Westcon Group Kicks Off Cisco UCS Distribution Monday

Westcon and Cisco confirmed details of the agreement to Channelweb.com, making Westcon the first officially announced distributor to carry UCS servers and other UCS products. It also marks the first time Westcon Group, a specialty distributor for networking, convergence, mobility and security products, will have servers on its line card -- something Westcon President and CEO Dean Douglas called a "milestone."

Following its initial announcement back in March, the UCS' release through the channel has been slow and deliberate. Cisco confirmed that UCS products will go through Westcon and two additional distributors, one of which Channelweb.com has confirmed to be Tech Data and the other thought to be Ingram Micro.

The UCS is Cisco's major data center play, centered around new B-series blade servers and C-series rack-mount servers, but also comprising a number of additional storage, networking and virtualization products that Cisco intends to be tied together as a complete data center architecture.

Cisco earlier this month confirmed pricing for the C-series servers: the UCS C200 M1s at $2,589, the UCS C210 M1s at $3,039, and the UCS C250 M1s at $10,339. The first two will be generally available in November, the C250 in December.

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Douglas said Westcon has been actively training its staff on the Cisco UCS and in the coming weeks would be announcing training and marketing resources for Westcon VARs selling it.

"We've had a chance to play with the equipment, work with the equipment and get prepared to talk about how an early adopter might be able to take advantage of the product," Douglas said. "We're educating our folks internally, putting together marketing programs and making infrastructure investments to get ready."

Bill Corbin, executive vice president of Comstor Worldwide, added that 75 percent of Comstor's worldwide sales force has already been trained on UCS and that 100 percent would be trained and certified by Nov. 15.

Douglas wouldn't provide an estimate on the volume of UCS products he expected to move through Westcon, and said Westcon was working with industry researchers to gauge the UCS' market popularity.

"What we've seen not only from our incumbent assessments but also from industry analysts is that there's a server market out there that has pretty significant players already," Douglas said. "We see this [UCS] as a platform that takes a very different approach, and while the price point isn't low, when you start to think about what it takes to run the infrastructure, it's a lot less than competitive products."

Douglas suggested that for VARs wanting to sell UCS, the sweet spot would be midmarket end users.

"The market's been in recession for a while, and there's going to be a lot of focus on the op-ex [operating expenditures] equation as well as the ability to mitigate any cap-ex expenditure," he said. "A lot of midmarket companies have been ready for something like this for a while. They've been cobbling together virtualization for a while now, for example, and this, while not a watershed, is an opportunity for them to catch a wave and refresh their technology. It's going to be big."

Corbin said that 80 percent to 90 percent of the Cisco partners currently certified to sell the B-series servers were also existing Comstor customers.

He also estimated that 60 percent of Comstor's existing VAR partner base was in a position to sell UCS immediately, thanks to those VARs' storage and virtualization practices.

"For those that aspire to be able to resell these products, we are putting together a pretty robust set of capabilities to allow these resellers to get up to speed in a rapid way, go to market and support it," Douglas added. "We're doing it in such a way that understands this will occur in an environment where there are already some pretty substantial incumbent players."

Cisco has been offering UCS B-series servers to a select few channel partners for the past few months, as part of Cisco's newly formed Advanced Technology Group.

John Growdon, Cisco's director of go-to-market worldwide channels, said November would begin the next phase of Cisco's broader rollout of both the B-series and C-series servers, and he confirmed that Cisco had this past week sent another round of invitations to channel partners for the B-series.

"We took the B's to market in a very restricted fashion through a small set of partners," Growdon said. "The B-series is still restricted, but we are entering a new phase we are calling the 'Expand to Demand' phase [of the rollout]. We have about 60 B-series partners worldwide right now, and expect to take that up to about 200 partners by the end of the fiscal year."

The rack-mounted C-series servers, Growdon said, have a "much broader" go-to-market strategy and as part of Cisco's rollout in November, VARs won't need a special certification to be sold -- they just need to be Cisco partners.

He stressed in a Channelweb.com interview that VARs shouldn't view the UCS as merely buying a server, blade or rack-mounted, through Cisco.

"This is not a question of selling servers," Growdon said. "Cisco is taking a really architectural approach to the data center. This is not a server discussion; it's an architectural discussion. The [resellers] that have infrastructure capabilities, networking capabilities and some level of storage capabilities will be the ones who are most successful and the ones who will be targeted through Comstor first." Cisco's Growdon said Tech Data and Ingram Micro were the other two distributors chosen for UCS rollouts.

Ingram Micro did not respond to requests for comment by press time, but Tech Data's Chuck Bartlett, vice president of network product marketing, confirmed as much.

"We have been selected by Cisco to carry the UCS products, specifically the C-series, which are being configured to order for our partners and in our inventory," Bartlett said. "The B-series is drop-ship-order-only at this time, but Tech Data is processing some orders on an exception basis for the B-series. We have done several [orders] already."

Bartlett said Tech Data wouldn't be making a formal announcement about UCS availability through Tech Data but that "general orderability" would be by mid-November.

He said Tech Data was communicating as much information as possible to partners and suggested the UCS, for Cisco, was an "impressive culmination of vision and strategy."

Bartlett said he could identify 18 Tech Data VARs who were on Cisco's B-series invitation list already.

"For the B-series, that partner community is still being very closely controlled by Cisco. They're being hand-picked by Cisco, and in most cases, they will provide more of a fulfillment function," he said. "We expect to enable training and enablement around partners, but today, Cisco's doing all the heavy lifting."

Bartlett said November would see much wider availability for C-series UCS products and that Tech Data would be putting together go-to-market sales training, especially for partners that didn't have experience selling servers before.

"For the C-series, we've identified thousands of potential customers," he said. "It has a much broader application. We think a big portion of the Cisco partner base is going to add it to their server and storage practice. It's not going to require specialization from Cisco, so as long as they're a registered partner with Cisco, they'll have access to C-series product."

Bartlett said Tech Data plans to make a "big splash launch" around Cisco UCS at its upcoming TechSelect partner conference, which runs Nov. 12-15 in Orlando, Fla. He confirmed there will be C-series units on display there for partners to demo.

Is Bartlett seeing any brushback from Cisco data center competitors Tech Data also carries?

"At the Cisco partner level, that's my group, so we push Cisco as much as we can," he said. "But we put the solutions out in the market and try to position them based on their value proposition for the end users. It's up to the partners which one they want to put in front of the end users."