Difference Makers: The 2015 CRN Tech Elite 250

For solution providers, the technical skills of some of their most valued workers—pre-sales engineers, system designers, developers and customer support personnel—can become obsolete in almost no time. And when they do become obsolete, so can solution providers.

One way that solution providers can hone their employees' IT skills and maintain their technology edge is by taking advantage of the training and certification opportunities offered by the IT vendors they partner with.

CRN's annual Tech Elite 250 list features solution providers who differentiate themselves by investing in certifications in the area of infrastructure, including data center, storage and virtualization. The selection team maps certifications against technology opportunities (as defined by our State of the Market and Midmarket studies) and builds this list based on the certifications within each solution provider organization.

Here we provide snapshots of 25 solution providers as a sample of the Tech Elite 250. The complete list is available for purchase by contacting Laurie Condon on the East Coast ([email protected]) or Nora Uriarte on the West Coast ([email protected]).

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"Having the certifications is a competitive differentiator," said Rich Baldwin, chief strategy officer at San Diego-based Nth Generation, one of the Tech Elite 250. "That's something we've always prided ourselves on."

While the company works with more than 30 vendors and has certifications from almost all of them, Baldwin said in an interview that the real focus is on strategic vendors such as Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and VMware. "Typically, the tier-one vendors are the ones that count," he said.

Certifications, of course, signal to customers and potential customers a solution provider's prowess in working with a vendor's technologies. "It's confirmation that you can deliver, install, configure and support the manufacturer's products and the partner's solutions," said Andy Jones, president of MCPc, a Cleveland-based solution provider that works with nearly 50 vendors including Cisco, Citrix, Dell, HP, Lenovo, NetApp and VMware.

More than 300 of MCPc's employees have at least one certification, Jones said, while many pre-sales and implementation engineers may have five or more certifications and some superstars may even have dozens.

Certifications also create a set of de facto worldwide standards for working with specific vendors' products. Jones said that makes it easier to work collaboratively with solution providers in other parts of the world when serving global customers.

Many solution providers, of course, obtain and maintain certifications with key vendors for a very basic reason: Most IT vendors today require partner certifications as a condition for attaining high-level status in their partner programs. If a solution provider wants access to top-tier rebates, margins, marketing assistance and other benefits, certifications are a given.

Certifications certainly have a price tag. But as seen with the Tech Elite 250, those costs are investments that can return big dividends by helping solution providers stay on top of their technology game and stand out from the competition.