Leading networking, server and storage vendors including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cisco Systems Inc. are all pushing for data center infrastructure convergence, and are calling on technology solution providers to make tough choices about platform concentrations and technical investments. The challenge is that while most VARs boast deep skills in at least one data center technology pillar, far fewer of them are as well-versed across the networking, server and storage disciplines.
As business customers seek to squeeze complexity out of their data center infrastructure, that complexity is being left in the hands of technology solution providers, observed Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Tech Data Corp., headquartered in Clearwater, Fla. The skills involved in selling servers, storage and neworking, while complementary, are still distinct.
"We help the VAR manage all these certifications," he said. "We help the VARs see this opportunity more clearly."
IT distributors back up VARs in data center convergence
That support comes not just in the form of training and education. Technology solution providers need help integrating, testing and certifying multivendor data center solutions, especially those with a specific industry focus, said Phil Gallagher, global president for Avnet Technology Solutions, based in Tempe, Ariz. "Distributors are being asked to facilitate the creation of these solutions, not just handle fulfillment," Gallagher said.
As an example, Avnet and Germany's Magirus are currently the only two IT distributors certified to sell preconfigured vBlock cloud infrastructure technology from the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition, an alliance spearheaded by Cisco Systems, EMC and VMware.
It is worth pointing out that representatives from the coalition confirmed during the recent Cisco Partner Summit in San Francisco that in order to sell vBlocks, a solution provider needs to carry elite certifications from all three vendors. So, even though vendors are advocating a converged approach, the technical skills surrounding each component are still considered separately.
This is a challenge for even the most technically savvy solution provider, said Fabian von Kuenheim, president and CEO of Magirus, in Stuttgart, Germany. VCE still has kinks to work out in its vBlock assembly process, and this discipline is not for the faint of heart. Magirus considers itself a part of the vBlock assembly engine and von Kuenheim said his company's long-standing role as the top VMware products distributor in Europe, was a key factor in its selection by the VCE.
"The VCE underestimated the demand they would have for these projects," von Kuenheim said.
In a sense, broadline IT distributors could help insulate technology solution providers from the vendor posturing that has become rampant around the converged data center.
By providing VARs with choices around infrastructures -- not just the pieces of those infrastructures -- Ingram Micro Inc. can help minimize the need for technology solution providers to earn duplicate certifications, said Greg Spierkel, CEO of the Santa Ana, Calif., distributor.
The key for Ingram Micro over the next 12 months, Spierkel said, will be for the company to build out its application partnerships and other relationships that round out the converged data center stack -- a top five priority for the company. Specializations will still be important, he said, but increasingly the focus will be on becoming expert in the application required for a specific data center solution.
"We need to play in a neutral context so that VARs have more choices," Spierkel said.