One of the better stories of 2012 was the rapid adoption of EMC's VSPEX -- a relatively new solutions delivery model for EMC.
Since there are so many different flavors of various pre-integrated solution stacks in the market today, I've been curious as to what made VSPEX different, and why this one variation had been so successful so quickly.
I found some time to catch up with Daanish Ahmad (the marketing lead for VSPEX), and wanted to probe a bit on the story behind the story.
Our success with VSPEX has had everything to do with our channel partners. We now have over 1,000 VSPEX-qualified reselling partners in countries around the globe and I'm continually impressed with how they’re building on what we've done with VSPEX to create their own solutions.
So, why do you think that is?
What they tell me is that what they see in VSPEX is a solution platform that can either be sold successfully and very quickly as-is – reducing the sales cycle by as much as 70% – or they can easily add their own unique differentiation to stand out from the crowd in the eyes of the customer.
Bull, for example, did something really cool: they delivered an active/active data center solution that combined VSPEX with VPLEX.
Ultimately, for partners it's the best of both worlds: a rock-solid offering from EMC, plus the ability to flexibly extend the environment in a variety of ways. In either case, they get stickiness with their customers -- the customer satisfaction numbers are very high. That stickiness delivers higher margins and more revenue opportunities.
So, how do the mechanics of VSPEX work?
What we do with VSPEX is to start with a fully-documented reference architecture around typical workloads and use cases.
We're very precise on how these go together -- that's important, because the precision ensures a solution that performs in line with the customer’s expectations.
Yet at the same time we leave flexibility in the reference architecture so that partners and customers can choose the tech they want at the hypervisor, server and network layers.
I'll explain why that aspect is particularly important for partners and customers in a minute.
We also supply the packaging -- a VSPEX enclosure -- so it looks like a finished product, which it is. We've got a process where our partner can use their own logo, come up with variations on the packaging, etc. so in effect we're building a tailored and branded infrastructure "product" that's somewhat unique for each partner.
This way partners can put their brand into the customer’s data center – just like we do.
I bet they love that.
They do love it – CRN recently did a spread showing how partners across the world have really embraced VSPEX – I saw many smiling faces!
How does support work?
Many VSPEX partners are acting as the first line of support for the entire solution. It’s really empowered them to take a more strategic role in their customers’ environments.
Of course, EMC is well-known for the world class support we provide to our customers and VSPEX customers are no exception. We have 620 Field service locations in over 50 countries to go along with our 9 Global technical support centers - when the issue is not with EMC hardware, we have over 650 Cooperative Support Agreements in place to engage with other vendors as needed.
The short of it is, if you’ve got an issue, you can always contact EMC to get it resolved.
So, how does all of this look in the eyes of the customer?
The profile of today’s VSPEX customers typically shows an IT shop where everyone tends to be stretched very thin.
Their challenge is that they sometimes need to move multiple pieces of the infrastructure puzzle forward -- all at once -- and they just don't have the resources and expertise to do it in a piecemeal way. And they go looking for an easy, cost-effective way to do it all in one shot.
With VSPEX, they see an attractive pre-integrated solution – backed by an industry leader -- that's easy to order, easy to deploy and easy to run. And they get it fast. It's an attractive proposition. Minor Weir & Willis, for example, underwent an very speedy transformation; their VSPEX went from proposal to deployment in less than 4 weeks – and came in 25-30% cheaper than the competing solutions.
The other benefit is the flexibility in component selection. Let's say you've already made a recent investment in Dell, HP or IBM servers, or network switches you can't afford to walk away from. Our proven infrastructure approach provides clear instructions for incorporating existing components into the environment -- which we fully support -- and that can be a huge win in the eyes of the customer.
Ultimately, the customer gets a modern, fully integrated and fully supported virtualized platform with VSPEX, and now they can get on with more important tasks.
Do you ever run into the VSPEX vs. Vblock discussion?
With our customers and partners, no -- but occasionally a competitor may try and muddy the water.
Look, the entire industry is moving to converged, pre-integrated infrastructure for obvious reasons, and it would be naive to assume that one single approach met everyone's needs.
With VCE’s Vblock, the usual target is larger enterprise IT environments, and they're usually in the process of changing how they deliver IT services, and the Vblock supports that motion very well.
With VSPEX, we're usually talking to customers with fewer staff than what you see in larger enterprises; these are environments where everyone does everything already. VSPEX fits in nicely with the way they work today. And we've got partners who handle both, for example. It doesn't take long to figure which approach is better for a customer.
So, what's the next big thing you're working on?
I'm glad you asked. Last April we announced VSPEX Labs - an environment where ISVs, IHVs and our partners can qualify extensions to the core VSPEX platform and receive solution validation. We work with these partners to come up with test plans, help evaluate the results and create a full set of documentation that's publicly available.
If you're an infrastructure software vendor, this is turning out to be a great way to get access to our VSPEX resellers. If you're a VSPEX partner and you'd like to bake a slightly different version -- and still be a VSPEX -- we can use this mechanism as well. And the initial reaction has been extremely popular.
We’ve been working with several ISVs that provide stack management software that customers can opt for should they not prefer the existing options.
Additionally, we’re working with ISVs that offer expanded functionality for our VSPEX for virtualized SharePoint solution. Bull, that same partner I made mention of earlier made use of VSPEX Labs to validate a 300 virtual machine VSPEX solution powered by their own Bullion servers. It’s a great example of one of our channel partners truly making VSPEX their solution for customers.
What does the competitive landscape look like going forward?
I don't want to comment on what I think other vendors are doing, but I can tell you what we're going to be focusing on.
First, we want to make sure we remain very clear about what you're getting when you buy a VSPEX. We'll be keeping our high standards around qualification, testing, documentation and support.
Second, we want to be an enabler for our partners. They're the ones that see the opportunities in the marketplace, and we want to help them get after those opportunities as quickly as possible. We did a good job of that with the initial VSPEX program, and as we build new capabilities like VSPEX Labs, we'll have better ways of doing that.
Third, we want to help our partners look out for their customers' best interests. They own the relationship, but we want to be right there with them if any sort of issue comes up where we can help.
For me, those are the basics. If we get those right, we should do quite well in a very competitive market.
I bet the EMC brand helps.
It sure does. We've got an amazing reputation for great technology and world-class support. In one sense, we're just packaging all of that in a way that's easier to consume for our partners and their customers. It's a great advantage to have.
Any final thoughts?
Our partners are fired up about what they can do with VSPEX. And their customers are equally enthused about what they're getting from the partner and EMC. 1,300 units sold certainly makes that clear, but the excitement goes well beyond the numbers.
I think we've come up with a winning approach with VSPEX, and now we're encouraged to do even more – more for our partners and more for our customers.