Context: CDW rolled its Technoliner into Canadian territory this week, launching its Canada tour with a debut performance in Toronto’s downtown lakefront district. Built by West Coast Customs and CDW, the 48 foot bus has been fitted out with IT solutions and supporting infrastructure to bring CDW’s vision of latest tech development to customers and prospects. The Technoliner is a “connected vehicle,” featuring a dynamic, synchronized video system, high-density Wi-Fi network technology, a retractable 14-foot video wall — and a BBQ/Microsoft Xbox gaming entertainment centre.
CDW is looking to reposition as a solution provider. One of the largest resellers in Canada, CDW is hoping to build brand awareness as a provider of technology solutions that extend across the stack. According to Daniel Reio, director of marketing, CDW Canada continues to rely on the sale of device hardware — PCs, laptops, tablets and other peripherals — as an entre to new accounts, and this activity continues to account for a healthy portion of the company’s Canadian business. However, like most other channel organizations, the company is building the resources needed to move up the value chain to solution sales, and currently has 23 solution architects on staff to support customer implementations in emerging solution areas, such as mobility and collaboration. Many of these advanced technologies were on display in the Technoliner.
Vendor neutral is a state of pockets. As part of its mandate to provide best-of-breed solutions to customers, CDW positions its solutions as vendor neutral. Reio noted, for example, that CDW is HP Canada’s largest reseller, a fact that appeared in stark contrast to the Technoliner line up. Essentially a showcase for one vendor, the bus implementation featured Cisco StadiumVision display control technology, Cisco WiFi, including access points and LAN controller, its Adaptive security appliance, as well as Cisco media and mobile solutions — running on the UCS and Cisco Nexus and Catalyst switches and routers. Other technologies represented in the bus included VMware’s vSphere and NetApp’s ExpressPod, components of the VCE block preconfigured infrastructure solutions, as well as a smattering of products not marketed by Cisco such as Apple iPad and Mac mini workstations, Electro audio systems, Elo touch monitors, Axis cameras, Thomson DirectTV content, Tripp Lite UPSes, Samsung displays and the crowning glory, a six-display, high resolution Planar video wall. And for anyone that feels the urge to print, there is an HP printer.
This Cisco-specific focus likely came at a price. Vendor-sponsored channel marketing activities are becoming a major factor in defining the messages that are delivered to SMB buyers. InsightaaS principal analyst Michael O’Neil estimates that total spending on these types of programs in Canada is likely in excess of $35 million annually.
Cisco is looking to position UCS at the solution centre. Cisco is master at creating use cases that run on its core networking products, and at building the partner ecosystems needed to provide the missing hardware/software links. The Technoliner is a good example of this approach: as the accompanying video shows, the bus functions as a showcase for Cisco technology but also as a demo of how resellers can use Technoliner solutions to reach out to their clients. On the bus, pride of place was given to UCS, an indication of Cisco’s intent to focus on server markets, an area that the networking vendor now claims top spot (in terms of North American x86 blade shipments for Q1, 2014 at least).
The bottom line:
CDW’s desire to develop solutions profile is not unique, a fact that challenges the organization to seek new engagements that can help differentiate it in the market. The Technoliner is just one example of the kind of joint vendor-channel promotional initiatives that we can expect to see more of as Cisco and its chief server technology competitors (HP, Dell) are forced to respond to a coming realignment in the server marketplace that will result from Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s server business.