As the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition morphs into the VCE Company and unwinds its Acadia service provider arm, affiliated VARs hope the effort will boost partner Vblock sales.
Cisco Systems, EMC and VMware launched the VCE effort a year ago to push pre-tested and preconfigured Vblocks comprising Cisco servers hardware, EMC storage and VMware virtualisation. The goal was to push sales through both select partners and the parent companies.
On the partner side, VCE recruited virtualisation-savvy VARs that typically had top-tier status with EMC and Cisco as well.
Vblock sales hit the wall
Initial reaction to Vblocks among customers was positive: Many data centres want to consolidate hardware and cabling and pack more computing into less hardware. But, actual Vblock sales disappointed and sales cycles were onerous and long, channel sources said. Vblocks compete, to some degree, with other prefab offerings like FlexPods backed by Cisco and NetApp and Hewlett-Packard's Matrix. IBM also offers converged data centre hardware with partners Juniper Networks and Brocade Communications Systems providing the networking piece.
There was also considerable channel conflict between the partners recruited by VCE and the direct sales teams of the parent companies, especially EMC, channel sources said. (A VCE spokeswoman had no comment for this story by press time.)
The problem is that Vblock sales -- because they touch on so many constituencies in the server, storage and networking areas and because Vblock certifications take awhile -- take a long time to spec out and sell. The storage-only component, on the other hand, can sell fast, and that is attractive to the EMC sales force, which has sales quotas for a certain amount of storage per quarter.
"What you'd see happening is, you as a partner go through a long pre-sales and certification process, and then, at the end of the quarter, the EMC guy needs to make his number, so he'll go in and pitch the one-off storage sale," said one East Coast-based VCE partner who also has relationships with the parent companies. That breaks up the Vblock.
The EMC sales force can also make more margin on the one-off storage sale versus a storage sale that goes via a Vblock bundle, he noted.
This VAR thinks VCE is working to make the bundled sale more profitable for the internal sales teams at the parent companies. "I've heard they're going to offer a 20% uplift to EMC sales if the storage goes via Vblock versus standalone," he noted. If the EMC sales guy makes 20% more when storage goes via a bundle versus alone, he will be happier about selling it that way.
Others are skeptical that EMC would approve such a move. At any rate, these conflicts are definitely on the radar screen at VCE, which is one reasone it is dismantling its Acadia service provider arm. Deal registration was also confusing, several sources said. VCE is "looking to level out the commission structure and clean up that aspect of the business," said a former IT admin who joined VCE as part of a recent hiring spree.
Acadia was going to be treated as a service provider, said Stuart Miniman, research contributor with Wikibon.org. The customer would specify the number of virtual machines required, and then the Acadia entity would put together a package to support that number.
The very existence of Acadia was a problem. For one thing, even VCE insiders have said customers didn't want to buy Vblocks that way. And some services-centric partners viewed it as a competitor.
Now, the VCE Company will be more oriented toward building standardised Vblocks at the factory, distributing them through the channel, and maintaining tighter alignment among the three company roadmaps, Miniman said. If customers still want to "buy by the dose," it will supposedly be possible, but it's unclear what the process will be.
Goals: Shorter Vblock sales cycles, faster tech refreshes
One major shift with the advent of the VCE Company will be a renewed focus on sorting out the channel, shrinking time-to-market for Vblocks, and ensuring that Vblocks quickly incorporate the latest and greatest technologies from all its parent companies.
A time lag between individual product launches by Cisco and EMC and the inclusion of those new technologies into Vblocks hindered sales, according to the former IT admin.
An example: Up until last month, Vblocks still supported the M1 version of Cisco's UCS blade, despite the fact that a new generation of Cisco blades has been available for quite some time.
"There was about a six- to eight-month lag there," the former administrator said. "[The parent companies] don't want that anymore. They want [VMware CEO Paul] Maritz to be able to get up on stage [at VMworld] and say, 'here's the new VMware product, and here's a new Vblock you can run it on.'"
According to a blog post by Miniman, Cisco VP Phil Harris, and EMC VP Todd Pavone, have been pulled into the new venture to oversee the integration of the three companies' roadmaps. It still won't mean instantaneous Vblock compatibility for every new hardware feature, but, Miniman told SearchITChannel.com, "For things like the next version of vSphere, something should be ready day 1, because VMware ships beta code early."