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Comcast SDN Platform Will Help Partners Move Into A 'New Frontier' With The Cable Giant

‘We'll sell the network and the platform, but the power of this tool lies in what you can do to manage that network of behalf of the client and charge for your own services. That's where the channel can make money,’ says Comcast channel chief Craig Schlagbaum.

Comcast is stepping outside the bounds of connectivity provider. The largest cable provider in the country is heading down a virtualized networking path and wants partners—agents and VARs alike—to seize software-defined networking opportunities.  

"We've always provided the world's best last-mile product, but what we haven't offered was a complementary component in software-defined networking until now that could bolster the power of that network. I'm proud to say we've jumped into a new frontier with SDN," Craig Schlagbaum, vice president of indirect channels for Comcast Business, told CRN ahead of Comcast's keynote at The Channel Company's XChange 2019 event in Las Vegas Monday.

Comcast in September quietly launched its ActiveCore SDN platform, with SD-WAN as its inaugural offering. The provider has since added a managed router offering and plans to follow up with more on top of the platform, including a managed security and managed Wi-Fi offering.

Now, Comcast's ActiveCore platform is ready for prime time with partners, and Schlagbaum said that he believes the channel is ready, too.

"Now that we've jumped into a world with virtualized network functions, we think partners are also considering this model," he said. "And if partners were thinking about it, now is really the time," he said.  

[Related: WATCH: Solution Providers Talk Cyber Security, 5G At XChange 2019]

Phalanx Technology Group, a Chantilly, Va.-based MSP that specializes in cloud migration, security and networking services, has been keeping an eye on SDN and SD-WAN technologies. Kelly Yeh, president of the company, said that SD-WAN technology, specifically, stands to upend the channel's business. 

"I'm seeing if I need to transform my business to become an SD-WAN provider and partner with providers as opposed to being moved toward obsolescence," Yeh said. "You can't be afraid of changing your business, and you have to put yourself in your customers’ shoes."

SDN and SD-WAN are becoming increasingly compelling to businesses, Yeh said. "It's a no-brainer for them —from a risk mitigation standpoint, SD-WAN reduces the size of the population that they have to worry about."

One of the best parts of Comcast's ActiveCore is that partners will be able to add their own services on top of the platform, in addition to Comcast's SD-WAN and managed services. This will help partners morph into MSPs, Schlagbaum added.

"We'll sell the network and the platform, but the power of this tool lies in what you can do to manage that network of behalf of the client and charge for your own services," he said. "That's where the channel can make money."  

Partners and end customers have been wanting Comcast to move into network management so that their needs are being handled by one entity, said Jodi Hagermann, senior director of product management for Comcast, who created Comcast's SDN offering.

"It's about solutions, and how we are solving customer problems and designing solutions that meet their needs," she said.  

Comcast ActiveCore can work with Comcast's connectivity, but partners and customers can also "bring their own bandwidth" so that businesses outside the Comcast footprint can take advantage of ActiveCore, Hagermann said.

Comcast is also offering higher commissions to partners selling SDN solutions compared with those selling data and voice solutions today.

ActiveCore's SD-WAN offering is powered by Versa Networks' technology. For future virtualized offerings, Comcast plans to partner with additional best-of-breed providers in spaces such as security.

The Philadelphia-based cable giant wants the channel to know how serious it is about its SDN focus. Comcast has added headcount around ActiveCore, including a technical team and a dedicated marketing team to help partners sell SDN.

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