Making virtualization easier for VARs

Seeing VARs being challenged by the complexities of bringing virtualization solutions to their clients, particularly in the SMB, remote and branch office markets, specialty distributor Alternative Technology has teamed with vendors LeftHand Networks and VMware (NYSE: VMW) to offer four different virtualization solution kits that should make the task a little easier.

A subsidiary of Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions, Englewood, Colo.-based Alternative Technology was already a large VMware distributor, and executive vice-president Tom Zorn says it was working with the vendor to find an easier, solution-based way to sell VMware’s virtualization products.

The feeling, says Zorn, was that a lot of VARs were reluctant to engage their SMB, branch and remote office customers around virtualization because virtualization of the server base tends to demand high availability storage products such as SAN or NAS. Such a solution can be economically and technically unfeasible for this market.

The distributor came up with two solutions, says Zorn. The first was to bring in LeftHand Networks. LeftHand takes an iSCSI approach, which Zorn says many partners feel more comfortable working with than fibre channel. Also, LeftHand’s technology takes advantage of the spinning media left orphaned on virtualized servers, creating a virtual SAN appliance.

“In a way, it was almost one of those two birds with one stone that you always love to be able to get,” said Zorn. “It came from trying to make it easier for the VAR partner to do business in this particular set of end-user customers.”

The virtualization solution kits combine LeftHands’ Virtual SAN Appliance and VMware Infrastructure Acceleration Kits to offer the advantages of server and storage virtualization without SAN hardware. By offering everything a VAR needs for an engagement in one bundle, Zorn says partners don’t need to put together the solutions themselves.

The bundle approach also offers excellent margins, Zorn says. In addition to the usual margins from LeftHand and VMware, he says VARs will also realize 20 to 30 per cent upside over buying all the pieces of the bundle separately.

“We’re all very margin-conscious these days, so they actually kind of get a double-hit on this,” said Zorn. “There’s very good margins for our VAR partners (with) LeftHand itself, and there’s even better profits when we sell them the kit.”

The reaction to the new bundles in Canada has been very strong says Ken Watkins, Alternative Technology’s country manager for Canada based in the distributor’s Mississauga, Ont. office.

“Currently my team is calling-out and prospecting the SMB market to find out where people are at as far as LeftHand Networks is,” said Watkins. “The interest so far has been positive, and now it’s just a matter of getting out there and educating the VARs about the package a little more, and closing some sales.”

Watkins says the kits are packaged together in a way that makes virtualization easy and affordable for SMBs and remote offices, and that’s how his team has been positioning it in the market.

The distributor has been in the Canadian market since 2001, with nine employees in total and a cross-Canada focus. From 300 VAR partners in 2005, Watkins says Alternative Technology is now working with over 1000 VARs.

“We’ve come quite a way in the last three years,” said Watkins. “I think it’s pretty significant growth, reaching out to VARs with our message.”

It has a few product lines that overlap with Ingram Micro and Tech Data, says Watkins, but not many. Virtualization has become an important part of its business, but it also does edge network infrastructure, security, network management, wireless and thin client.

The key to the distributor’s success in Canada, says Watkins, is its internal expertise. All of his sales associates have sales certifications from both VMware and Citrix, for example.

“I think that’s absolutely paramount” said Watkins, explaining it ensures his sales team gets back to VAR partners with timely and accurate solution quotes. This helps partners reach their SLAs, and in turn meet their end-users’ SLAs too.

“That value add, I believe, is very powerful.”

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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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