A Look Inside Ingram Micro's Cisco Experience Center

Ingram Micro this week opened the Experience Center, a 1,000-square-foot facility and demonstration dedicated to advanced Cisco architectures such as data center, Borderless Networks and collaboration. Located within Ingram's larger solution center in Buffalo, N.Y., the Experience Center includes classrooms, exhibitions, showcase areas and and lots of demo equipment -- nearly $2 million worth of technology in all.

CRN had the opportunity to visit the Experience Center on launch day this week, and here's a visual look at what's inside.

Cisco and Ingram Micro have been partnering for 15 years, according to Julie Hens, vice president, channels U.S. and Canada distribution, at Cisco. More than 40 Cisco VARs and Ingram partners joined executives from both the vendor and distributor at the launch.

From left to right: Ken Bast, vice president and general manager, advanced technologies division, Ingram Micro; Paul Bay, executive vice president, Ingram Micro North America; Mario Leone, executive vice president and CIO, Ingram Micro; Julie Hens, vice president, channels U.S./Canada distribution, Cisco; Peter Gambino, vice president, advanced technology/Cisco business unit, Ingram Micro; Marc Sherman, vice president, marketing and sales enablement, APC; and Anne Wilcox, vice president, U.S. customer solutions marketing, Ingram Micro.

The Experience Center space, most of which was new or refinished construction, according to Ingram Micro, is contained within Ingram's Buffalo, N.Y.-based solution center. It comprises classrooms, a full training facility, telepresence rooms, a digital home setup and other amenities, accessed from a reception area.

What was important, explained Cisco and Ingram Micro executives to press and attendees, was to build a center that didn't just attract engineers, but also C-suite level executives.

"It's not just a lot of racks and equipment right in your face," said Peter Gambino, vice president, advanced technology, Cisco business unit at Ingram.

Still, they said, there's plenty for engineers to do, too, including walls of hands-on testing equipment big and small.

A panoramic view of the main room in the Experience Center shows everything from a mock workstation (including IP phones, mobile carts and video endpoints, desktops and laptops) to an interactive whiteboard, a data center showcase behind glass doors that features Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS), a conference table, a meet-and-greet sitting area, and a video wall with seven digital displays.

The video wall can be customized to offer specific training and presentations on vertical markets, such as education and health care, and Cisco resources, such as financial planning.

Using the displays and the office set-ups, Experience Center visitors can try out various IP communications, such as mobile call transfer and call parking and video integration. The Center is staffed, year-round, by not only Ingram's Buffalo-based support staff but also a dedicated Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and a Cisco-certified classroom instructor, too.

On the data center side, the Experience Center offers exposure and demonstrations of all eight flavors of Cisco's UCS, including its lines of B-series blade servers and C-series rackmount servers, plus all of its Cisco Nexus data center switches.

Of course, for those engineers for whom a day without racks is a day without sunshine or fresh air, you're covered, too.

Power supply and data center cooling ace APC is also a critical part of the Experience Center, offering many of the data center management capabilities and also plenty of showcase equipment.

TelePresence is, of course, a big piece of Cisco's ongoing video strategy, and the Experience Center now offers a full TelePresence room that interoperates with Cisco's own global TelePresence system. The hope, said Ingram executives, is that VARs and other visitors can take advantage of TelePresence as a meeting tool, especially if they're in the Buffalo area or nearby.

Networked, IP-based surveillance is a growing piece of both Cisco's physical security and video portfolios, and the Ingram Micro's Solutions Center, in which the Experience Center is housed, offers a range of surveillance equipment, from the cameras themselves to the routers that support them.

Be it the demo rooms or the classroom space, there's no charge to use the Experience Center, according to Ingram Micro -- it's freely available for use by Ingram Micro VARs that are Cisco partners.

"It doesn't cost anything except your partnership," said Ingram Micro's Gambino.

One of the broader Ingram Solution Center's key attractions is its digital home set-up, which displays and demonstrates how a lot of home- and prosumer-centric Cisco and other gear might be used. That means home offices...

... home entertainment systems...

... and home displays.

Paul Bay, executive vice president for Ingram Micro North America, was among the day's presenters, expounding on the idea of Cisco solution providers that work with Ingram moving past just technology product selling and learning how to build architecture-based solutions.

Power, cooling and data center management are no longer an afterthought or an add-on, explained Marc Sherman, vice president of marketing and sales enablement at APC. Technology buyers are efficiency-minded -- both from a cost perspective and from a green perspective -- and anything that keeps the data center running smoothly and cost-effectively is going to be a key play for solution providers.

Mario Leone, executive president and CIO at Ingram Micro, explained how during and right after a recession, there's usually an inflection point in technology, and at the moment, consumerization, convergence, Web 2.0 and mobility are all trends that have a transformative effect on the way CIOs buy and employees consume IT.

"We'll be in a period of transition for the next few years," Leone told solution providers. "If you're a young, upstart company, there's no reason in the world why you'd put a lot of infrastructure onsite. That's going to make our jobs that much more interesting. We're in a hybrid situation."

Cisco's Julie Hens and Ingram Micro's Paul Bay, Peter Gambino and Mario Leone share a lighter moment as the day's presentations continue.