Brocade to grow Partner Community on a Solution-centric Basis

K. P. Unnikrishnan, APAC marketing director, Brocade, talks about the importance of SDN in the company's strategy and how they're emphasizing on training and certification for better service delivery.

CW: Is software-defined network (SDN) really going to be the buzzword of 2013?

Unnikrishnan: It is all about future-proofing; making investments. You have infrastructure that is a good 20-30 years old. Even in our part of the world, by 2014, we are going to witness video traffic, mobile proliferation, and decentralization of the network and compute power. Given this, we don't even know where things are going to head, say, about 5 years down the line. SDN is just one part of these larger questions with these technologies being in play. So, we advise enterprises to be prepared with cloud optimization and end-to-end virtualization.

There are companies such as VMware (Nycera) which are doing some good work, and the virtualization piece is something everyone is looking at very keenly as a critical component.

CW: What kind of dialogue is Brocade currently having with enterprises regarding SDN?

Unnikrishnan: SDN is possibly something that is coming up. Do we have SDN networks? Not really. In my opinion, SDN is at least three steps away from big data, and will take a while to demystify, as far as the level of organizational understanding goes. There are companies that are doing it. Nycera, for example, is doing it and a whole lot of small players. At Brocade, we have software and features ready for SDN. The good thing is everybody is on fabric. We have the broadest portfolio in fabric. So, when we talk about equal cost multi-path (ECMP) and link state routing (LSR), I am talking about customer acceptance and enterprises taking their networks to the next level

CW: So, there is a carrier strategy and an enterprise strategy for SDN. Are these mutually exclusive?

Unnikrishnan: As a user, how much of bandwidth you use is not material. But, as a service provider, the dynamics change a bit. It's all about monetizing every gigabyte. During a recent round table we conducted, CIOs of service provider companies revealed that they are indeed beginning to see a need for SDN. Our approach is slightly different for both segments. There are some products that fit into either or both or go somewhere along the middle. Scalability and how much of infrastructure you siphon off for the user (be it the one sitting in the enterprise or the end user-himself) are important.

CW: The lines in the datacenter space seem to be blurring. Does Brocade see itself as a collaborator or as a competitor to the OEMs, including Cisco?

Unnikrishnan: One of the biggest advantages we have as a networking player is that we have great OEM relationships with Microsoft, VMware, Parallels, Hitachi, and Fujitsu among others. About 70 percent of our business is from OEMs.

One of the differentiators that Brocade brings to the table is that we introduced Fabric-as-a-Service; we brought in Ethernet fabric. These are obvious technology differentiators. Players such as Juniper and Cisco followed suit. As far as players such as Cisco are concerned, they play in our space; there is competition.

CW: Last year, Brocade had clearly stated that it has lined out an approach of talking to Cisco partners. Evangelism is a long-drawn process. What is your approach?

Unnikrishnan: Yes, we are indeed having a dialogue with competition. However, we do not have a statistical number on conversions of partners.

Coming back to partners, we don't have zillions of them. Hence, the channel conflict is the least. We will be growing the partners as a community on a solution-centric basis. Else, it will turn into a price war. We see training and certification as a key investment because we are a small organization and have no choice. I would rather have 500 partner representatives than 500 sales representatives.

As a case in point, Brocade has pumped in close to $2 million in Asia just for enablement. Training comes under a separate unit called the Brocade University.

The challenge in Asia is about localizing and customizing training, based on languages for different geographies. Training and certification is hard work. It spins off into revenue. We now have a person who runs training in Asia--a couple of learning centers--to see that it is monetized to the fullest.

CW: Will the Brocade University remain a cost center for the company?

Unnikrishnan: As we see it, right now it is a cost center. Eventually, it has to become a profit center. We have about 8000 Brocade-certified engineers who will be our engines of evangelism. It is a big revenue channel, but what is vital is that we have to help people understand.

Importantly, we have also segregated Services and Education, unlike many other organizations. One-fifth of our revenues go back to R&D. It is all about deliverables.

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