Datalink, Cross Discuss Cisco's Impact On Their Acquisition Deal

Storage VAR Datalink's decision to purchase the Cisco-centric networking business of telephony solution provider Cross Telecom gave Datalink a way to expand its storage focus and Cross a way to expand its Avaya relationship.

That's the word from executives of the two solution providers in conversations with in the wake of the acquisition.

Datalink acquired the networking business of Cross earlier this month in a bid to prepare for the industry's expected moves toward converged storage and IP networks and towards data center virtualization.

Datalink, Chanhassen, Minn., acquired the seven-person networking team of Bloomington, Minn.-based Cross Telecom for $2 million, and Cross agreed to purchase a minimum of $1.8 million worth of networking products and professional services from Datalink over the next three years.

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It is important that Datalink build a networking relationship with Cisco as quickly as possible because of Cisco's increasing importance to virtual data centers, said CTO Scott Robinson.

Cisco is expanding its data center presence with new Unified Computing System (UCS) strategy of combining storage, server, and networking resources into a single architecture, and with virtualization thanks to its VMware partnership, Robinson said.

Cisco is also making a play to develop converged storage and IP networks with the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and Converged Ethernet.

"We're in those data centers," Robinson said. "Customers are asking about how they can tie their servers, storage, and networking. And while not a lot of them are doing things like FCoE yet, it's coming."

As Cisco rolls out its UCS and converged networking strategy, it presents some new opportunities for a storage-centric solution provider like Datalink, Robinson said.

"When we look at Cisco's relationship with VMware and USC, we see a big market," he said. "As we do more with VMware and storage, we also see an opportunity to do more with Cisco."

Its new networking group gives Datalink a Cisco partnership at the silver level immediately, while developing that kind of expertise would take at least a 12-month commitment and a large monetary investment, Robinson said.

The acquisition is in part due to Datalink taking a proactive stance on the future of storage, but also in part a defensive move, Robinson said.

"We see a lot of other big storage integrators doing more with Cisco," he said. "If we go to our customers, and can help them with VMware and storage but not Cisco, we'll see more competitors coming into our market."

However, Robinson said, Datalink is not planning to expand into the IP networking business or participate in Cisco's UCS strategy.

Next: Cross Can't Live With Cisco, Can't Live Without It

Meanwhile, for Cross, the divestiture of its Cisco-centric networking business lets it focus on Avaya, especially as Avaya starts absorbing the customer base of Nortel, which Avaya is in the process of acquiring.

Bob Coughlin, president and CEO of Cross, said his company is Avaya's largest or second largest partner worldwide, and the acquisition of Nortel will make Avaya the number one vendor in every facet related to unified communications.

For that reason, Cross evaluated its Cisco business, and saw that it wasn't where the solution provider felt it should make its investments, Coughlin said.

"We looked at our company from the perspective of growth," he said. "We looked at networking. We already decided we could not support Cisco's Unified Communications. And we talked to Datalink, and saw they wanted to get into networking but not into Cisco Unified Communications."

With its growing focus on Avaya, it was important for Cross to decide whether or not to invest in developing Cisco Unified Communications, and the company made the decision to bet its future on Avaya, Coughlin said.

"In the market, it was Cisco vs. Avaya," he said. "Nortel was really on the sidelines. We scaled our $150 million business around Avaya. We thought we could also scale with Cisco Unified Communications."

However, after investing in Cisco, Cross found it difficult to compete with Cisco against Avaya and with Avaya against Cisco, Coughlin said.

"Cisco wanted it all," he said. "It was the greatest, most expensive learning process I ever went through. There's no way we could partner with both companies, and Avaya was our core."

If Datalink had not acquired Cross' Cisco networking business, Cross would have had some difficult decisions to make, Coughlin said.

It would be difficult to scale its Cisco networking business, but it couldn't just close it because about 78 percent of the customers who are supported and maintained by Cross are utilizing Cisco's SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and VoIP (voice over IP) technologies.

"We need to support them," Coughlin said. "But now we can work together with Datalink on our SLAs (service level agreements). We can still provide the same level of support for our customers."