NEC and Dell recently announced that the NEC ProgrammableFlow Controller has achieved interoperability with Dell’s S-Series of managed switches, allowing customers to create a high-performance SDN Ethernet fabric. SDxCentral recently talked with Dell Senior Product Manager Jaiwant Virk and NEC Director Don Clark about the partnership and further interoperability, as well as a new distribution agreement that allows Dell to resell NEC’s award-winning ProgrammableFlow SDN controller.
SDxCentral: Given that both NEC and Dell have switches of their own, what was the driving force behind taking your partnership to a new level?
Virk: From Dell’s point of view, this was a very nice transition from a long-standing working relationship with NEC. From the past two years of working with NEC, we realized they have a noticeably mature software-defined networking (SDN) solution. Historically, collaboration has been at an engineering-level, working together to ensure that our products were interoperable. We are both now comfortable in certifying compatibility between NEC’s SDN controller and our Dell switches. With a solution that is mature and robust for the market, we can support customers who are now moving from the lab into production.
On the sales front, we on-boarded NEC as a partner so our sales guys would be able to build quotes complete with a SDN controller, switches, and all the peripherals. It streamlines the ordering process. Our sales team now can bring to market a very comprehensive SDN solution, and they are compensated for reselling the ProgrammableFlow controller. From the customer’s point of view, this is now a unified SDN solution with a single point of contact for all sales and technical queries.
Clark: Working with Dell has been a great technical collaboration. NEC has ProgrammableFlow deployed at over 250 customers, so we have a lot of experience in deploying SDN networks. We are really focused on open networking so customers have more choice in the solutions they deploy. We want to work with partners that can meet our high standards of development so we can offer joint, production-ready solutions like the ones we’ve deployed. Our experience with Dell has already shown we can build effective solutions with them. This announcement takes our relationship to the next level where Dell customers have access to our joint solution.
Dell rounds out the switch platforms where can bring SDN value. Dell has a compelling capability to design and deliver networks for customers globally, and that brings significant reach for NEC to places where we didn’t have a presence before.
Dell’s ecosystem includes not just NEC, but other partners as well. How does Dell’s sales team figure out which components to turn to for joint solutions?
Virk: Dell is all about choices, and the choices are really the customers’. I don’t think our sales team will have any problems with NEC having its own switches or Dell having other partners. We onboard a lot of partners we work with after a very, very thorough vetting process. We understand that not every one of our partners plays in every single space. There is not a lot of confusion because communication is very clear on which opportunities are more appropriate to which partner’s strengths. We try to limit overlap as much as possible.
Say a sale happens and the customer wants a mature solution. It already has Dell switches, and it wants to continue buying Dell switches but wants a controller go with them. What level of interoperability can customers expect from Dell and NEC?
Virk: It’s a joint effort all the way through. Both of our teams are involved from an early stage to make sure this is the right solution for our customer. The agreement allows our sales teams to resell the ProgrammableFlow Controller Software as one of the software options sold with our networking hardware. Dell’s S4810, S4820, S5000 and S6000 series of switches running Dell OS9 have been verified compatible with the NEC ProgrammableFlow Controller version 6, and there are plans for validating more Dell switches.
I don’t foresee any problems because we’ve had successful joint interactions in the past with customers. We are in a lot of POCs together, and users deal with Dell’s first-line support. We recently closed a joint deal with a US higher education institution for their computer science department.
What does ProgrammableFlow bring to the Dell ecosystem?
Clark: NEC brings a production ready, feature rich SDN solution to the Dell lineup. ProgrammableFlow has been deployed widely in service providers, enterprise, and production systems in data centers and campus networks. We have a lot of experience with meeting the requirements and achieving the agility customers are looking for from SDN.
One of the exciting aspects of working with Dell has been training the Dell field teams. As we roll out the training, they bring a lot of industry expertise and customer context in terms of identifying use cases where the joint solution could be applied.
How does the partnership help you achieve or reinforce strategic goals?
Virk: This is going to open up a lot more avenues for both of us. Our joint solution is a real alternative for our customers, based on an industry-mature controller and industry-mature, open-networking-based hardware. It’s a very nice mixture for our customers to open up to newer SDN-based installations. Hardware and vendor lock-in is a big issue for many of our customers. We hope to conquer that with these partnerships.
Both of you are active in OpenDaylight, yet ProgrammableFlow is a commercial controller. As an end user, how should I approach looking at OpenDaylight vs ProgrammableFlow ?
Clark: NEC is the largest single contributor to OpenDaylight, and we are guided by customer requirements and the direction they want to follow. OpenDaylight continues to mature and NEC is committed to supporting it. At the same time, our customers look to us to deliver production-ready quality that can be fully supported today. The ProgrammableFlow controller has a good track record of delivering the performance, scalability, and reliability customers need for their environments, and we want to continue that development over time.
Thank you both for joining us today.
Virk, Clark: You’re welcome.