Last week, I was fortunate enough to present at F5’s Agility Partner Conference. The event was held in New York’s Times Square and had about 1,000 of F5’s reseller partners, all looking to get a handle on what’s next for the fast growing vendor. One of the things I enjoy about partner events is that it gives me an opportunity to interact with many of the resellers and see if what I’m observing aligns with the trends in their business.
During my presentation, I talked a lot about the complexity of IT today and the opportunity that it creates in the area of professional services. There’s no doubt that IT is more complicated today that it was a decade or even five years ago.
Historically, IT deployed infrastructure with simplicity and performance in mind. This meant when application A was deployed; it was given its own dedicated servers, storage, ADCs, security products and network resources. This model was replicated for application B, C, D and so on.
But what happens if the storage associated with application B became full? Well that meant we had to go buy more storage, even if the storage associated with the other applications was lightly used. No robbing Peter to pay Paul. Just find a way to pay Paul more.
Then virtualization came along and now IT was able to share the same physical resource across multiple applications. Or, in some cases, share multiple physical resources across multiple applications, creating this complex web of resources to applications that had to be mapped out. This is actually the concept behind F5’s Scale-N architecture, where multiple ADCs can be bonded together and pooled and then virtual resources removed from the Scale-N pool.
Now add in the challenge that these virtual resources can actually be put in motion and migrated from one platform to the other. Lastly, toss cloud into the equation as we start to move these VMs between public and private clouds.
While this certainly offers more flexibility, it creates unprecedented levels of complexity. IT architects need to figure out how to manually stitch all of these components together and then be able to manage them as the environment evolves. Most organizations simply don’t have the skill set to fully take advantage of the great advancements in technology today so they wind up buying stuff and often not deploying it.
This complexity combined with lack of IT skills creates a great opportunity for F5 resellers to augment the traditional hardware sales business with a broad set of services. Particularly in light of the fact that F5 sits at the intersection of applications and infrastructure, where much of the complexity exists today. I’m not talking about more maintenance services, but consulting services that span the lifecycle of IT. From planning through deployment, implementation and then into the operational phase – there’s plenty of opportunity.
At a most basic level, pre deployment services will ensure that customers are buying the right technology for the problem they are trying to solve. When an engagement is services led, it often leads to larger deals with higher margins as there is more value being delivered to the customer. Services often bring a reseller or VAR closer to a customer as well, as there’s more of a true partnership being built.
Another excellent opportunity is around post sales services. Often when a PO is signed and the equipment delivered, there deal is considered finished and the customer and reseller go their separate ways. But how does the reseller know the customer is actually using the product the right way? Or all the services are being consumed?
Recently F5 moved to three bundles called Good, Better and Best where each bundle has an increasing amount of features in it. The strategy has been very successful with many resellers telling me that at least half the customers are choosing “Best”. A good post sale service would be to go back after the initial implementation is done and ensure the customer has knowledge of all the features they bought and understand the best use cases. This is often something that’s overlooked and sometimes makes customers feel like they paid for a bunch of stuff they’re not using.
I’ve done a number of interviews over the past year with resellers of many vendors, including F5s and all the ones that are flourishing today have something in common – they’ve all been aggressive with growing their services portfolio. Unfortunately, in IT complexity has now become the norm, but that creates a great opportunity for resellers