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The feedback Cisco received from its top partners was hardly a shock to its senior sales management executives. They had been dealing with rancor from Cisco sales reps for some time regarding the lengthy and complex sales cycle necessary to sell, build and finally deliver the preintegrated Vblock cloud environments. The way Cisco's hyper-aggressive sales force saw it, the complexity to put together a VCE Vblock deal from start to finish was costing them big money.
To compensate, Cisco reps were pushing deals to the NetApp-centric FlexPod model, or urging partners to go the V plus C plus E route so they could make their Cisco quotas and not deal with the VCE administrative headaches. By Cisco's own count, FlexPod had accounted for some 850 engagements vs. 450 engagements for VCE, according to a Cisco presentation delivered at the Cisco Partner Summit this past April. And that was with VCE given an 18-month head start on FlexPod.
According to NetApp, FlexPod had 1,300 customers as of Oct. 1, up from 175 last year. VCE declined to provide data on its customer count.
VCE channel partners, too, see the benefits of the FlexPod approach, particularly in different vertical markets.
Sudhir Verma, vice president of consulting services at Force 3, a Crofton, Md.-based solution provider, said Vblocks have not caught on with the federal government, which represents the vast majority of Force 3's customer base. That's problematic for VCE given its focus on markets where data center consolidation is a high priority.
"I know VCE will hate me for saying this, but it's been a challenge," Verma said. "I love the idea of Vblock -- it's forward thinking -- I'm just not sure the execution is right. Shouldn't it be more of a partner play, with more flexibility and more architecture to pick from? The federal marketplace is different. People buy storage when they need it. They buy servers when a new application is needed, so server buys are frequent and storage buys are not that frequent. We have to deal with that."
To serve its customers' need for flexibility, Force 3 recently made a seminal move: It signed NetApp as a storage partner, where up until this year it had sold EMC exclusively. Verma emphasized that it's important to separate the concept of the Vblock -- a good one, he said -- with what VCE the company is trying to do. '
"We've been Vblock resellers since late 2009 -- we've been at this for a while, and I don't think the federal market is where they're working. They've got wins, don't get me wrong -- they've got service providers in the cloud market -- but in the traditional selling model in the federal market, going agency by agency, there are more sales as V plus C plus E, maybe individual sales as a single P.O.," Verma said. "As a single sale to agencies, though, the whole solution, customers are not opting for that. They want it more flexible. It's 'I want the features I want today. I don't need the Cadillac. It's nice that you have it. I don't need it, and I don't know if I will.' "