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VCE as of May 2012 has 153 Vblock partners, and 40 more that are in various stages of the qualification process, according to the company. Solution providers agree that VCE's engagement with channel partners has improved from a year ago, attributable to several moves VCE made in 2011 and then early 2012, not long after Acadia and the VCE Coalition became the currently structured VCE.
One was the introduction of VCE-specific deal registration, in which solution providers can register Vblock sales with VCE under one program rather than wrangle the various deal registration processes of each of the vendors involved. Another was VCE making available a global price list, and a third was the launch of training options and other forms of support, pre- and post-sales.
But another important move, less obvious, is what partners described as a much more concerted effort on the part of VCE's channel-facing executives to seek out partners and listen to both their concerns and solicit feedback on how to incentivize VARs to sell Vblocks vs. source the individual components through their various vendor partnerships.
"We know the things we didn't do well and, ultimately, it's about listening to our partners," said VCE's Pavone. Top VCE partners singled out D. Martin, vice president, global channels, and Andrew Lickly, senior marketing manager, global channel marketing communications, in particular, as channel advocates within VCE that have made themselves visible. Both of those executives met extensively with partners at the various Cisco, EMC and VMware partner conferences in the past year.
"Both [Martin and Lickly] are very responsive to email and direct calls," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of converged infrastructure at Long View Systems, a Calgary-based solution provider. "Their team support of the channel is truly appreciated, as is their help managing field engagement with the EMC sales teams." Martin and Lickly hosted about a dozen VCE partners at a small conference in Boston last fall, where many of VCE's top North America solution providers had a chance to offer the company's top managers their unfiltered feedback. Another such conference is scheduled for Dallas in November 2012.
Partners who attended the Boston meeting called those discussions productive.
"It was not, 'Oh my god, VCE is totally in trouble,' " said Long View's MacDonald. "It was a very focused group and a very frank conversation. I think VCE heard a lot and I think they listened."
"We've been a partner with VCE from its Acadia days. All along, I've said that VCE did a good job of listening to the channel. And it continues to make changes all along. It has changed its deal registration and discount programs for partners in a good way. We have no concerns at all," said Bob Olwig, vice president of business strategy and marketing at St. Louis-based World Wide Technology.
Rob Lloyd, Cisco's president, development and sales, told CRN in July 2011 that Cisco was well aware of the channel challenges with VCE and that Lloyd -- previously Cisco's executive vice president, worldwide operations, who was on the Cisco executive team that investigated how to stand up the VCE venture with EMC and VMware in the first place -- was personally involved in how to solve those challenges. A year later, in further interviews in April 2012 and September 2012, Lloyd said he was convinced VCE had straightened itself out and that Cisco was behind its ongoing VCE investment 100 percent.
"VCE is a huge success," Lloyd said. "We made a market and achieved all of the objectives we set out, and achieved them probably faster than we expected."