Catalyst Convergence

Catalyst Telecom, which distributes technology from Avaya, Extreme Networks, Juniper Networks and Polycom, used its Convergence Connection 2006 partner conference last week in Hilton Head, S.C., to evangelize the notion that Avaya solution providers need to look beyond their voice-only heritage to converged solutions.

To compete against the end-to-end convergence play heralded by Cisco, John Black, president of Catalyst Telecom, a division of distributor ScanSource, Greenville, S.C., touted a "quadruple-play" solution built on VoIP products from Avaya, infrastructure and security wares from Extreme and Juniper, and video gear from Polycom.

To help channel partners meld these solutions, Catalyst Telecom has brought together executives from the four vendors to discuss the possibility of creating a common "alliance" certification that would differentiate solution providers as certified convergence partners, Black said. The vendors also are working jointly to build tools such as configurators that will ease deployment of the multivendor solutions.

In the meantime, solution providers should push to gain expertise across the product lines, Black said.

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While many Avaya partners have made the switch to IP telephony, they often leave the network infrastructure, security and video pieces to other resellers, he said. "You need to retrain the mind-set of your salespeople. When you do move to the converged reseller model, you insulate yourselves from other competitors," Black said. "[Partners that don't expand their scope are] going to expose their voice business to the data reseller that's also going to sell voice."

It's an idea that resonated with Ken Mitchell, account manager at Advanced Communication Technologies, a Florence, Ala.-based Avaya partner. "We're seeing that we're leaving a lot of money on the table," Mitchell said. The investment in training and certification will be significant, he said. "It's going to take time There are certifications for each of these folks," Mitchell said. Nevertheless, he believes it's an investment that should quickly bear fruit.

Jeff Hiebert, president of Avaya partner ROI Networks, San Juan Capistrano, Calif., said it took his company six months to get up to speed with Extreme and about one year for Juniper. But now, ROI's multivendor solutions are winning deals against Cisco, he said.

"You need to force objectivity in these decisions, force a side-by-side comparison. Don't be afraid to do a bake-off," he said.

Cisco partners counter that multivendor solutions lack accountability. "The best-of-breed approach is a fallacy," said Pat Scheckel, vice president of the Cisco practice at Berbee Information Networks, Madison, Wisc. "If you're running someone's voice platform on someone else's network infrastructure with someone else's security products and you have a problem that impacts all three, you get a lot of finger-pointing."

Avaya partners at the conference called on the vendors to jointly develop training, deeper discount programs, product bundles, stepped-up marketing efforts and unified configuration, management and support offerings.

"I would like to see a bundled discount program," said David Giangano, president of Juma Technology, Farmingdale, N.Y. Juma often wins deals against Cisco with Avaya, Extreme and Juniper, but such a discount program would help counteract the additional rebates Cisco partners can receive for VoIP deals, he said.

Neal Stanton, president and CEO of Consultedge, Whippany, N.J., said joint marketing would be a key piece to compete with Cisco's claims that a single-vendor solution is best. A channel program specifically for convergence partners also would ensure that customers can find skilled partners. "You need to keep those without the knowledge out," Stanton said.

Catalyst Telecom and its vendor partners say they are working on these issues. On the training front, for example, the distributor is mounting road shows to train partners in combining the vendors' products to sell converged solutions.