Brocade Channel Chief: Market Shift To SDN 'Coming Fast'

Networking vendor Brocade is evolving both its product portfolio and its partners in order to prepare for what channel chief Bill Lipsin said is an accelerated shift toward software-defined networking (SDN).

"It's coming fast," said Lipsin, head of worldwide channels and global systems integrator sales at Brocade, in a recent interview with CRN. "That's why we are so pleased that we have the software, we have the enablement and now we have the [partner] programs that sort of tie it all together in a big bow."

Lipsin cited a recent survey of Brocade solution providers that suggested 17 percent of their enterprise customers have already deployed some form of SDN technology. Meanwhile, 63 percent of customers are in the process of evaluating and testing SDN technologies, or at least plan to within the next 12 months.

[Related: Brocade Says 'Doubling Down' On Federal Market, Recruiting More Cisco Federal VARs]

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Brocade's survey results don't come as a surprise. According to industry analyst IDC, the software-defined networking market -- including physical network infrastructure, controllers, network virtualization software and other SDN applications and services -- is on pace to exceed $8 billion by 2018, up from $960 million in 2014 and representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 89.4 percent.

The core of Brocade's SDN strategy lies in its Vyatta platform, which started as a virtual router, but has since expanded to include a virtual firewall, virtual load balancer and a virtual VPN. In September, Brocade again expanded that portfolio to include its Vyatta controller, which is based on technology from OpenDaylight, an open-source industry consortium dedicated to SDN.

Customers can either purchase the end-to-end Vyatta line, or an individual product within it.

Lipsin said roughly half of Brocade's Vyatta platform sales now go through the channel. San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade started introducing parts of the platform to its channel in February through the launch of a revamped partner program.

Andrew Fisher, CEO of Myriad Supply, a New York-based solution provider and Brocade partner, said one of the big differentiators of the Vyatta platform and controller is that it works with a range of underlying physical and virtual network infrastructures, and also lets customers ease into SDN deployments without having to perform a full rip-and-replace.

"Brocade provides customers with the ability to dip a toe in the SDN waters through a limited deployment so they can experience the benefits of policy-driven control and self-service automation firsthand, or take a more conservative approach to adoption through a phased migration," Fisher said in an email to CRN. "This is incredibly valuable to customers that may have concerns about being early adopters or with environments so large that a wholesale transition wouldn't be possible."

Fisher, who said his Brocade business is on target to grow more than 70 percent this year, added that some of the flexibility offered through the Vyatta platform comes from its "extensive support" for OpenFlow protocol.

Brocade declined to give specific sales figures for its Vyatta line, which is based largely on the technology it gained through its 2012 acquisition of network virtualization startup Vyatta.

Lipsin stressed, however, that Brocade is focused on enabling its partners to bring the Vyatta platform to market through online training courses -- including separate tracks for partners' technical and sales engineers -- along with soon-to-launch Brocade specializations focused exclusively on software and cloud.

"The industry is going through what we believe is one of the most significant changes on the networking side in the last 20, 25 years," Lipsin said. "Of course, a lot of that is being driven by cloud, and big data and social media -- all those technologies that really are getting a lot more attention."

Brian Conboy, president of Advanticom, a Pittsburgh-based solution provider and Brocade partner, said he expects his Brocade business to be up roughly 30 percent in 2015, and that the Vyatta line, although early-on, is "resonating well" with customers.

Conboy also applauded the support Brocade has offered Advanticom, especially in its pivot toward more software-based solutions.

"Brocade engages us on a one-to-one basis, where the people who work with us know our business and know our marketplace," Conboy said. "Other manufacturers have programs for partner enablement -- and they are great programs -- but Brocade is more personally engaged."

Despite a new focus on software, Lipsin said hardware also will play a role in Brocade's overall SDN strategy.

"VARs are getting a lot of confusing messaging from vendors," he said. "Some are coming at this from a much more hardware-centric perspective and are trying to put more of a software label around it. Some are coming at this from a total software perspective with virtualization of the network. We are trying to make sure we have a good balance between the two."