APC Living On The 'Local Edge' With New Power Deployment Configuration Tool, Cloud Management

APC by Schneider Electric is moving to make it easier for its channel partners to bring their SMB customers more complete solutions instead of point products for improving the efficiency of their IT infrastructures.

This includes the introduction of a new configuration tool that automates the design of power solutions targeting edge deployments, as well as the first in a new line of UPSes enhanced to give partners easier remote access to improve partner services related to power efficiency.

The new offerings are scheduled to be officially unveiled next week at the XChange 2017 conference in Kissimmee, Fla., which is operated by The Channel Company, the parent company of CRN.

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The new offerings are focused on improving the efficiency of IT, including power and services, at the local edge of the corporate IT infrastructure, said Katie Boeh, director of channel communications at West Kingston, R.I.-based APC by Schneider Electric.

The local edge, which hasn't changed much for years, includes such things as customers' network closets and the IDF, or intermediate distribution frame, closets, Boeh told CRN. "What has changed is the criticality, the nature of the equipment going into that closet, how important it is to a customer's experience and connectivity. … It's really all about protection mission-critical data," she said.

The cloud is seen as a way to scale the processing capabilities of such modern applications as augmented reality, but because of geographical separation, latency, and bandwidth, the cloud is not always suited for use with data-intensive applications, said Thomas Humphrey, segment director for edge at APC.

"That's now driving this edge application," Humphrey told CRN. "It's a hybrid environment now. You need the cloud because of the economies of scale and all the great things that it does. But you need the edge, because you need that local capability for machine-to-machine communications, data processing, and even just for prioritization of data. You may be able to do local aggregation of data on the edge and send mission-critical data to the cloud."

The best way for channel partners to protect the edge of customers' IT is via standardized, redundant, and repeatable infrastructures, which APC provides via its new Local Edge Configurator, Boeh said. "You don't have to break your head or rack your brains for how do I build a solution for every single MDF (main distribution frame) or IDF (intermediate distribution frame) closet a customer has," she said.

The Local Edge Configurator is a software tool that lets partners quickly and accurately plan and design custom, redundant edge solutions for customers, Boeh said. Using the Local Edge Configurator, partners can quickly design a solution including a rack, one or more single-phase UPSes, physical security, PDUs (power distribution units), and software.

The solutions proposed by the Local Edge Configurator can be saved as a template for easy future scalability and reuse, and as part of a sales presentation, Boeh said. Partners can also use the tool to help customers order additional products including warranties, warranty extensions, services, and similar offerings, she said.

Solutions proposed by the Local Edge Configurator can be brought to customers by partners for integration in the field or can be pre-configured and pre-integrated by the partner before bring to the customer, she said.

The results from the Local Edge Configurator are customized according to the customer's server and storage environments, Boeh said. Key to that customization is the ability to pull information such as power draw of third-party equipment such as Cisco servers or Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure appliances, she said.

APC will also offer reference designs via the Local Edge Configurator based on hyper-converged infrastructure from such APC partners as Scale Computing, Cisco, Nutanix, and Dell EMC, she said. "You can literally select one in the configurator, and it will populate," she said. "Here's the Nutanix appliance that's common, and then here's all the stuff that’s wrapped around it that we recommend."

The Local Edge Configurator is suitable for enterprises or SMB customers requiring single-phase UPS solutions, but is not aimed at three-phase UPS deployments, Boeh said. SMBs may likely only have edge IT infrastructures, while enterprises might likely have an edge IT infrastructure for its remote and branch offices, she said.

The Local Edge Configurator currently does not allow automatic ordering of the configured, although that capability could be available in the future, she said.

The Local Edge Configurator is unique in the IT power market because, rather than providing a list of part numbers, it actually shows partners how to configure the rack, said Joe Dougherty, partner development specialist focusing on APC at Connection, a Merrimack, N.H.-based solution provider.

"If the customer has a rack of servers, the tool will tell me the power used, and what we need to protect it," Dougherty told CRN. "I can then show the customer what the solution looks like, with a diagram of what is required."

Dougherty said he has seen plenty of configuration tools with drop-down menus that suggest products, but nothing with the capabilities of the Local Edge Configurator for SMBs. "It not only gives us look-up tools on certain things, but lets us drag and drop to order, change the order, or copy to a file," he said.

The Local Edge Configurator is not for every customer, Dougherty said. For instance, customers who purchase on more of a transactional basis do not need the complete configuration capabilities. "This is more for deep-dive solutions with customers looking for power, servers, and storage in [co-location] and on-premises and off-premises deployments," he said.

