Facebook Makes Enterprise Networking Case With New Products; Solution Providers Shrug

Facebook is starting to make its case as a provider of networking technology and collaboration tools to the enterprise with the launch of a new 100-gigabit Ethernet (GbE) Wedge 100 switch, its Workplace collaboration product and its newly-formed Partner Program. But is it enough to get Facebook into the enterprise conversation?

The social media giant, with a market cap of $375 billion, has formed a strategic partnership with Edgecore Networks, owned by Taiwan-based Accton Technology, to produce its Wedge 100 switch. Businesses can now buy Facebook's second-generation switch through Accton, Edgecore and Edgecore's channel partners.

Facebook's other technology partnerships of late include ones with Big Switch Networks, Cumulus Networks and most recently Apstra, named one of CRN's 10 Coolest Startups of 2016.

[Related: 10 Things Partners Should Know About Cisco's $2 Billion Security Business]

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As Facebook's networking division exerts more influence into enterprise networking, it's worth checking to see where Facebook is on the networking channel radar.

"I have not heard from any customer that sees Facebook as a player in the market," said Chris Bottger, chief technology officer at IVCi, a Hauppauge, New York-based solution provider who partners with Cisco and Polycom, ranked No. 234 on CRN's 2015 SP500 list. "It's a culture thing. It doesn’t matter what they might invest in as a great product, you've got that cultural thing to overcome that gets you out of that consumer world and that's not there yet."

Facebook's new 32-port Wedge 100 is an updated version of its Wedge 40 switch unveiled two years ago. The new top-of-rack Wedge switch has speeds of up to 100 Gbps designed for industry-standard 19-inch racks with Facebook's FBOSS software on top.

"Facebook is basically proving that they can provide lower costs, do this distributed architecture and they can do it better than a lot of the service providers do it – but they aren't willing to monetize it in the way that a Cisco or Juniper [Networks] would," said Analyst Patrick Filkins from Technology Business Research (TBR). "It wouldn't surprise me if they tried to eventually monetize it more heavily, but right now everybody is sort of just glancing over at it [and] not buying."

Facebook also recently launched a new enterprise-focused collaboration product called Workplace. The company on-boarded about a dozen channel partners into its new Facebook Workplace Partner Program to sell the solution.

Workplace includes voice and video calling, and messaging, with tools that are separated from a user's personal Facebook account.

"On paper it looks like everybody can do the same thing – video, IM, chat, document sharing – it looks like the same thing … but that's a consumer platform, period," said Bottger. "Microsoft still suffers from that today with Skype. There's a lot of companies that the first thing they do is shut down Skype so nobody can talk to the outside world because there's still that perception in the workplace that it’s a consumer platform."

"And just because Facebook is a household name, it doesn't mean that partners are going to go, 'Hey, they know how to effectively run a partner program,'" said Bottger.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some solution providers believe that it will take several years and a much larger R&D investment and marketing strategy from Facebook before the social networking king enters the enterprise conversation.

"It'll be years and years before they crack into [the conversation]," said one top executive from a solution provider who partner with Juniper Networks, HPE-Aruba Networks and Polycom, who declined to be named. "Skype was able to make its way in because Microsoft bought them … I know one of my customer's even blocks Facebook from being used, so [Facebook's Workplace] will be a tough sell."

Solution providers said Facebook could face difficulties around the channel as well which will hinder its ability to scale.

Bottger said companies like Facebook have pressure to ramp up quickly and once they realize it takes time to build up sales through solution providers, direct sales might seem like a quicker route to success.

"Facebook is likely going to say, 'Hey, we have tens of thousands people ourselves and we have a ton of money – let's go and build up our own sales force to generate the demand,'" said Bottger. "Then you are going to be competing against the partners … Without the partners, ultimately you can't scale to that next level. You can get a great jumpstart acceleration [with direct sales], but you can't get beyond that."