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While the need to meet vendor requirements is certainly a driver behind the certifications, "there's the customer-facing value of the certifications and the credibility they bring in the industry," said Herb Hogue, senior vice president of engineering at En Pointe's professional services operations. Another factor: En Pointe represents multiple vendors and customers who want solution providers with the expertise needed to combine those vendors' technologies into "holistic solutions," Hogue said.
That's also a driver behind the certification efforts at Meridian IT, part of Deerfield, Ill.-based Meridian Group International. There's a gap between the technologies that vendors provide and the business solutions that customers need, said Meridian IT president Lisa Pettay. "We're seeing more and more of our opportunities come up because of this gap," she said.
That requires advanced expertise on Meridian IT's part-and the certifications for the company's technical and sales consultants that demonstrate that expertise. The company spends "a lot of money" achieving and maintaining more than 300 certifications from principal vendors like Cisco, IBM, NetApp and VMware, as well as vendors deemed potentially strategic to Meridian IT's future direction, such as Citrix, Commvault, Nimble and StorServer. The solution provider particularly values certifications for its core big data, cloud computing, mobility and collaboration practices.
Cloud computing, specifically hosted Cisco collaboration software, is also a big part of En Pointe's business and it's no surprise the company has Cisco certifications in unified communications, FlexPod data center platforms and Vblock systems. The company has eight employees that hold the much coveted Cisco Certified Internet Expert (CCIE) designation.
Some 700 WWT employees-more than one in three of the solution provider's workforce-hold at least one professional certification, many in the company's core technologies: networking and security; collaboration and business video; and data center and virtualization. The company has 268 Cisco-certified professionals, for example, including 73 CCIEs, 48 Cisco sales experts, and others with various Cisco networking, voice and security certifications. WWT's certification tally from VMware includes 45 certified professionals, 56 technical sales professionals and 86 sales professionals. Certifications from EMC, Hewlett-Packard, NetApp and Citrix round out the solution provider's certification tally.
Altogether, the company invests some $10 million annually in vendor certifications. "It's a stamp of approval and validation that we really know the technology, how it can be applied to customer situations, and how we can design and implement solutions based on those technologies," Olwig said. Last year, the company even created its own "cloud platform architect" certification, combining internally developed and vendor-supplied training and tests.
Sharing all that knowledge and expertise is also a key practice at WWT. The first half of the weekly conference call led by Kavanaugh focuses on current customer projects and what can be learned from them. The second hour is devoted to a discussion of technology trends-led by a subject-matter expert-including what WWT is hearing from leading customers and what strategic vendors provide. Big data, flash technology, software-defined networking and OpenStack Infrastructure-as-a-Service technology are currently on the solution provider's radar screen. And WWT invests heavily to bring its expertise to its customers. The most obvious example is the $20 million Advanced Technology Center, built last year on the company's St. Louis campus, where leading-edge technologies are assembled into reference architecture solutions for demonstration to customers. One current project involves the use of flash technology for desktop virtualization. All these investments help solution providers stay on top of what technologies and services customers will beasking for in the future.
En Pointe, for example, developed its cloud services (including its dinCloud process for migrating business processes to the cloud) long before "cloud computing became a Super Bowl ad," Hogue said. The company is already mulling how to incorporate big data technology and services into its solution offerings, he said.
Who the Tech Elite 250 Are
The Tech Elite 250 is comprised of solution providers in the U.S. and Canada who have the highest level and most certifications from Cisco, Citrix, Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, Symantec and VMware. Companies are chosen through online applications as well as editorial research.