Partners find a UCS architecture sweet spot in the midmarket

While UCS architecture first caused customer scepticism, partners have learned to educate customers on its cost and performance benefits, and sales are now increasing.

When Cisco first launched its Unified Computing System (UCS) architecture, channel partners questioned whether the typical customer would invest in a costly data center architecture that combined both networks and servers. The architecture, they believed, was solely for super-sized enterprises, which don't make up a huge market segment. But two years later, partners have discovered the midmarket as a sweet spot for UCS sales, and have learned how to educate customers into investing.

Unified Computing System architecture: What makes the mid-market a solid target?

Partners report that customers come to the UCS architecture investment decision from different angles. Some want to improve performance and obtain faster throughput, while others are looking to streamline, consolidate, lessen complexity and reduce costs in the data center.

But UCS delivers a data center architecture that integrates compute, network, storage access and virtualization resources into a single system, so making this kind of sale means appealing to many different parts of the IT organization at once.

Partners have found that server, systems, storage and networking teams are more likely to work together in the midmarket than they are in the enterprise. This makes them more receptive to change than their enterprise counterparts that have siloed IT operations, as well as a much larger investment in legacy equipment.

However, while Cisco’s channel partners early on recognized early on that UCS was a game-changing solution for data center complexity, customers didn’t share the same vision. 

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“Our experience is that customers take to UCS in small steps, then come back for round two and round three,” says William Yassinger, national networking engineering director at Datalink Corporation.

How partners change UCS architecture skeptics

Once mid-sized companies realized they had to invest in virtualization, the idea of buying an overall data center architecture became less foreign. “Not only were midsize companies interested in virtualization as a way to clean up server sprawl, but there was also interest in converged network infrastructure and reducing the total cost of ownership,” says Vinu Thomas, director, data center, virtualization and cloud strategy at solution provider Bluewater Communications Group.

Despite the holistic nature of UCS, partners didn’t approach customers expecting to wipe out the existing data center floor. The roadmap to UCS often began with the sale of industry-standard x86 nodes from Cisco rather than promoting isolated servers.

This was at a time when most customers used traditional server manufacturers, such as IBM, Dell and HP. “Once we showed them the management piece of UCS, eyebrows went up,” says says Larry Venio, director of presale engineering at Presidio. He adds that customers recognized the value proposition of the simple management tool that comes along with UCS, given that they had often used multiple management tools, third-party management tools or none at all.

With this in mind, in order to win over customers early on, partners did a lot of proof of concept work to demonstrate the real value of UCS to potential customers. “We’d bring them into our lab, show them the physical servers, reduced cabling and power, as well as cooling. Then we’d demo the interface and let them play with it,” says Venio.

The easy management of configurations and operations via the single UCS Manager interface often clinched the deal.

Customers were also impressed with the reduction in cabling, network adapters, switches and cost. This was all made possible via Cisco’s support of a Unified Fabric over low-latency and lossless 10GBps Ethernet that converges data traffic from the LAN and the SAN. The lossless fabric is extended to the blade chassis.

UCS architecture evolves along with customer perceptions and partner success

As the cost and performance benefits of UCS come to fruition, sales became easier in wider pools of customers. Partners report that UCS sales cycles have shortened to 30 to 60 days from 90 to 120 days two years ago.

Partners also report that the amount of proof-of-concept work with midmarket customers they had to do early on has decreased because several customers find the confusion about Cisco being a server vendor to be gone. “IBM, HP, Dell, Cisco – when it comes to hardware they’re all good. When it comes to strategy, customers understand that’s where Cisco is different,” says Venio.

Nevertheless, customer education continues to play a big part in the UCS sale. Midsized companies are interested in educating and retraining their existing staff to run UCS rather than hiring new workers. So DataLink provides employee training as part of the UCS sale. Lunch-and-learn seminars are a popular way for partners to reach out and educate their customers, for example.

VARs expect the volume of interest in UCS architecture to increase in 2012 specifically due to increased interest in virtualization and standardization in the data center. Since its UCS debut, Cisco today boasts 10,000 UCS customers spanning all industries and workloads.

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