Red Hat readies storage for channel

Ranga Rangachari, vice president and general manager for storage at Red Hat.

Ranga Rangachari, vice president and general manager for storage at Red Hat.

After spending much of the last year building out its storage portfolio through internal development and acquisition, Red Hat is looking to get its channel partners on board for a big push in the software-defined storage market.

It’s been about a year since the company purchased InkTank for its enterprise implementation of the Ceph open source block and object storage system, and Ranga Rangachari, vice president and general manager for storage at Red Hat, says the company has “learned some things” and is ready to hit the channel at large with its products. In fact, it’s already started building out the network of technology partners, embedded partners, and ISV partners who will either build on the platform or incorporate it into their own offerings. But now, he says, it’s time to start reaching out ot he VAR community.

“The hard work of making our products channel-ready is done. Now it’s a question of approaching channel partners and ramping them up to be successful,” Rangachari said.

That hard work has included the development of technical reference architectures and customer references and success stories, tools to be used by technical staff and marketing, respectively, at its soon-to-be-developed partner network Rangchari sees ultimately delivering Red Hat’s storage offerings to the masses. He sees plenty of opportunity – Ceph in particular has become “the de facto leader for storage substrate for OpenStack,” and interest in OpenStack alone will power significant demand. It’s a good match, Rangachari said, for a channel where he has seen significant increases “in terms of expertise and value-added services” over the last two years.

“The ideal partners we see being successful will be somebody with storage experience, and with some experience with Linux, because it’s still a solution built on top of Linux,” Rangachari said. “We’re a great fit for somebody who’s just getting started on their cloud journey, especially around OpenStack.”

Rangachari sees the process of building out that initial channel occurring over the balance of calendar 2015, perhaps wrapping up as early as mid-fall. Like most things in Red Hat’s channel, the focus is on finding a select few partners who are the right fit versus hosting a “big tent” kind of channel program, and Rangachari said he expects the storage channel for the company numbering “a few dozen” initially. He doesn’t expect to have much trouble filling those ranks.

“Six months ago, we had to go find partners. Now we have partners coming to us, wanting to get trained, with customers asking for these solutions today,” he said. He adds that a lunch with Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst and some top partners at least week’s North American Partner Conference in Orlando revealed “interest from some of our Canadian partners who are raring to go on it.” “They see demand out there. We don’t really need to go demand gen for them.”

That interest is helped by Red Hat’s close connection to OpenStack, and indeed the open cloud-building technology is something of a game changer in the software-defined storage market, Rangachari said.

“It’s very tough to go in and tell people to rip out their storage infrastructure and put in a new one. But the brand new infrastructure of OpenStack is causing people to rethink their whole infrastructure,” he said. “It’s new workloads and emerging workloads. Object was a very a thin sliver of the market a couple of years ago, but now it’s becoming a very key part of the storage strategy.”

That’s leading to another significant shift in the buying patterns for storage, one which solution providers will have to adjust to, and for which VARs will have to make new connections within their customers.

“It’s no longer about the system manager, an IT administrator discussion. It’s being led by the developers,” Rangachari said. “As we cater to both sides of the fence, our partners have a good way to talk to both side of the table. It’s no longer a product conversation, it’s a solution conversation, and that’s where the partners come in.”