VCE Sharpens Channel Focus With New Tiered Partner Program, Vblock Specializations

VCE this week rolled out a series of Vblock enhancements along with a newly designed partner program aimed at helping solution providers cash in on what the company called "tremendous growth" in the converged infrastructure market.

The new program, dubbed the VCE Partner Program, has a tiered partner structure, revamped incentives and a new set of partner specializations around VCE's Vblock converged infrastructure offerings.

D. Martin, vice president of global channels at VCE, said these new specializations and tiered structure represent a major shift in how VCE views and segments its partners. Under its previous channel program, VCE's partner recruitment and enablement efforts were focused narrowly on solution providers who held high-level certifications from EMC and Cisco, the tech giants who founded VCE back in 2011.

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"It made sense," Martin told CRN. "Those were the partners with the highest levels of capabilities."

VCE's new specializations, however, shift the focus to solution providers' experience selling and offering services around Vblock, Martin said. The first of the new specializations is for Vblock deployment and implementation services. "We provide partners with solution guides and best practices for Vblock deployment," Martin said.

The second specialization is around Vblock management, aimed at partners who manage customers' Vblock deployments and their system life cycles. "We see this as a big opportunity for partners who have people on the customer site handling the management," he said.

VCE also introduced two new solutions specializations, including VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) on Vblock, and messaging and collaboration with Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange.

Still to come in the first quarter of 2014 will be specializations focused on SAP HANA, Oracle and data protection, Martin said.

Depending on their experience, solution providers may be able to test out of classes to get the specializations. "I don't want to waste partner time on things they already know," he said.

The new VCE Partner Program segments partners into different tiers, based on the type and number of specializations they hold. The lowest end of the three tiers is VCE's Authorized tier, which includes about 200 partners worldwide, most of which are focused on midmarket customers. Next is the Silver tier, which includes roughly 50 VCE partners focused predominantly on the larger midmarket to smaller enterprise markets. The highest-level Gold tier, Martin said, is housing about 20 enterprise-focused partners.

Partner rewards and incentives -- including a 2 percent to 5 percent rebate on top of the rebates solution providers already get from EMC and Cisco -- vary based on tier. At the Gold level, for instance, partners are eligible for co-funding of engineering resources as well as for targeted marketing programs, Martin said.

NEXT: Vblock Enhancements

Kent MacDonald, vice president of Converged Infrastructure at solution provider and VCE partner Long View Systems, said he welcomes the new VCE Partner Program, and the fact that it recognizes partners based on the specific Vblock expertise they have. He also noted the similarities the new VCE program has to Cisco's partner program, in which Long View also participates as a Gold partner.

"There are certainly some similarities, if you look, specifically the Cisco channel program with the Gold and Silver naming conventions, so there's a lot of consistency there, which is great," MacDonald told CRN. "I think it also speaks to the maturity of VCE. The previous channel program really put everyone in the same bucket, and didn’t speak to the depth of your experience and the breadth of services. This [new program] is validation from VCE that they have vetted and stack-ranked partner abilities, and that's great."

The new VCE Partner Program also includes bulked-up partner training and sales enablement tools, prebuilt marketing campaign materials, lead and demand generation programs, and new technical resources, all of which, according to VCE, are designed to help partners grow their converged infrastructure business.

VCE partners, who once complained about numerous channel challenges associated with the Cisco-EMC-VMware joint venture, are starting to see things turn around. At the Cisco Partner Summit earlier this year, solution providers said VCE sales momentum is on the rise thanks to strong channel engagement under VCE CEO and 19-year Cisco vet Praveen Akkiraju.

VCE's sharper channel focus couldn't come at a better time for partners, with industry analysts anticipating a major jump in converged infrastructure adoption over the next few years. IDC, for its part, expects converged infrastructure solutions to drive more than $3 billion in annual sales in 2013, as more and more organizations seek out data center infrastructures that are easier to manage and can better support high-performance applications. IDC said it also expects converged infrastructure offerings to increase at a CAGR of 50 percent over the next five years.

VCE this week also unveiled a number of enhancements to its flagship Vblock converged infrastructure platform. Among them is the new Vblock System 340, an upgraded Vblock System 300 model that supports the latest compute, network, storage and virtualization technologies from Cisco, EMC and VMware. Specifically, Vblock System 340 supports EMC's second-generation VNX storage array introduced this month.

VCE also launched the Vblock Specialized System for High Performance Databases and the Vblock Specialized System for Extreme Applications, which features all-flash technology and is designed to support latency-sensitive applications like virtual desktops.

Lastly, VCE rolled out an upgraded version of its VCE Vision Intelligent Operations software -- version 2.5 -- and the new VCE Cloud Accelerator Services, aimed at helping customers plan, build and implement scalable "as a service" cloud infrastructure environments.