Dimension Data in the middle of Cisco & Microsoft

Boston – As a major partner with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO), two companies attempting to navigate the ever tricky shoals of co-opetition around unified communications, Dimension Data is positioning itself between the two vendors as the solution provider best able to integrate the best of both vendors.

Unified communications (UC) was a major topic of discussion during a media and analyst briefing day, held here this week by the Johannesburg, South Africa-based solution provider, with a number of Dimension Data executives touching on the subject and outlining the company’s plans around UC.

Ettienne Reinecke, group CTO and group executive, network integration with Dimension Data, said businesses are using UC when acquiring companies to bring in best practices, services and experts. UC is becoming a catalyst for many changes in the IT department, added Reinecke, crossing silos and driving integration as companies are driven to look at SOA and directory services.

Also changing is the conversation the solution provider is having with its clients said Wes Johnston, executive vice-president and COO, solutions and services, Dimension Data. Instead of talking about how to do VoIP it’s how do we optimize it. Instead of let’s do a proof of concept it’s let’s do a pilot site. And instead of project pricing, it’s becoming more of a utility pricing model.

Johnson added Dimension Data sees opportunity around the Cisco/Microsoft UC partnership, as they specialize in integrating both vendors.

“We’re uniquely positioned between two very large companies, able to drive services across,” said Johnson.

That was echoed by Reinecke, who said that while at first some vendors tried to go it alone, when it comes to UC the role of the SI is getting bigger and bigger, and its right in Dimension Data’s sweets-spot.

“The vendors only have a piece of it,” said Reinecke. “They need a company like Dimension Data to pull it together.”

While there has been strong growth in large-scale IP telephony implementations and increased corporate adoption of instant messaging, Reinecke said too many companies are focused on the communications half of UC, and not the unified half. Too often projects are being proposed and justified on a departmental basis, and issues such as a common directory aren’t considered until well down the road.

“They’ve got to live it a little generally, is what I see, before they get it,” said Reinecke.

Dimension Data executives shared several examples where it has mediated between Microsoft and Cisco, and has been brought in by both vendors to do implementations. Jon Arnold, a research analyst and principal with J. Arnold & Associates in Toronto, said that integration role, deciding how much Cisco and how much Microsoft to use in an implementation, is very important. It can often be almost a religious issue, he said, so turning to a trusted partner such as Dimension Data can help.

“If you listen to just those two vendors they just want you to deal with them, but clearly neither of them have all the pieces,” said Arnold. “Dimension Data comes in and says we’re the balancing act, we can bring the best of both to you, integrate them and make them work. There’s obviously value to that.”

Arnold added this isn’t a new area for Dimension Data, a solution provider that has largely built its business around Microsoft and Cisco. And as one of the larger partners for each vendor, Arnold said Dimension Data’s added negotiating clout can be a benefit for its clients.

Going global and going mobile

While UC is transforming the enterprise, the globalization of supply and demand is also influencing IT infrastructures, fueling the need for organizational flexibility and agility said Brett Dawson, group CEO with Dimension Data.

Dawson also sees the environment and sustainabilitybecoming more important, as businesses look to cut power usage through virtualization and consolidation, and turn to UC to reduce employee travel and enhance remote collaboration. Noting they’ve deployed 40 per cent of Cisco’s internal Telepresence suites, Dawson said they’re positioning for strong growth in visual communications.

Reinecke echoed Cisco’s network as the platform messaging saying more functionality is moving to the network, adding he expects the 802.11n wireless standard and similar advances to enable true mobility and spur more mobile business applications.

Laptops are also becoming the preferred option for all enterprise users, from the executive suite to reception, and they’re coming from partners pre-configured for converged applications.

“Wireless is reaching parity with some of the basic Ethernet technologies,” said Reinecke. “XP is still favoured but we’re seeing increasing levels of Vista deployment. I think a lot of people were waiting for SP1.”

While laptops are coming bundled with a range of wireless options, including default support for 802.11n, Bluetooth, and other functionality to further the trend of enterprise mobility, Reinecke warned corporate wireless networks are outdated, unstructured, and vulnerable on the security front. He said architectural principles need to be applied to enterprise WiFi deployments.

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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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