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Other UC vendors, such as Mitel, are already heavily integrated with VMware environments. Avaya's Berry said that Avaya wasn't convinced two years ago that customers were ready to buy their UC systems that way, although the market has now reached a point where it's coming up at least one-third of the time in customer conversations.
"We don't see this as being late," he said. "People now have a much better understanding of how real-time communications are doable in this environment, and we went forward when we felt we could do the full-scale version as well as the dedicated server version."
Select partners got access to Aura VE last week, and Berry said the release would be a "controlled" rollout, with 60 having been approved for VE already. Berry also acknowledged partner concern that with a virtualized, software license-centric sale, partners stand to make less money than they might if they were reselling and integrating physical servers.
"But that's not where they should be making their money," Berry said. "They should be making it on the applications. I understand there will always be partners who want to sell hardware, but you have to understand virtualization is here; you can't deny that."
Avaya partners said the Aura VE move is another good step toward making Avaya more relevant to the crucial virtualization conversations happening in the data center.
"I like that I can shift the focus and make the discussion more about the software and application," Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, a San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based solution provider, told CRN. "That's a discussion about further simplifying their network, and VMware is the market leader here, so that makes sense."
David Nahabedian, principal and co-founder of Integration Partners, a Lexington, Mass.-based solution provider, said it's a key step for Avaya's data strategy, as well. Integration Partners, which was a legacy Nortel data networking partner and added Avaya about a year before the acquisition, is keyed in on converged infrastructure and how customers want to buy it, he said.
"I think it would have been nice if they'd done this a little sooner, but it'll be a good pathway for existing Avaya or Nortel base customers," he said. "It's absolutely a direction they have to go in, and this plays more in our wheelhouse as an integrator and the data expertise we have in that channel."
Avaya's data networking and data center strategy was a big topic at the company's recent Americas Executive Partner Forum in Mexico. Partners generally feel the growth of Avaya as a true networking vendor will be less about competing with incumbents like Cisco and more about getting customers to understand the benefits of an Avaya infrastructure -- and using Avaya's Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) -- to support the Avaya voice, UC and contact center platforms they already use.
"I like VENA and what they're trying to do, but there are still a lot of gaps in their data portfolio," ROI's Hiebert said. "Avaya doesn't support the whole system like Cisco can. Avaya will continue to be our UC partner, but it's on us to figure out how to become infrastructure integrators and build the platforms the customer needs."