Putting their money where their mouth is, Cisco and EMC earlier this week solidified a joint strategy for sales around integrated infrastructure solutions, specifically their joint efforts with VCE, and rolled out the Cloud Infrastructure Solutions Accelerator program to help partners sell and profit in the growing cloud infrastructure market.
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That's very good news to partners like Thatcher Alexander, president of Alexander Open Systems (AOS), a systems integrator. Alexander summed up the vendors' move as the vendors recognizing that they are in fact better working together -- "one voice, one plan."
"There's been a sense of a feeling of stress between EMC, Cisco and VMware as of late, and this move reinforces a unified front among these companies, even though they have other competitive offerings," he said.
The Cloud Infrastructure Solutions Accelerator is designed to help the top channel partners of Cisco, EMC and VCE sell Vblock Systems and VSPEX reference architecture solutions, differentiate themselves and be more profitable doing so.
"We had a big problem. Customers have choices for converged infrastructure, and they need help navigating those choices. We can't have EMC coming in one day and saying one thing and Cisco coming in one day and saying something else -- similar messages but different," said Brian Allison, director of partner solutions, worldwide channels, at Cisco. "We have an architecture and integrated systems, but we needed to integrate our go-to-market strategy to reflect the products that we're selling. That's what partners were asking for."
The message behind the Cloud Infrastructure Solutions Accelerator is for partners to understand and be consistent and conversant with the vendors' message around what they call "Three Paths to Cloud": custom design, the VSPEX reference architecture and Vblock systems.
The vendors expect their top 100 channel partners to join the program that is up and running -- approximately half from North America and half from Asia-Pacific and Japan (AJP) and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
Coming together for the first time with a combined Cisco/EMC partner program, the vendors have set the bar high for partners. Those partners who qualify to become a Cloud Infrastructure Solution Builder must meet specific requirements in three areas:
- Certifications and specializations: Partners must be a VCE Gold or Silver solution provider. Partners are also eligible for the program if they have both Cisco Advanced Data Center Architecture specialization and EMC Signature-level or VSPEX-enabled partner program authorization.
- Role-based certifications: Certifications are required for two account managers, two system engineers and two field engineers.
- Joint business and marketing plan: Engagement in a joint business and marketing plan is required with Cisco, EMC and VCE.
Partners who meet these requirements will receive benefits that include:
- Customized enablement via free cloud infrastructure solution bootcamps for sales, systems engineers and field engineers that focuses on helping partners become more conversant in integrated infrastructure.
- Enhanced demand generation with Cisco, EMC and VCE working together to create and drive more demand for the solutions. Additionally, partners gain access to customized campaigns for VSPEX solutions, Vblock Systems and marketing development funds (MDF).
- A 3% front-end sales incentive on the EMC VSPEX piece of the deal; a 3% back-end rebate on the Cisco VSPEX piece of the deal; and an additional 2% rebate for Vblock System 300.
The new program also includes a joint Cisco/EMC deal desk that complements the existing VCE deal desk.
While research firms like IDC project a good market opportunity for integrated infrastructure -- IDC expects the integrated infrastructure market to exceed more than $14 billion in revenue in 2016 -- partners selling converged infrastructure today report that it's a complex sale.
Datalink Corp., a national systems integrator and Gold Cisco Partner, has been selling and installing converged infrastructure for five years. According to Bill Yassinger, practice manager, network solutions, at Datalink, selling converged solutions is complex, time-consuming, and partners aren't always compensated for their design efforts.
One of the objectives of the new Cloud Infrastructure Solutions Accelerator program is to improve the profitability for partners who sell integrated infrastructure, he said.
"This program is a way to supplement our margins and improve the overall profitability of the deal," said Yassinger.
It's not that selling integrated infrastructure isn't profitable, but there are many instances where customers buy infrastructure piecemeal and not always from the same partner.
"It's better for partners to look at selling and delivering converged infrastructure as a holistic solution at a more profitable rate," he said.
Yassinger also believes that the new partner program is in part a reaction to the fact that Amazon and Google have come a long way to make IT as a Service purchased via credit card. "So we're all trying to reestablish relevance and make sure that IT is responsive to the business and that we have a unified solution that we can bring to fruition quickly," said Yassinger.