Demand compels container management vendor Rancher to create partner program

The two year-old startup has created a partner program faster than planned, because of requests from channel members driven in turn by requests from their customers.


Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs’ co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing

Cupertino CA-based Rancher Labs, which makes container management software, has announced the launch of the Rancher Partner Network, their inaugural partner program. The global program is designed to support three types of partners: resellers, MSPs, and consultancies who do not sell directly.

Rancher is a two year-old startup that builds a turnkey open source platform for people who run containers.

“We are used by organizations as they start to adopt Docker to manage it and put it in protection,” said Shannon Williams, Rancher Labs’ co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing.

The Docker engine, an open source tool, is managed by creating clusters. The most popular orchestration tools for this are Kubernetes, Docker Swarm and Mesos.

“There are still two elements missing,” Williams said. “First, you have to build the clusters and that’s a big chunk of work which has to be repeated over and over again. Second, the cluster also has to connect to the infrastructure. Rancher fills those gaps. It is used to turn on a container cloud in the same way OpenStack would for a virtual machine.” Rancher also ships with fully supported commercial distributions of Kubernetes, Docker Swarm and Mesos.

Rancher’s extremely rapid growth led to demand from prospective partners, and the creation of the partner program.

“We have had over a million downloads of the Rancher management server, which has been very popular in the open source community, and that’s what drove the channel, that latent demand,” Williams said. “Channel companies were contacting us about delivering Rancher to their customers, either to implement it or host it as an MSP. In the beginning we had no program to deal with that – other than having them buy it for their customer. We thought the market was too early for a partner program. But by the last quarter, more than half our business was coming from channels, so we decided to take this step.”

Williams said that he has never see open source community growth as fast as this before.

“We’ve never had partners calling us like this before,” he said. “In the past, we have been out there trying to recruit them. The difference now is that users are making it clear to them they are using the tools. It’s very much bottom-up demand.”

The program is a single tier one, which recognizes three types of partners.

The largest group is resellers, who resell on their paper and provide Level One support. The other two groups are hosting MSPs, and non-selling consulting partners, don’t sell support, and don’t want to own the account.

The big obligation on partners is a requirement to get a person certified. That person is also required to take further ongoing training, which is provided online.

In return, partners receive the training, MDF, and leads.

“We are a 40 people company, and we don’t have any coverage at all in big parts of the U.S. or Europe,” Williams said.

Rancher is launching with between 15 and 20 partners, including at least one in Canada, but Williams said the pipeline now is between two and three times as many.

“Partner size seems to vary, from very small ones to large global SIs,” he said. “A lot are VMware partners, who also work with tools like Puppet and Chef and who have a background in dev/ops and cloud consulting. That’s true for containers in general, so it’ not surprising that’s what we would be seeing.”

Williams believes that given the nature of their product, there will be more than the usual amount of churn in their channel.

“Some will get a customer and joint the program, and it turns out to be a one-off,” he said. “It all comes down to the amount of demand in the market. I’m surprised this is as big as it is already. If we have 70-80 solid partners worldwide by the end of next year, I’d be thrilled.”