Josh Gradwohl, inside solutions architect for power and cooling at Zones, an Auburn, Wash.-based solution provider, told CRN he was a beta tester for the Local Edge Configurator, and found that it makes it much easier to configure complex builds and easily show customers what they need.

"We can use the tool to set up a rack with all components, and show the customer where their current equipment like servers, storage, and networking is, and then where the APC equipment will go," Gradwohl said.

The tool also prints out a PDF of the configuration that shows what the final solution will look like, with part numbers to make it easier for customers to go on-line and get more information, Gradwohl said.

He also said the Local Edge Configurator is suitable for nearly every customer requiring one or more single-phase UPSes, with the exception of those needing a single desktop UPS.

To help partners better take advantage of the Local Edge Configurator, APC is also enhancing its Edge IT channel program. The Edge IT program provides stackable discounts based on the number of different product categories included in the solution.

Boeh said eligible product categories include single-phase smart network UPSes, racks and enclosures, network management cards, rack-mount PDUs, extended warranties or similar services, DCIM software, and security and environmental monitoring. If products from three of those categories are included in the configured solution, the partner is eligible for a 7-percent discount, or 10 percent with four categories, 12 percent with five categories, or 15 percent with the company's Micro Data Center Xpress infrastructures.

"Our theory or philosophy [is] you shouldn't just be having a UPS that beeps and drives you crazy at the edge, but you should be securing it in a rack that is lockable," she said. "You should probably monitoring it with some kind of camera that shows when unauthorized personnel are coming in. It should have a dedicated PDU. It should have two UPSes. We're trying to encourage partners to sell solutions, not just one-and-done SKUs."

The Edge IT program in the past had a maximum solution revenue threshold of $15,000, over which partners had to go through APC's opportunity registration program where partners might be frustrated with a lower discount, Boeh said.

Going forward, the revenue threshold for the Edge IT program is $100,000 per solution as long as it is for a net-new opportunity, she said. In some cases, the solution could be beyond that threshold, although that would require special approval, she said.

Even as the enhanced Edge IT program is being rolled out, APC is also looking at how to take elements of the program to its deal registration program, Boeh said. However, she declined to provide details for now.

APC also plans to outline some of its future infrastructure management-as-a-service offerings, although partners will have to wait until this fall for details, Boeh said.

The infrastructure management-as-a-service offerings are slated to go beyond APC's StruxureWare on-premises software suites to monitor and control devices. Instead, it will turn the insights provided by StruxureWare into actionable data, she said.

The coming infrastructure management as a service product will be cloud-based, but talk with on-premises equipment, Boeh said. That will allow it to determine if a customer's current infrastructure is cost-optimized, she said.

"What I mean is, on-premises vs. cloud vs. hybrid, where could you be saving money," she said. "There's going to be a cost calculator component that tells you, oh, you could save X amount of dollars if you moved these things that are currently in the cloud down to on-premises."

To help prime the pump for infrastructure management as a service, APC is now starting to roll out a new feature for a wide swath of its Smart-UPS line called SmartConnect.

APC SmartConnect is a new feature that connects the Smart-UPS to the APC cloud via a secure web portal to provide customer notifications, alerts such as battery or other issues, firmware update, and support.

Channel partners can use APC SmartConnect as part of a managed service offering, and integrate it with RMM (remote monitoring and management) software from such providers as ConnectWise and Kaseya, Boeh said.

Partners can also configure SmartConnect to pass them whatever alerts they want to provide proactive management for customers, she said. "The customer might not even get a phone call [about the issue]," she said. "They might just have a new battery show up on their doorstep because a partner is that on top of it."

"It is the industry's first truly cloud-connected UPS device," Boeh said. "[It's easier] than having to find the serial number on an existing unit, go in through my RMM, and try to hook it up with some kind of RMM back-end integration magic with APC manually or with their great integration kit they came out with last year which we hope our partners use."

SmartConnect just this month became initially available as part of APC's SMT750 tower and SMT750RM2U rack-mount 750VA UPSes, and APC will roll out the new feature across its 1,000VA to 3,000VA UPSes over the next three months, Boeh said.

Gradwohl called SmartConnect a "cool" capability that will make it easier for customers to work with their UPSes. "We have a lot of customers asking for standard connect connections and to get access to their UPSes through the cloud," he said. "We now work around that with existing APC software to access alerts. But to have it hosted in the cloud and available for access from any location would be much easier."