Managed IT Services

How We Built Our Technology Stack: A Palo Alto Networks Case Study

Post by
John Snyder
The graphic for this series is a homage to NPR's excellent "How I Built This" podcast with Guy Raz.

Back in 2012, I was first introduced to Palo Alto Network firewalls. They had been shipping firewalls for over 5 years so they weren’t exactly an upstart, but they clearly had dozens of unique security innovations. Dazzled by their advanced capabilities available universally on every size firewall, I began planning how they could protect our small business (SMB) customers. Within a year we became a partner and purchased 6 of their firewalls (4 of them data center grade PA-3020 models) internally to protect our network at Net Friends.

Soon after 2013, Palo Alto Networks (PAN) significantly tightened their partnership requirements and we were unable to renew our status because the annual sales thresholds were beyond our reach. That didn’t cause us to waiver in our faith in their products. We still sought every opportunity we could to support these firewalls and resell them to customers, even though it was significantly more difficult for us without a formal vendor partnership. Our ability to source, implement, and manage their firewalls helped us gain significant opportunities with exciting security-minded customers. This actively encouraged us to consider what it would take to become a PAN partner again. We just needed a reason to put in the effort.  

We found our reason in the middle of 2019 as multiple ideas began to come together. For one, we were actively looking for ways to differentiate ourselves from the competition, we saw that no one based in our region of North Carolina was a Palo Alto partner. We also learned that our local community college was training network security students on Palo Alto firewalls, giving us an avenue to hire well-trained new graduates into our Network Operations Center (NOC). And the most respected research organizations like Gartner consistently showed Palo Alto Networks as the leader for firewalls year after year (see images below). Now we just needed an opening to jump back into the Palo Alto partnership program.

Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Network Firewalls (As of September 2018)
Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Network Firewalls (As of July 2019)

One of our technology distributors stepped up and vouched for us to become a new partner. We filled out the paperwork and prepared to make our case to the regional PAN manager for businesses like ours, expecting a straightforward approval process. Surprisingly, the manager seemed predisposed to reject our bid for partnership; she was genuinely concerned that we would fail to succeed as a partner as so many others have before. We were surprised, but undaunted. I found out later that the strict partnership rules are quite real, and they remove thousands of partners annually who fail to meet all the challenging training, sales, and other annual requirements. The difficulty getting our partnership status fortified my resolve, as I knew other Managed Services Providers like ourselves would also meet similar resistance and it showed that the partnership with PAN was a real thing of value not to be taken lightly.

Once we landed our PAN partnership in mid-2019, we saw that the only way we could bring the power of their firewalls to small business customers was to package them in a bundle that included hardware, software, and services. One of the main reasons for this was the price of the firewalls often were out of reach of SMB customers, both in terms of up-front procurement costs and specialized security deployment skills required to fully capitalize on the capabilities of these devices. We realized that there was real power in bundling the best possible network infrastructure and security architecture together with our monitoring and management services in a multiyear contract.  

We ultimately assembled multiple core components of our NetCore Elements offering that centered around the Palo Alto Networks firewall. Each of these components was carefully decided on, with both deployment and ongoing services specifically defined to be comprehensive and provided at a fixed cost. When we took a step back and examined what we had put together, we saw we had assembled a unique and powerful Tech Stack for any company’s core network infrastructure. We saw that this brought real value to our customers and our internal team alike: it ensured everyone was going to be working with a best-of-breed, highly secure, cohesively integrated, enterprise-grade, reliable network backbone. Our journey to build this Tech Stack can be traced back to 2012, and we are so delighted to have a fully-realized product to bring to our SMB customers through our NetCore Elements contract.

WHAT TO READ NEXT IN OUR TECHNOLOGY STACK SERIES:
- Net Friends Recognized by Palo Alto Networks as a NextWave MSSP Partner
- The Next Big Thing: Technology Stacks
- What Is A Technology Stack & Why Should I Care?

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