Emerson Sees Partner Punch In Combined Avocent, Liebert Programs

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Looking to streamline its programs and offer solution providers a more comprehensive set of data center channel resources, Emerson Network Power has combined the formerly separate channel programs for its Liebert and Avocent brands into one.

The move, which was completed this spring, comes nearly a year and a half after Emerson announced it would acquire KVM specialist and network equipment vendor Avocent, whose assets broaden Emerson's data center-centric portfolio of infrastructure, power and cooling offerings.

The combined program is called the Emerson Network Power Innovation Partnership Program and covers data center infrastructure management products from both Avocent and Liebert. The Avocent portfolio items include virtual asset management products, and from the Liebert side are UPSes, power management and precision cooling wares. Various data center infrastructure management (DCIM) offerings, including physical monitoring and asset tracking are covered from both sides.

"It's putting the Liebert and Avocent sides together in a way that I think makes us a game changer," said Tracy Collins, director of channel sales and marketing for the Avocent and Liebert businesses at Emerson Network Power, North America. "If you don't make the program that brings that kind of value with partners, you don't get the velocity you need."

The combined program streamlines deal registration across both sets of partners and product lines, and also creates a consistent pricing structure. Emerson is also making more of the product sets on both the Liebert and Avocent sides available to a wider group of partners, and has launched an online partner portal to organize partner resources in one place. Emerson has also expanded its team of locally-based data center specialists to assist partners in different areas.

When Emerson began to combine the programs, Collins said, there was little product overlap, and also a group of solution providers from both sides who were tapping the growth of data center infrastructure opportunities. It was important to preserve the flexibility of individual brands -- Emerson Network Power itself is a nearly $7 billion piece of the broader, $21 billion Emerson organization -- but make access to product and channel resources such as deal registration a lot easier.

"From the beginning, we said, here's a broader solutions set and the partners that serve this market are often jointly working together," he explained. "But we had separate entities and separate sets of rules, and it became, 'How do we build it into a common program?'"

There were a number of solution providers -- Collins said between 25 and 30 percent -- selling both Liebert and Avocent products already, and the number of "highly participative" partners in that bracket was lower. In conversations with a lot of the partners, Collins said, there was clearly an opportunity for complementary selling.

"For the niche or small niches that Avocent plays in, it's very good at what it does and very highly regarded and mature in its approach," said Collins, who was previously director of sales at Huntsville, Ala.-based Avocent. "Emerson saw that value."

Collins tabbed the Emerson Network Power channel at in the "low 1,000s" of partners, and "active partners" in the "higher hundreds," but insisted Emerson isn't playing a quantity game.

"I don't think we have the perfect mix right now," he said. "The number of partners in the program is fine, but there are partners that don't really belong -- maybe they started with us around a given customer, but they're not meeting the criteria. We're going to be selectively looking for the right kinds of partners. The net number of partners doesn't need to grow. The efficiency and productivity needs to grow and we need to do a better job with the ones that matter."

Mont Phelps, CEO of NWN Corp., a fast-growing solution provider based in Waltham, Mass., said he appreciated that the Emerson program had "leveled out" and "created a collaborative, rather than a competitive, relationship."

"We've had a great relationship with Liebert over the years, and one of the things we've done to increase our managed services side specifically is in remote monitoring and support," he said. "The integration of Avocent into this mix gives us the opportunity to optimize and provide better solutions."

Many of NWN's customers who require Emerson data center solutions are mid-sized businesses, or satellite and branch offices. Not "big, big capital projects but more modest facilities" in the 500 to 1,000 employee range, Phelps said, that could pull about $1 million in average deal size.

NWN's business with Emerson companies is up this year and expected to continue growing, Phelps said, as part of an overall spike in data center opportunities.

"Data center is the biggest growth area for us," Phelps said. "The biggest thing driving that is everybody's looking at upgrading the data center, and virtualization, and going to the converged infrastructure. That's all driving change."

Collins said Emerson has an aggressive product release schedule over the next 12-to-18 months and will continue to fine-tune the program to spur partner growth.

"The challenges in the data center are in the efficiency of the physical environment and the infrastructure itself," Collins said. "It's not 1998 anymore where they can just throw money at it. The data center performance needs to be optimized. That's the business we're in."

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