Avaya Data Networking Chief: Full Speed Ahead

Avaya's new data networking chief has a firm prediction: the growth of Avaya's data networking business will double in the next two years.

The opportunity for Avaya and Nortel solution providers is vast, said Steve Bandrowczak, and Nortel's former data business -- the stability of which was questioned at the time of Avaya's acquisition of Nortel's enterprise unit -- is alive, well, and ready to prosper.

Before the acquisition, the data business in 2009 was down nearly 40 percent for Nortel, Bandrowczak said. But because capital budgets were tight and the economy was bad, there was not much rip-and-replace going on, either -- ergo, a Nortel installed base left largely untouched.

"Our first message is: we have a tremendous, loyal, very large installed base," said Bandrowczak, whose title is vice president and general manager, Avaya Data Solutions. "We have that base under a stable set of financial conditions now and we are back on the growth path."

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Consider, he said, that the Nortel data business was on a run rate of $1 billion fewer than 10 quarters ago. It's at about $500 million now, and Bandrowczak promised a doubling within the next 8 quarters.

A longtime data networking executive with SVP and CIO-level stints at Nortel, Lenovo, IBM and Avnet on his resume, Bandrowczak joined Avaya as part of the Nortel acquisition, and was named head of its data business in June, after Joel Hackney, previously Nortel's enterprise boss and then Avaya's data networking and government solutions chief, became senior vice president of sales and marketing and president, field operations.

The data business is one of the most closely watched pieces in an ongoing Avaya-Nortel integration that has no shortage of subplots. Bandrowczak's new role, for example, is part of a wave of executive changes in the past several months, which saw the departure of Hackney's predecessor, Todd Abbott, and shifts among the heads of Avaya's government and services businesses.

Like Bandrowczak, Hackney, too, is spending much of his time reassuring Avaya partners that the company's ambitious channel and product roadmaps remain on track. Carol Neslund, vice president, North American Channel, has also been telling news outlets that Avaya recruited all of the partners it had targeted at the Platinum and Gold levels, and then some.

And all the while, Avaya and Nortel solution providers have seen plenty of consolidation -- especially among larger partners -- as two formerly competitive channels find themselves on the same side of the fence.

Next: Challenges For Avaya's Data Portfolio

Two of the biggest challenges for Avaya are how to square lengthy and nuanced product releases, such as the data products it debuted at Interop in April and the UC and CC-focused releases in mid July, with the fact that certifications on the Avaya Data piece of the channel program, and other Avaya Connect logistics, are taking too long and frustrating partners hoping for a faster uptake.

"The desire is faster than we can move right now," Bandrowczak admitted, addressing criticism that Avaya isn't certifying partners on the data portfolio fast enough. "There's only a certain amount of resources we have to do training and enablement. But the demand out there is outstanding, and we're enabling requests to pick up the data portfolio as fast we can."

Avaya is hoping to rely on its distributor partners to help train partners and, as Bandrowczak says, "accelerate the pace." But he's quick to dismiss the idea that bumps along the way for the Avaya-Nortel merger have lost the vendor any of its key channel partners.

"Joel and I spend an enormous amount of time making sure our partners know they are our lifeblood and that we were going to continue to work together," he said. "Nortel has a very strong heritage background so it was easy for Joel and I to get into these roles and have these kinds of conversations. This is not a brand new relationship, and that's one of the most underrated assets we have."

Look for the data portfolio to stay front-and-center in Avaya's next wave of product updates, scheduled for the fall and winter, which will address wired and wireless infrastructure needs, an update to the VSP 9000 core data center switch Nortel had trotted out in 2009, and a refreshed portfolio that will motivate partners to take business from Cisco and other competitors, Bandrowczak said.

"Cisco is a very specific solution, and they're going head-to-head with HP, and have created a war in the space," he said. "We believe we can take our technology, our best-of-breed technology, and have a much better value proposition than having a single box and forcing our customers to go to an Avaya-only solution."

Continued consolidation and movement among major Avaya and Nortel partners isn't surprising, he said, and will likely continue. Shared Technologies, one of the largest Avaya partners, and in 2009, Nortel's biggest in North America, was acquired by distributor Arrow earlier this month.

"I think it's fabulous," Bandrowczak said of the deal. "Arrow brings them tremendous resources. I've known both Tony [Parella, president and CEO of Shared] and Andy Bryant [president, Arrow ECS] for many years, and we're looking forward to working together like this."