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The great campus gold rush

The surest way of getting rich in a gold rush is not, in fact, to pan for the shiny stuff. Of the thousands of pioneers who crossed the Great Plains in 1849, only a fraction made their fortune through gold. Those with real business nous loaded their wagons with picks, shovels, food, and liquor and made a killing by selling them to prospectors.

By reading technology papers it’s easy to think that, when it comes to networking, the only source of gold is the data centre. Certainly, it’s where the most exciting developments, from software-defined networking to Ethernet fabrics, seem to be happening. It’s also undeniable that data centres represent highly lucrative opportunities for the networking firms that actually win the contracts.

Yet when it comes to networking, there are equally rich seams that the channel can mine – not least of these being campus environments. This is a sizeable market: the technology and implementations are becoming more complex, which presents more opportunities for consultancy and growth.

Campus opportunities

For some time, campus has been seen as the poor relation to the data centre, both in terms of the technical sophistication they require and the profitability they bring. In fact, the EMEA campus networking market is worth billions of pounds for those that have the skill and foresight to exploit it. Those who haven’t explored this lucrative avenue should examine their reasoning and reconsider.

To understand the scale of this opportunity, we must first look at how campus environments have evolved in the last few years. Today most large enterprises, from universities to hospitals, banks to pharmaceutical companies, are running campus environments. But these large organisations are being joined by a new cohort of organisations that are running significant campus networks. For example, it’s not uncommon for an ordinary secondary school to deploy a couple of hundred thousand pounds worth of network infrastructure, while even relatively small primary schools are looking to implement wireless LAN solutions.

Many organisations still haven’t properly grasped and implemented solid bring your own device (BYOD) processes and relevant support functions – for resellers this provides an opportunity to open up yet another potential revenue seam. Although BYOD is now a well-worn phrase, it is still as important today as it was several years ago, however somewhat surprisingly many resellers have still not taken advantage of this. Here lies a genuine prospect to become a real trusted advisor to the customer, improving relationships, ring fencing accounts and proving incremental services around the likes of IT security and even WLAN site-surveys; these are all by-products of implementing BYOD in the campus environment.

The opportunity for the channel is not just in the proliferation of campus networks, but also in the skill set that these environments demand. In the data centre, the key factors are workloads, performance, orchestration, and security; in campus networks, the challenge is how to provide mobility of individuals and devices, and to manage complex questions of security, access management and monitoring to understand who is on the network, where they are, what devices they are using, and what they are doing.

Added to this is the growing expectation of Wi-Fi as a public utility, along with increasing demand for Unified Communications, which requires a set of specialist skills and tools which many channel players are perfectly placed to provide.

Develop a speciality

To profit from the boom in campus networking, resellers must have a comprehensive understanding of the differing requirements there are in campus architectures versus the data centre. Traffic patterns in the campus environment remain the same, i.e. north-south versus east-west in the data centre. There is also a drive for simplification here, the trend is towards merging distribution and core layers and in some cases the access layer is entirely based on WLAN and so this reduces the overall cost of infrastructure. The necessary skill sets are also different. Resellers who are honing their skills to provide consultancy around the alternative functionality needed are the ones who will benefit the most. Developing a speciality could prove to be the most lucrative move at a stage when many haven’t yet taken advantage of the customer potential available.

I’d argue that trends such as these in the campus are every bit as exciting as those taking place in the data centre, even if they don’t get nearly as much press. The question is whether the channel has the will and the expertise to seize the opportunity to provide the kit and the consultancy required to implement modern, fit-for-purpose campus networks.

An effective campus network will always begin with a high performance Ethernet backbone, on which all else depends. 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE has become the de facto standard for backbone technology), but this is expected to rise to 50 or even 100GbE as the backbone of choice in the future.

Network management

Network management tools are another essential building block and a huge opportunity for the channel reseller. No one disputes the importance of network management, though there are still many organisations deploying complex networks with next-to-no management capabilities, some are even purchasing solutions only to leave them in the corner gathering dust.

Network complexity arises mainly from two aspects: the large number of devices and the diversity of devices on the network – this is obviously exacerbated when organisations implement BYOD. This increase in complexity, even on smaller infrastructures is a key business driver for resellers, who should be assisting their customers in making the best use of automated tools to perform management and security tasks.

Interestingly one area with which both campus networks and data centres increasingly relate involves power consumption, as the power costs for switches in large campus environments can be significant. The access layer of a campus network is one area that customers can enhance their energy efficiency and resellers can help organisations reduce costs by recommending switches that are less power hungry.

Many, many resellers have the capabilities to deliver the growing demand for campus networks; yet currently the large majority of them are focusing on the data centre. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but the data centre market is so competitive and so dominated by the large vendors that it’s increasingly difficult for partners to muscle their way to the riverbank and start panning for gold.

While the data centre may be the focus of attention, channel players should look at every opportunity to win new markets and diversify their revenue streams. If they choose to look, they’ll find that there’s plenty of gold in them thar campuses.

Mark Pearce, EMEA Channel Director, Dell Networking, Dell Channel

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens