At its annual Partner Exchange Summit in Dallas, Texas, this week, AT&T made several product announcements that underscore their determination to help shape the emerging channel. Mobility, virtualization, collaboration, and IoT connectivity are where the telco giant is placing its bets and reaching out to partners to help craft connectivity solutions for their customers.
Not all of the announcements had to do with brand new products. One of the biggest things to hit Partner Exchange this year is that AT&T is making its popular enterprise network function virtualization product, Flexware, available to solution providers. Flexware separates the software functionality for routing, firewalls, and WAN acceleration from the individual underlying hardware, allowing solution providers to deploy any combination of those functions on one general purpose appliance.
Sue Galvanek, vice president of marketing, pricing and product solutions for AT&T Partner Exchange, says simplicity is the overriding value-add of Flexware.
“If you think about the traditional network, what happens is the specific function like routing or firewalls requires specialized hardware that’s typically proprietary and usually from different vendors. If changes are needed, you have to make them manually box-by-box. With Flexware, we can configure and manage those functions via software.”
In action, AT&T installs a Flexware device at the customer’s premises, brings it online, and manages it just like it would a traditional managed network device. The difference is that the Flexware device connects to the AT&T software-defined enabled cloud, from which solution providers select and upload the desired software application.
For Rickie Richey, founder and CEO of AltaWorx, the software-defined WAN capabilities Flexware offers is a perfect example of how AT&T is keeping an eye on the future of the channel. As partners move away from selling technology and toward selling business solutions, SD-WAN gives them a way to help their customers quickly scale and deploy new solutions in days rather than weeks or months, he says.
“We started looking at Flexware in detail for a large customer in San Diego that we were going to deploy an SD-WAN solution for and in the process of doing that there were so many things in there that make sense,” Richey told The VAR Guy. “Even customers who maintain an MPLS now need the SD-WAN solution because they’re all now pushing stuff to cloud.”
For now, Flexware only offers virtual routing, firewalls, and WAN acceleration though partnerships with Cisco, Checkpoint, and Juniper, but Galvanek says AT&T has big plans to keep adding to that ecosystem.
As part of the Flexware announcement, the carrier is jumping on the collaboration bandwagon with AT&T Collaborate, a cloud-based, customizable hosted voice and collaboration service that integrates voice, video, web, and messaging tools. Galvanek says Collaborate is an easy tool partners can use to tap into Partner Exchange’s MDP, spiffs, and enablement services and grow their book of business with AT&T.
The company is also doubling down on helping traditional wireline or network-centric solution providers tap into wireless WAN, which they see as a big growth opportunity for partners. Galvanek says WWAN is a natural building block on what more traditional partners are already great at: providing network connectivity to customers. WWAN doesn’t require a shift in partners’ core competencies; rather, it’s more of an adjunct offering to their existing businesses. And for partners who may need a little more help, AT&T has put together a WWAN solution guide to teach them a little more about the basics of wireless routing, as well as a brand new API for mobility port management.
But the real “rolling thunder” in AT&T’s mobility momentum conversation is all about internet of things (IoT). It seems that partners are finally finding use cases to help them actually make money off of IoT. AT&T’s IoT activations have doubled since it launched its certification program and readiness assessment in April. Today, the carrier manages 32 billion connected devices, says Galvanek, and it’s always looking for new applications to help partners capitalize on the revenue potential of IoT.
“We’re seeing solution providers who have found a niche for connected devices like wearables. We have partners working with bicycle rentals, where IoT technology takes the payment and tracks the bikes, for example. Focusing on a vertical can be a great way to get into this space.”
The company also offers pre-packaged solutions in areas like remote access to applications or AT&T Fleet Complete, a fleet management toolset that has built in capabilities for things like tracking driver behavior, valuable assets, and federally mandated hours of service.
Ralph Heredia, VP of business development and co-founder of ZipIt, just released a new connected medical device built using the IoT kit, another AT&T offering that’s being pulled into the Partner Exchange. The kit allowed ZipIt to take a healthcare customer from non-connected to connected in just three months.
Heredia says that IoT requires a shift in thinking from channel partners who are used to seeing devices as a traditional phone, tablet, or other standard product. Experts say there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 (a figure bandied about a lot at this week’s summit). There aren’t 50 billion tablets out there, Heredia explains, so the way we think about devices has to change.
Still, Heredia admits even with support from vendors like AT&T, it isn’t always clear how IoT applications will make money for partners. It takes creative thinking and the ability to bounce ideas back and forth until a practical solution is in place.
“IoT isn’t one size fits all—that’s the challenge. And there’s no standard definition of what it actually is. It’s constantly changing.”
While support products like AT&T’s IoT kit are a starting point, Heredia says the real IoT opportunity is still being defined. Solution providers know they need to go beyond connectivity to use business analytics and intelligence to create smart devices, but how can companies like ZipIt package that into something a reseller channel can actually make money off of?
“We’re not there yet, but it’s coming through initiatives like AT&T’s and companies like us who are there to help talk through these opportunities.”