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Advantage Communications, Pushing Agent-MSP Convergence, Lands Extreme Networks Partnership

Advantage will provide white-labeled telecom life cycle management to elite Extreme Networks customers at no cost.

James Anderson

August 19, 2022

7 Min Read
Changing the Partner Conversation
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Advantage Communications Group, the agency that has evolved into an MSP through a decade-long investment, is now handling telecom services for Extreme Networks through new agreement.

The recently announced partnership gives Extreme Premier Services customers free access to the services Advantage provides around expense, inventory and life cycle management. They can access Advantage’s Command Center customer portal, available within Extreme’s platform, to view network performance insights, inventory and billing data, and automated invoicing and general ledger activities.

The partnership, which marks Advantage’s first with a major equipment vendor, expands Advantage’s base of global enterprises for whom it sources and manages network technology.

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Advantage’s David Gardner

“They’re offering our services through us to all those customers to do what we do best, which is to optimize those networks,” Advantage president and CEO David Gardner told Channel Futures.

Extreme SD-WAN

From Extreme’s perspective, the partnership bolsters the vendor’s goal of delivering a managed global SD-WAN service. Extreme in 2021 bought Infovista’s SD-WAN division, Ipanema. Last month Extreme launched its ExtremeCloud SD-WAN platform.

However, Gardner said Extreme needed to solve the challenge of how to manage the SD-WAN network transport underlay.

“One of the exciting things about SD-WAN is that it gives you the ability to sort of pick and choose your connectivity from the best of the best. You’re free from having to choose one global or a couple of regional providers. You can now have best-in-class connectivity and best-in-class pricing. That’s an incredible asset and one of the great reasons to move to SD-WAN. It’s also a liability. It’s something you’ve got to manage,” Gardner said. “So if you’re a mid[size] or large enterprise [with] hundreds or thousands of locations globally, you’ve got an incredible amount of potential operational efficiency, and of course, cost savings. But you need to figure that out.”

SD-WAN Adoption

Dell’Oro Group noted earlier this year that SD-WAN revenue grew 35% in 2021. That came after COVID-19 created “pent-up demand” for the technology.

But Gardner said many customers hold off on deploying SD-WAN because of the challenge of both procuring and optimizing the underlay. He said the white-labeled Advantage platform will alleviate those barriers.

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Extreme Networks’ Rob Rosa

Take it from Rob Rosa, senior vice president of global service sales at Extreme Networks.

“Extreme is focused on enabling customers to harness the benefits of advanced SD-WAN and cloud networking while reducing the cost and complexity of managing deployments, multi-site environments, endpoints and service provider relationships in-house,” Rosa said. “By joining forces with Advantage, we can provide customers access to a team of experts who can identify cost-saving opportunities and provide onsite expertise, helping remove financial and personnel barriers for organizations that need to upgrade and modernize their networks without the requirement of additional resources or budget.”

Advantage had not previously sold the Ipanema SD-WAN offering. However, Gardner said the Extreme leadership team quickly understood the value Advantage could provide.

“They’ve got a vision and an understanding of where they’re going and they very, very quickly understood how how we can be a great partner to help enable their growth,” he said.

The Advantage Model

Leadership at New York-based Advantage Communications Group say they have been envisioning a new type of technology advisory company since the company’s inception in 2001. Gardner and co-founder Steve Rome were both outsiders to the channel. Gardner had recently earned his MBA, and Rome had been working in the insurance industry. But they knew that the agent channel, which primarily draws revenue through commissions from technology suppliers, offered a rich recurring revenue stream. Historically, agents have made a living by offering free technology sourcing services to business, brokering network connectivity, hosted voice, and in recent years, evolving into other technologies.

Although Gardner jokes that neither he nor Rome could have identified a POTS line at the time, he said they envisioned the agent channel evolving. Might an ethical Marsh McLennan-type company, which provided a deep portfolio of …

… advisory and management services, emerge? It’s the same vision Randy Jeter, chief strategy officer at ARG, recently described to Channel Futures.

The Big Pivot

But this model would fly in the face of how telecom brokers traditionally valued themselves. You’d be doing more than just finding multiple quotes for the customer. You’d need to invest in services.

“The reality was that a historic agency was really just providing sourcing, helping someone find a provider, and the legacy was saving money,” Gardner said.

But this future, of course, was easier said than done. The legacy telecommunications agent focused on sale because it was often a one- or two-person shop. They would need to hire more people who could handle post-sale operations, and they’d need to build platforms to manage the complex technology life cycle of large global customers.

Thus, Advantage set out to hire full-time developers and to build a proprietary software platform. The platform includes the customer-facing Command Center, as well as a backend portal. Gardner calls it telecom life-cycle optimization technology (TLO).

“It was about managing our business efficiently. Being able to ensure that our team could function day in and day out in a system that helped provide the kind of efficiency and professionalism that large enterprises need. If you’re going do a good job, you’ve got to be well organized, and doing that on spreadsheets just isn’t going to fly,” Gardner said.

The company also expanded internationally to ensure its multinational customers got the real-time support they needed.

From Agent to MSP

Although Advantage helps customers mange their telecom expenses, Gardner emphasizes that the firm does much more than that.

“We’re not a TEM, and we’re very careful with that, because it’s not the focus of the business. We are an MSP first of all. I don’t know how many people from the legacy agent side are using [that term]. But I think we’re one of the pioneers of what I will call the transition from an agent that helps source, to a full life-cycle management MSP,” he said.

However, Advantage remains, in some interpretations, an agent business. The company continues to rely heavily on recurring commissions while offering largely free services.

“There are some small fees here and there for certain things, but they’re minimal at best,” Gardner said. “The requirement is you must source through us. We’ve created a completely new service model, but we’ve maintained the commission-based model that funds our business.

Gardner said enterprises traditionally relied on three or four partners for the services Advantage provides. That often starts with spending “gobs of money” to get insight from a consultant like Deloitte to learn about the technology the business needs. It might bring in an agent for the actual sourcing or source it internally, and it might also bring in a TEM provider to optimize cost savings.

“You’ve got at least three potentially internal or external resources to try and put your life cycle together to manage your telecom and technology,” Gardner said. “We’ve built that all into a single platform.”

Scaling Up

Gardner said Advantage typically works with small and mid-size enterprises with a global footprint. Although the largest enterprises have traditionally preferred to keep their procurement in-house, Gardner said that tide is shifting.

“It’s amazing how the customers are getting larger and larger and larger. We’re dealing with more and more global players; the complexity is there, and we can alleviate it.”

Gardner said Advantage had been operating in a stealth mode of sorts up until now. But he said the company now proclaims its value to the world. Moreover, he said the scaling will continue, with the firm increasing its development and international teams.

“It’s been almost 10 years of building software and platforms to get here. It is a multi-, multimillion-dollar investment. And you can imagine the time and the effort over almost a decade of getting where we are,” Gardner said. “And I can tell you, we are doubling down.”

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email James Anderson or connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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