Cisco needs Avnet to conquer the data centre

Broomfield, Colo. – Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) took to the stage on day two of value-added distributor Avnet Technology Solutions (NYSE: AVT) (ATS) annual Summit conference to tell the VAR attendees the networking vendor needs their data centre expertise and solution know-how to help it execute on its vision for a network-centric data centre.

David Lawler, vice-president, unified computing systems server access virtualization business unit, Cisco Systems, said he believes the technology industry is coming to an inflection point. The next data centre inflection point will be around unified fabric, a common compute platform and mainstream virtualization.

With Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS), Lawler said the vendor believes it has the components to capitalize on that data centre inflection. But while Cisco will design the components, he said it needs Avnet’s solutions-focused partners to architect and implement the data centre.

“Integrate these trends into your customer’s data centre,” said Lawler. “I’m asking you to join us in changing the data centre. The data centre is changing. The technologies you understand, but the mindset is changing. Here’s another opportunity for you to make money. You can sit it out, but if you sit it out with the old technology, what you end up being is a volume player. Cisco is in this completely.”

And so is Avnet. The distributor inked its partnership with Cisco in December and tapped Chris Swahn to run the business as vice-president and general manager, Cisco Solutions, ATS Americas. Swahn said Cisco will be a cornerstone in Avnet’s products and solutions culture.

“If business were sports, (Cisco CEO) John Chambers picture would be on a Wheaties box. He doesn’t talk trash he’s a southern gentleman,” said Swahn. “But he’ also a fierce competitor. He may walk softly, but he carriers a big router.”

For Avnet’s Oracle partners, Swahn said Cisco is another platform to run Oracle software. The real opportunity though, he said, is in the data centre.

“Cisco is relatively new to the data centre channel, but Avnet is not. We have the best data centre partners in the world, all of you,” Swahn told attendees. “Cisco doesn’t design data centres, you do. Cisco’s vision of the network-centric data centre may be revolutionary, but they know they need you to make it happen. And Avnet is the only distributor that can enable Cisco to compete when the buyers are ready to buy.”

Swahn told CDN what Cisco is looking for from Avnet is solutions expertise and help accessing a kind of partner that Cisco hasn’t traditionally worked with: the data centre-focused solutions provider. As Cisco makes its data centre play, he said the line between traditional networking partners and solution partners will blur.

The partner growth for Avnet’s Cisco business, said Swahn, will be roughly evenly split between helping its current partners develop Cisco practices to complement their storage, server and solutions businesses, and working with networking partners wanting to get into the data centre.

To support the new Cisco business, Swahn said Avnet is preparing a “CiscoPath” as part of its SolutionPath methodology, bringing together existing paths around networking and virtualization.

“You’ll see us develop our SolutionPaths, rolling that out with training and universities for educating our partners. We’ll roll out a roadshow focused on VAR recruitment and education. And we’ll continue to expand our integration capabilities going forward, identifying solutions we could potentially use our global solution centres to bring to our partners,” said Swahn.

One of those Avnet data centre partners taking a look at Cisco is HighVail Systems. Based in Toronto, HighVail has built a server and storage solutions business around vendors such as Sun/Oracle, Hitachi Data Systems and Symantec.

“Cisco is one vendor we’re investigating. We’re a registered partner, we do some switch business, but we’re not a big Cisco player,” said HighVail president Bradley Brodkin. “The UCS and Nexus market is a very different market though, and we’re looking at where the value would be. In the mid-market, our customers are very interested to hear what Cisco has to say. But it would need to be complementary; we’re not looking for competitive offerings.”

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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