Big LEAP Forward: Westcon Opens Cisco UCS Training, Demonstration Center

Westcon and Cisco executives on Wednesday used the opening of Westcon's Denver, Colo.-based LEAP Center to not only show off a state-of-the-art demonstration and training center, but also to educate solution providers on the potential opportunities available with Cisco's UCS platform.

Westcon Group's new LEAP Center is based on the Cisco UCS platform, and provides an opportunity for solution providers to get hands-on training and accreditation with UCS as well as bring customers in to see how UCS might work in their own data center environments.

"LEAP" is an acronym for Learn, Educate, Architect, and Plan, which describes the Center's primary functions, said George Fandos, vice president for the global data center business of Comstor, the group within Westcon focused primarily on the distribution of Cisco technology.

The LEAP Center is more than a demonstration lab, Fandos said.

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It includes a fully-stocked classroom, a Cisco TelePresence video conferencing system for distance learning, a full-time engineering staff, a 24x7 support infrastructure, and a complete library of demo labs and applications, he said.

Next: Real-world Environments

In addition to a focus on Cisco UCS, the LEAP Center also includes a variety of equipment from related vendors, particularly storage arrays from EMC and NetApp, both of which are strong supporters of UCS.

It also includes servers from IBM and Hewlett-Packard, which compete with Cisco in the blade server space, Fandos said.

"A lot of people think if you move to Cisco, you have to be Cisco-only," he said. "Not true. Maybe someday customers will be Cisco-only. But it works well in HP and IBM environments."

Solution providers can use the LEAP Center to address several data center challenges that plague them and their customers, including longer sales cycles, increasingly complex sales proposals, and the need to educate and demonstrate solutions and not just point products in a customer environment, Fandos said.

"The role of distribution is not just pick-pack-ship," he said. "We seek to be at the leadership level."

Next: LEAP Program To Go With LEAP Center

In addition to officially opening its Denver LEAP Center, Westcon also unveiled its LEAP Program for helping solution providers get the experience and training needed to bring Cisco UCS solutions to their customers.

The LEAP Program offers solution providers accelerated training; business development services; other services such as financing, maintenance, staging, and integration; and access to the LEAP Center.

The goal, Fandos said, is to help solution providers understand the costs and commitment they need to make to increase their data center practice.

"We hope we're adding value to your business," he said. "We hope we're not just selling you things."

Solution providers can get started with the LEAP program by first scheduling either an on-site or teleconference briefing with Westcon execs, followed by attending a technical hands-on day and an architectural and planning workshop.

Next: Looking Forward To Working With LEAP

Solution providers who attended the opening of Westcon's LEAP Center said they expect it to make it easier to work with UCS and potential clients of the technology.

The ability to show the technology to customers in a facility like the LEAP Center offers huge opportunities, said Craig Gaines, enterprise platforms practice manager at Accudata Systems, a Houston-based solution provider and a six-month partner of Cisco with UCS.

"It's one thing to talk to customers about new technologies," Gaines said. "But once you can actually show it to them, they can see the benefits of the new architecture."

The LEAP Center is a great way for solution providers to show customers the UCS architecture without investing in their own expensive demonstration center, said Scott Morris, chief technologist at Nova Datacom, a Chantilly, Va.-based Cisco partner which focuses primarily on government business.

"It's much easier to get access through a distributor than with Cisco," Morris said. "Cisco tends to not want to do this for smaller deployments. The LEAP Center has all the basic pieces. Anything I would think is missing is not a big thing."