The networking space is crowded. How do you make sure you’ve chosen the right partner?

Kris Blackmon, Head of Channel Communities

January 25, 2019

4 Min Read
Data Center Guy

We’re at an inflection point when it comes to IT infrastructure hardware, and it’s making life more difficult for network engineers who have to make decisions on which vendors support different network building blocks.

On the one hand, data centers are reaching the physical limits of what their legacy IT hardware can support. On the other, advanced technologies such as 5G, virtualization, automation and hybrid cloud continue to increase bandwidth demand. The global optical network equipment market is projected to exceed $28 billion by 2024, driven by the ever-rising numbers of mobile smartphones, laptops and PCs that are allowing users to shop, chat, game and conduct business online.

Network architects now have to weave together different networking building blocks to create viable solutions instead of just building out a single-vendor environment. They’re challenged with meeting complex business challenges while not adding cost or operational complexity — not an easy mandate. Most end customers don’t understand – or care – that balancing legacy and emerging technologies can be tricky, involving multiple networking vendors and complex integrations. They just know they want to be able to collect, process, store and manage immense amounts of data at high speeds with no interruption.

In the as-a-service age, there’s much less talk about hardware than there was a decade ago. Thanks to the cloud, the channel is far more services-oriented than hardware-oriented these days, which has caused an enormous shift in how partners operate, says Brian McConnell, CEO of optical networking hardware provider InterOptic. In fact, InterOptic’s very existence is emblematic of that new channel paradigm, where the market isn’t dominated by one or two big networking hardware OEMs.

Today, partners have to sift through far more networking solutions coming from hardware providers, service providers and third-party sources. That increased competition has tightened margins for partners, causing them to look for alternatives to traditional OEM solutions in order to gain back some of that lost margin, says McConnell.

But the ecosystem, as crowded as it is and as many different products and services it encompasses, is crowded and confusing to many MSPs and SIs who now have sift through dozens of vendors to find the right one for their customers. According to InterOptic, there are 10 things channel partners should keep top of mind when choosing a hardware partner.

  1. 100 Gig readiness: Is the hardware partner ready for the technology required by 100 Gbps? What about 25 Gbps and 400 Gbps? Can they support new networking formats, like BiDi and SWDM?

  2. Speed and inventory: Because MSPs and SIs often get “rush jobs” with tight deadlines, you want a provider that has sufficient stock in-house for large last-minute orders and can provide next day delivery.

  3. Agility: Can the partner cope with different kinds of projects in various locations and conditions?

  4. Interoperability: Is the hardware compatible with your client’s data center hardware and software? And have they tested it to ensure it is compatible with all relevant operating system versions including the latest ones?

  5. Service: What does the service package look like? How long is the product warranty? Are you comfortable putting their service teams in front of your client?

  6. Cost: Choosing a highest-cost partner can lose your company RFPs and profitability. But choosing the lowest-cost partners can spell disaster if the equipment isn’t reliable, fully tested or interoperable. You want a partner that is experienced, can still provide significant cost-savings, and is reliable.

  7. Technical expertise: Can they add engineering and application support? Are they able to send someone to be on-site? What sort of pre- and post-sales support do they offer? Do they offer one-on-one technical support?

  8. Financial stability: How long has the hardware partner been around? Who are they backed by? Can they buy $1 million worth of inventory and hold it if need be?

  9. Point of contact: Does the POC change a lot? Are you being handed off to a junior-level person after having initial conversations with higher-ups? That’s a red flag, if that’s the case.

  10. Reputation: What sorts of customers do they have now? What kinds of contracts are they on?

Most importantly, like with any OEM offering, partners have to makes sure the hardware they’re buying is coming from a reliable and secure source, so it isn’t going to fail in three months. It isn’t all about cost, either. Below a certain price point, quality and support drops off and customers’ network uptime will ultimately take a hit.

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About the Author(s)

Kris Blackmon

Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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