a new online quoting tool, technical support documentation and enhanced training materials like webinars and on-demand courses for both sales and technical teams.

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These updates to Sonus' partner program come roughly one year after the program's formal launch in June 2012. According to Todd Abbott, executive vice president of strategy and go-to-market for Sonus, since that launch, the program, along with Sonus' overall channel footprint, has been steadily expanding.

Abbott said roughly 17 percent of Sonus' overall revenue in the first quarter of 2013 came from the channel. Looking ahead, Sonus expects this number will grow to somewhere between 20 percent and 25 percent by the end of 2013.

"We're making some good progress," Abbott told CRN.

Since the launch of the Sonus Partner Assure Program last year, Sonus said it has on-boarded approximately 300 partners. Usage of Sonus' Partner Portal, meanwhile, has skyrocketed 300 percent since its launch last year, with an average of 150 new partner users requesting access each month.

Abbott said Sonus partners include both global system integrators, such as Dimension Data, as well traditional networking resellers like the Lexington, Mass.-based Integration Partners. Solution providers with roots in the UC world, particularly those that resell Microsoft Lync, also make up a significant chunk of Sonus' partner base, Abbott said.

Abbott attributed Sonus' growing partner base to the fact that Sonus is one of the few SBC vendors on the market today whose technology is designed to support a range of UC applications.

"We are now really the only vendor-agnostic SBC player," Abbott said. "What I mean by that is that all the UC companies have an SBC -- Avaya does, Cisco does, Siemens does -- but the problem is that those SBCs are designed to enable their UC platforms to operate really well. They don't necessarily enable an enterprise with multiple UC environments, and large enterprises typically have a minimum of two or three."

NEXT: Sonus' Enterprise Inroads

Michael Cassady, director of operations at The Via Group, a Woodlands, Texas-based Sonus partner, said Sonus' commitment to the channel has grown increasingly clear over the past several months.

"From our standpoint, they have certainly caught the attention of our CTO in terms of the types of products that they are moving toward and the type of strategy they are developing," said Cassady, who, like many Sonus partners, came into Sonus' channel through its June 2012 acquisition of Network Equipment Technologies (NET).

Cassady noted that there are few items he would like to see added to Sonus' partner program down the line, such as deal registration, but that the Sonus team has been very responsive to The Via Group's feedback.

"[Sonus] has been very open, honest and communicative on all of this," Cassady said.

Sonus' channel growth underscores the momentum the Westford, Mass.-based company has seen in the enterprise market, in general, over the past year. Once exclusively focused on the service provider or carrier space, Sonus has been aggressively trying to grow its enterprise footprint, particularly as more and more enterprises embrace SIP as a means to support a diverse set of UC applications hosted in the cloud.

"Our issue has been that our SBCs were designed for tier-one telephone companies, as the backbone infrastructure, but the market is really in the enterprise," Sonus' Abbott said. "As enterprises move to SIP infrastructures, they need these SBCs to be able to deliver security and the call control and the functionality that SIP requires."

According to Abbott, Sonus' route-to-market in the enterprise will, ultimately, be 100 percent through the channel.

"Our legacy business is large telcos and that will be direct. A lot of our business from tier-two or tier-three service providers is now indirect, and our enterprise business is expected to be 100 percent through the channel," he said.

Abbott said Sonus is aiming to have its enterprise business account for about half of its overall revenue in the coming years. In the first quarter of 2013, roughly 45 percent of Sonus' revenue stemmed from enterprise sales, including what Sonus called a "large one-time SBC deployment" within a U.S. federal agency. Excluding the federal deal, Sonus' enterprise revenue in the first quarter accounted for 15 percent.