AHEAD’s 6 Biggest IT Bets In 2021 Include AWS, Cisco, VMware

From Cisco and VMware to cloud services and PCs, here are AHEAD President Stephen Ayoub’s biggest technology bets and investments for 2021.

In 2021, customers are going to “expect more from traditional solution providers than ever before,” says Stephen Ayoub (pictured), president of solution provider powerhouse AHEAD.

As one of the nation’s top AWS, Dell Technologies and Cisco channel partners, Ahead has been growing its employee base and technical capabilities off the charts over the past two years via strategic investments and channel acquisitions including last year’s purchases of RoundTower Technologies and Kovarus. Chicago-based Ahead is now a more than $2.1 billion national solution provider, ranking No. 36 on CRN’s Solution Provider 500 list which ranks the top 500 channel partners in North America by services revenue.

“We feel that the investments that we’ve made in our technical capabilities around ESM (enterprise service management), cloud and automation are going to pay off in 2021,” said Ayoub in an interview with CRN. “We feel that the manufacturers are relying more and more on their solution providers to bring these products not only to market, but to actually work, and we’re seeing our largest enterprise customers lean on us to do this more than ever before.”

Ayoub breaks down AHEAD’s biggest technology investments and key market bets as 2021 gets underway.

Doubling Down On AWS, Azure and Cloud Services

The COVID-19 global pandemic caused a surge in cloud services demand for AHEAD last year. AHEAD, who is an AWS Premier Consulting Partner and a Gold Microsoft Azur partner, is betting big on the two public cloud titans in 2021.

“We see customers asking us on a daily basis to help define and implement a cloud strategy. We’ve gained growth in both our AWS and Azure business. For 2020, we had a substantial increase in alignment with both of those vendors as well as our customers implementing new solutions or new applications in the cloud,” Ayoub said.

Doubling down on cloud migration services sales and workload optimization is a big investment this year for AHEAD.

“Cloud migration services is probably our largest services play,” he said. “But it’s also understanding and mapping the customers’ current environment to determine where the low hanging fruit is for the quickest ROI and the benefits of moving a certain workload to the cloud. Also, we’re focusing on looking at dependencies of different applications for customers to make moving to the cloud a reality for them.”

Still Betting On VMware With Gelsinger Exiting

VMware’s popular CEO Pat Gelsinger sent shockwaves through the industry in December by announcing he would be leaving to become the new CEO of Intel. Ayoub said Gelsinger and VMware are in great shape and AHEAD has no plans to change its tight partnership with the software star this year.

“Pat Gelsinger has the legacy at VMware and helped transform the company to become one of the leading IT companies in the industry. He left the company strong, like any good CEO, he left it in a strong position and on a path to continue to succeed with the right products and the right people in place. I’m not worried about the future of VMware without Pat,” said Ayoub.

AHEAD holds more than 500 VMware certifications along with three VMware Master Services Competencies.

Channel ‘Scale Is Going To Win’; Midsize Partners ‘Are Going To Struggle’

One of the biggest changes in the channel industry recently has been the importance of scale, which is why AHEAD acquired fellow solution providers RoundTower and Kovarus last year, while also merging with channel partners Data Blue, Sovereign Systems, Link and Platform Consulting in 2019.

“We believe scale is going to win, especially in the enterprise space. We believe in having a full portfolio of service offerings to bring to our clients and we also feel that experience and scale is something that our clients tend to rely on us for,” said Ayoub.

“I think that midsize solution providers are going to struggle. I think that your very small, regional niche players – they’ll always be a space for them. I think that large providers that have scalability have a defined path, but I feel like these regional partners that are stuck in the middle are going to get more and more pressure on them from either the large or the small solution providers,” said Ayoub. “[Data Blue] was in the midsize space. So coming together really allowed us to take the best disciplines of all business and provide those solutions to our clients.”

Dell Technologies

Dell Technologies, the $92 billion infrastructure market leader, has a great 2021 ahead, Ayoub said.

“Dell has put themselves in a formable position to be the leader in the IT infrastructure and the cloud space with their VMware integration and capabilities. For our largest, most complex enterprises, we see that they continue to rely on Dell Technologies solutions to build an overall IT strategy,” he said.

Dell Technologies shifting its focus this year to providing every product as-a-service via Project Apex also bodes well for AHEAD, who is a Dell Technologies Titanium Partner. “Customers are continuing looking to offload low-value services to a third-party provider that can offer it cheaper and more efficient than they’re able to do internally and focus their attention on more high value IT projects. So Dell is certainly positioned to scale that [as-a-service] business and provide these offerings to their clients,” Ayoub said.

Key Focus In 2021: Cisco Security And Networking

The dominant worldwide networking market leader has been investing significantly in security for more than five years. Last year, Cisco hired a new security and applications leader, enhanced its cybersecurity offerings and even acquired some security vendors including spending an estimated $100 million on security startup Portshift.

“Cisco security offering is going to be a key focus area for us in 2021,” said Ayoub.

“Another key for area is Cisco’s enterprise network and infrastructure design and implementation. As we get into more complex network configurations and more complex data center designs, we are spending a lot of our time and expertise in Cisco,” he said.

PC Demand Will Slow Down In 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic sent the PC market to new heights last year as remote learning and work from home spawned a new way of life for millions of people. However, AHEAD doesn’t expect the PC market to continue to surge in 2021 even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Most customers have already bought and implemented their key PC initiatives, said Ayoub.

“Work from home was accelerated due to COVID in 2020. I feel like a lot of companies have their plans rolled out already for that at this point. So we expect in 2021 that we don’t see as much growth in that space,” said Ayoub.