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'7 Minutes' with Apstra Head of Sales and Business Development Dave Butler

Apstra's Dave Butler is the lastest channel chief in our 7 Minutes hot seat.

Lorna Garey

August 28, 2017

4 Min Read

**Editor’s Note: “7 Minutes” is a feature where we ask channel executives from startups – or companies that may be new to the Channel Partners audience – a series of quick questions about their businesses and channel programs.**

Apstra came out of stealth mode last June and promptly was named a “cool vendor” in the enterprise networking category by Gartner. You can check out the report here.

Apstra provides what it calls intent-based networking software; by that, it means essentially telling the network what the customer wants it to do and letting the company’s AOS (Apstra OS) software figure out how to make it happen, as opposed to manually configuring services device by device. Then, Apstra monitors the network in case of problems, fixes what it can and alerts on what it can’t.

PacketPushers’ Ethan Banks provides a deep technical dive.


Apstra’s Dave Butler

AOS is policy-driven and can work with network gear from multiple vendors, including Arista, Cisco and Cumulus Networks. If you haven’t heard of intent-based networking yet, you likely will. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 10 percent of enterprises will use intent-driven network design and operation tools. Sounds underwhelming — except that the consultancy says those firms will reduce their network outages by 65 percent.

We caught up with Apstra’s Dave Butler for the latest in our “7 Minutes” installment.

Channel Partners: Tell us what customers love about your product or service. What’s the secret selling sauce?

Dave Butler: Data centers are plagued with network problems: failures and outages; great difficulty root-causing complex problems and “grey failures” (long mean-time-to-insight); poor agility — a long time required to release new services; and a fragile, brittle nature. Network engineers walk on eggshells.

Apstra has pioneered intent-based networking (IBN) to enable a CIO to build a self-operating network that configures itself, fixes itself, defends itself and documents itself. We analyze high-fidelity telemetry from multi-vendor network elements and compare what is actually happening with the intent of the engineering team, enabling near-real-time repair. This is a material advance over box-by-box troubleshooting and expensive machine-learning tools.

Our IBN dynamically determines how things should be changed to accommodate failures (deviations from intent), and then construct, validate and push those changes as appropriate.

Summary: IBN prevents failures through automation of manual repetitive tasks based on intent. We cut MTTI by over 50 percent on those failures that remain and improve agility by 50-90 percent.

CP: Describe your channel program — metal levels, heavy on certifications, open or selective, unique features?

DB: We do not segregate partners into tiers at this time. There are substantial professional services required of our partners, so we focus on those with serious integration skills over box pushers. The program is selective. Registration discounts are very substantial relative to non-registered discounts. There is very high revenue potential, and third-party drag revenue on a per-account basis.

CP: Quick-hit answers: Percentage of sales through the channel, number of partners, average margin. Go.

DB: Currently a high percentage of revenue flows through the channel with a goal of reaching 100 percent.

Note that we are making a new market, so we are heavily engaged with accounts until new partners are up and running. We have very few partners and are keeping it that way. We believe that our partners should make money and not be adversely affected by Apstra competing with itself by overdistribution.

CP: Who are your main competitors, and what makes your offering better?

DB: Intent-based networking is a new offering with a substantial impact to an organization. Our main competitor is …

… inertia, or partial attempts to DIY.  Everyone needs to solve these problems; just when and whether its internal or with Apstra.

CP: How do you think your technology portfolio will change in the next three years?

DB: We will expand the number of devices supported for analytics and control; we’ll support more virtual devices; we’ll support ever broadening analytics. Of course, there is no limit to the extensions which can be made to intent-based reasoning itself.

CP: How do you expect your channel strategy to evolve over that timeframe?

DB: We expect that the partners, based upon their growing expertise with IBN, will be able to specialize and offer unique services of their own. Our program will expand to recognize and reward this.

CP: What didn’t we ask that partners should know?

DB: The industry has recognized the power of true intent-based networking. There is a catch-up game being played by companies to label existing, proprietary products with intent, regardless of the underlying capability.  The value of true intent-based technology is quite profound and we (Apstra) have a good three-year head start, and we impart these benefits to operators of any vendor or technology. It’s good to be both vendor-agnostic and far ahead in the game.

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