Imagine a solution provider's dilemma when it comes to picking networking technology. In a slow economy, where vendors are eager to saturate every corner of every market, many VARs say they are deluged with phone calls from vendors wanting them to sell their switches, routers, IP telephony equipment or wireless LANs (WLANs). But solution providers say they don't let just anyone in the door. They want to pick the best technology,technology that is in demand,and the vendor that represents the best partner fit.
The question is: How?
Large, midsize and small solution providers use myriad ways to choose technology, but the decision-making process often depends on the size of the solution provider. Larger VARs say they like to test out and consider technology from smaller vendors that, at least for a while, may take the lead in developing a certain feature.
For instance, Solunet, a solution provider based in Palm Bay, Fla., partners with more than 20 vendors that sell networking products for service providers and telecommunications companies. The company, which last year had sales of $196 million, says it stays on the leading edge by testing many products, including those from new vendors that may not have market share but are focusing on leading-edge features that will let them compete against traditional networking giants.
"Technology changes so quickly,' says Jim Mann, vice president of sales. "We don't believe any one manufacturer can do everything. That's the best-of-breed concept. There are manufacturers coming out with new ideas and equipment every day.'
Many VARs say they test products from several vendors. If the technology is sound, they then consider the support and training they can get from the vendor and the vendor's viability in this economy.
"Early on, we picked Cisco as the company we thought would have the most breadth across the network,' says Doug West, vice president of networking for MSI Systems, a solution provider in Omaha, Neb. "We believe that, as it exists today, it has the most viable strategy. Cisco will be here in the long term.'
For other solution providers, answering customer needs is the top priority when deciding what products and brands to buy. Tim Burke, CEO at Quest Media and Supplies, a $100 million Sacramento, Calif.-based solution provider, surveys hundreds of customers every few months. The company asks customers to rate technologies according to how likely they are to deploy them during the coming year.
"If you are close to your customers, they will tell you where you need to be and what technologies and products you need to be in,' he says.
The technique has led Quest to partner with Symantec, an Internet security manufacturer in Cupertino, Calif.
"A lot of our customers are very concerned about the number of virus attacks they've been seeing,' he says, adding that Quest is deploying Symantec's firewalls and virus protection products.
Keeping in touch with those customers' demands is especially important today. Here are some ways solution providers decide on the best networking technologies to carry.