The 650-square-foot Cisco solution center in Clearwater, Fla., is jointly funded by the vendor and Tech Data. It houses a range of Cisco offerings, including enterprise-class and small-business networking; unified communications; teleworker packages that involve routing, switching and IP or video phones; call center technology; physical security; network management; and digital signage.
"We can show not only the applications alone but also how they tie together," said Chuck Bartlett, Tech Data's vice president of networking product marketing.
Resellers can train their own engineers on the technology, as well as bring customers in to see applications in action. When they reserve time, partners can have technology preconfigured just as the customer would use it.
"Technology changes so quickly that it's sometimes hard for people to absorb. If they can't understand it, it's hard to get them to invest," Bartlett said.
Partners expect the Cisco solution center to work best for those applications that are surrounded by a lot of hype but still barely understood in the field, and thus hard to sell.
"Anything that has to do with unified communications is really important to have hands-on [experience with]," said Joanna Thoms, systems consultant at Cisco partner Heartland Business Systems in Little Chute, Wis. "It's not an inexpensive offering, and it's good for the customer to realize the simplicity in unifying communications, whether it's voice or video or chat."
For Phil Camilleri, sales manager at Cisco partner Nexxtworks Inc. in Palm Harbor, Fla., wireless and security are important applications to show first-hand.
Bartlett said the Cisco solution center will change over time as technology evolves. He expects telepresence to become part of the center, as well as new Webex hosted services as they emerge over time. Wireless applications will become an even larger part of the solution center as that technology takes hold in the enterprise.
"As VoIP gets tied into wireless networks, that's going to be something we can demo there, for example," Bartlett said.
Camilleri said Nexxtworks has a "home-field advantage," since the Cisco solution center is close to his company, but that he could see that it would be worth it to fly in customers from anywhere.
Services in the center are free to all Tech Data customers.