Cisco Boosting Data Center Services
Company helping its independent sales partners develop skills and business models for guiding data center transition
April 08, 2008
by Charles Waltner, News@Cisco
Cisco Systems has dialed in the data center.
With the acquisition of Nuova Systems and the announcement of the Nexus 5000 series switch, Cisco now has a full complement of products capable of providing much needed help to these critical computing operations.
But solving the data center's problems will take much more than technology. Cisco executives say sales and consultative support services will be critical to data center customers as they try to transform these extremely complex facilities.
To address this need, Cisco today announced a new initiative to help its worldwide force of independent equipment resellers, managed services providers, consultants and other networking experts. The effort focuses on offering these companiesknown as channel partnersthe technical, business, and financial support to develop the cross-functional expertise necessary for rebuilding the data center.
Central to the initiative is a training and certification process for ensuring that Cisco's channel partners have the broad knowledge and skills necessary for providing unparalleled assistance to data center operators. Participants need to verify their expertise in Cisco's relevant data center products, including the Nexus family switches, application optimization technologies, security modules, and management software. Cisco is offering a similar program focused on the company's data storage technologies.
The initiative also cultivates key skills for helping data center operators with everything from fine-tuning bandwidth usage and lowering energy consumption to managing backup systems and planning for disasters. Cisco has also established a financial incentive program to help channel partners with training costs.
Edison Peres, Cisco's vice president of worldwide channels, says Cisco's resellers will need these new skills to educate and advise customers on the best strategies for transforming their data centers, as well as assisting with step-by-step implementations. "This is the next big thing for our channel partners," he says.
Peres says the most successful channel partners will be the ones that have broad knowledge about many of the data center's components beyond the network, including computer servers, storage systems, security technology, and software applications. "You have to have expertise in all the existing technologies to know how to bridge to the new ones," he says. "This is about selling an architecture not a box."
Cisco also sees sophisticated assessment and advisory services as key components to a robust data center practice. For example, Peres says it can take six months to two years simply to analyze the architecture of large computing operations. "That's an opportunity for our channel partners," he says.
Vernon Turner, a senior vice president at research company IDC, says such comprehensive skills will be crucial to building trust with data center customers. "Chief information officers are very nervous about any changes to their vitally important computing facilities," he says. "Anytime you combine that with a goal of transformation, that will introduce risk and concern into the mind of the CIO."
Until now, the various components of the data center have mostly operated independently of each other, with separate vendors and technical support groups for each segment. But those parts now need to work much better together to address the data center's growing problems. "It's really an organizational issue," Peres says.
Vince Conroy couldn't agree more. Conroy, the chief technology officer for FusionStorm, a national provider of technology services and a Cisco channel partner, says that even though his company has years of experience in selling and installing servers, storage products, and networking equipment, bringing all of these groups together under one cohesive data center practice is no easy task.
His company is now cross-training teams, forming a data center committee, and developing experts who can meld FusionStorm's wide-ranging technical knowledge into comprehensive advice for customers. "We're trying to avoid the 12-legged sales calls," he says. "We can no longer view the data center as a collection of silos. It's an interoperable ecosystem. But it's not something that's going to happen overnight."
Conroy says Cisco's new products and partner program will certainly help. "Those are some big steps in the right direction." But Conroy says there are still many challenges for Cisco. He says management software, training, bandwidth, and pricing issues all loom large in his customers' minds.
And perhaps most of all, Cisco must play well with other vendors in the data center sandbox, Conroy says. "My customers are particularly concerned about getting locked into technologies that do not allow them the flexibility to adapt."
Nevertheless, he sees Cisco as well positioned to bring the benefits of the network to the $250 billion data center market. Old technologies and architectural approaches are simply not holding up to the demands of the Web 2.0 world. The network, he says, can help break down old operational divisions and usher in a new era of more cost-effective and energy-efficient computing.
"It isn't going to be a single vendor that solves the data center's problems," Conroy says.
"But Cisco's networking technologies can make a big difference to my customers."
Charles Waltner is a freelance writer in Piedmont, Calif.
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