Big Switch Takes Disaggregation to the Channel


By: Michael Vizard

The battle over the disaggregation of network hardware and software has been simmering for several years now. One of earliest proponents of that concept, Big Switch Networks, today announced it is now ready to take its case to the channel -- stepping up its battle against larger suppliers such as Cisco (CSCO).

Big Switch says the launch of a formal channel program will give partners structured framework and financial incentives for certifying products with Big Switch's portfolio of software-defined networking (SDN) products. It comes at a time when the company's archrival Cisco is now aggressively moving to also disaggregate hardware and software. Big Switch already has existing reseller agreements with large partners including Dell and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE).

Taking on Cisco

Susheel Chitre, vice president of business development and strategic alliances for Big Switch, says open networking platforms that separate network software and hardware is now enough of a mainstream concept that channel partners are thinking about delivering these solutions to enterprise customers. The Cisco approach to licensing software is only a half measure. Customers are still locked into hardware provided by Cisco, says Chitre.

After making the case to carriers and Fortune 1000 class enterprise IT organizations for several years now, Big Switch is launching a channel program that rewards resellers, integrators, and other partner organizations for driving sales of Big Switch software. Big Switch already has access to channel partners via OEM agreements with Dell EMC and HPE. The new moves mean that Big Switch is looking to develop a complementary channel focused on partners that deploy its Big Cloud Fabric and Big Monitoring Fabric software on other x86 infrastructure. Chitre says BSN will also reward partners and make additional sales and marketing resources available to Dell EMC and HPE partners as well.

The launch of a formal BSN channel program is arguably long overdue. A preponderance of networking equipment is sold via channel partners that exercise a lot of influence over a huge base of customers. Most of those partners, however, are not going to recommend bare metal switches based on an open-source operating system as an alternative to incumbent vendors such as Cisco unless there is something in it for them. Depending on the level of tier a channel partner participates in, the BSN program provides partners with backend rebates ranging from five to 25 percent as well sales leads. Chitre says those kinds of rewards should provide partners with the incentives they need to more aggressively push BSN software.

"They will look a lot more for new opportunities," says Chitre.

Monitoring as a Beachhead

Big Switch already has some partners that resell both its software and Cisco products, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. Big Switch has had some success with partners that have used its monitoring software, known as Big Mon, in an existing networking environment based largely on proprietary hardware. In effect, BSN is trying to use monitoring to establish a beachhead inside enterprise organizations from which it can later expand.

Many organizations are starting to change the way they acquire networking and hardware. There are still large numbers of customers that because of habit and inertia will continue to buy networking software that comes bundled with hardware. But as more IT organizations separate the licensing of software from the acquisition of hardware, the better chance upstart rivals might have to finally usurp well-entrenched rivals. In fact, a recent Gartner report finds 75 percent of the end users indicated that they expect open networking to become more relevant in their purchasing decisions in the next 24 months. Of course, open networking is often in the eye of the beholder. But chances are high that most of the battle over open networking is going to be fought like most networking wars in the channel trenches.