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2019 Tech Elite 250: At The Top Of Their Game

Tech Elite solution providers know that training and vendor certifications are key to engaging with customers and winning deals. This year’s standouts have made all the right bets.

Whether it’s software-defined networking, hyper-converged infrastructure or cloud computing, each game-changing technology that remakes the IT landscape has customers looking to their solution providers and strategic service providers to help them understand those technologies and how they can be implemented to create a competitive advantage.

That means solution providers must always be at the top of their technology game. And training and vendor certifications for solution providers are critical components of that.

Take Zones, the Auburn, Wash.-based solution provider that works with a broad range of IT from multiple vendors for workplace modernization, data center transformation, network optimization and security fortification.

“Zones sits between vendors and enterprise customers and we want to be the most seamless route between them for IT system sourcing, design and implementation,” said President and Chief Revenue Officer Dan Pickett, in an interview with CRN. Vendor certifications are key to the company’s customer engagement strategy, he said. “And having a real focus on our engagement methodology has been a big part of our growth strategy,” he added.

Businesses and organizations look for solution providers with deep skills that can help them derive maximum value from their IT investments. That’s why training and certifications are so critical.

CRN's Tech Elite 250 recognizes those North American IT strategic service and solution providers that have earned the highest number of advanced technical certifications and partner program levels from leading IT vendors.

VPLS Solutions in Orange, Calif., is both a solution provider and an MSP, selling IT products from Brocade, Cisco Systems, Fortinet, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Nimble Storage, Palo Alto Networks, Veeam and VMware, providing many on a hosted basis and using them to provide services to VPLS customers. The company’s roster of certifications spans 78 certifications from Cisco—including multiple top-level CCIEs—127 from VMware, 59 from Brocade and several from Fortinet—including its highest NSE 8 certification.

“Because we use and consume these products, we need to have deep knowledge and understanding of how they work,” said VPLS co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Tim Mektrakarn in an interview.

Having such a portfolio of certifications boosts the credibility of VPLS engineers and their ability to architect large-scale projects, Mektrakarn said, expanding potential opportunities for the solution provider and helping to reassure new customers. “It’s showing our expertise and differentiation and it gives us instant credibility,” he said.

Meanwhile, OneNeck IT Solutions’ offerings include cloud, data center, security, advanced solutions and managed services with a focus on customized hybrid cloud hosting. “We help customers leverage the power of digital technologies,” said Terry Swanson, president and CEO of the Madison, Wis.-based strategic service provider, in an interview. “We’ve built a blend of traditional on-premises IT, with implementation and consulting services, and a portfolio of hosted and managed services to meet our customers’ needs.”

OneNeck works closely with key vendors Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE, Microsoft and VMware. Swanson notes that OneNeck’s evolution from traditional VAR to strategic services provider has paralleled vendors like Cisco, which is expanding beyond hardware into software and services.

OneNeck’s strategy is to get base-level certifications with major vendors and then high-level certifications in specific technologies and platforms, said Clint Harder, OneNeck CTO and product strategy senior vice president. OneNeck’s certifications, for example, include Cisco master certifications in data center and hybrid cloud and the company boasts deep expertise in Cisco ACI software-defined networking and AppDynamics application monitoring.

Zones holds more than 1,000 certifications among more than 500 employees with an emphasis on digital workplace, cloud, networks and wireless, and security across each of those. The company focuses on obtaining vendor certifications that help the solution provider communicate the value of a vendor’s product when selling it, Pickett said, and on engineering “so we can design the best solutions for our customers.” Certifications in professional and managed services in such areas as project management and ITIL are also valued.

Pickett echoed other solution providers in saying that certifications are evidence that partners are investing in a vendor relationship. “They are more likely to recommend Zones to the customer and that’s critical to our strategy,” he said. As to the question about expenses associated with obtaining certifications: “I look at it as more of an opportunity to grow rather than an opportunity cost.”

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