Friday, June 30, 2017

Getting to know Cisco Live, an Outsiders View.

An eye-opening view from a first timing, non-Cisco partner. 

Image Credit: Scott McDermott. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

Let me be clear up-front:

I’m not a Cisco partner. I wasn’t invited or paid to be at the event by Cisco. I don’t sell Cisco products, in fact I’m pretty well versed in how to sell against many Cisco products and a believe in choosing the right product for the job over how well they snap together. That being said, sometime Cisco is the right choice. A lot of times Cisco has the right options to help the customers, it’s just not my “go to” answer.

To get the “Why Not?” Out of the way..

  1. Sometimes it really isn’t the best product.
    Just to say that is almost blasphemous in the Cisco partner world. There is such a strict brand loyalty with the company that seems the all-or-nothing mentality is embedded in the partner program. And it’s the customers too. You’re either all Cisco or not. I don’t believe it can always be everything to everyone and rather than be scoffed at by customers whose pitchers are full of blue kool-aid and waste time at meetings fighting an uphill battle, I choose to deal with everyone else and steer clear of the brand. 
  2. Margins.
    As a small business owner trying to make money, build a successful business, and provide customer friendly solutions, it’s not friendly. The same deal, the same amount of time spent in the account, and its scrapping over 5 points of margin vs other brands where it’s an easy 20%. And who am I fighting against for that 5%?…..
  3. Everyone.
    Everyone sells Cisco. And by everyone I mean I’m competing with CDW, Insight, SHI, and a host of other statewide partners that can murder me with expense accounts, the ability to ride an opportunity out for 6 months, and the buying power to get incentives that I can’t touch because I don’t deal in enormous volume. 

Why am I not a Cisco partner? 

Because even though the products are small business friendly, the reseller side isn’t. I can’t build a small business selling Cisco.

Then what was I doing at Cisco Live?

Having an amazing time. Listening to passionate product managers and engineers talk about their products. Getting to know what Cisco can do and seeing how partners around the world can help solve huge problems.

I was learning more than I imagined about the products and services that Cisco offered while being overwhelmed with helpful people, an amazing community of fans, and a customer-centric company like I have never seen.

I was taking selfies as a virtual superhero, listening to Bryan Cranston talk about killing chickens, jumping up and down to Bruno Mars. I was high-fiving the people in the hallways whose only job it was was to make sure you knew where lunch, the keynotes, or the expo floor was as they danced to the DJ filled areas that donated electricity to school students in 3rd world countries.

I was listening to keynotes that kept it real, telling execs that it costs too much money and takes too much time to achieve Cisco certifications and that means that the way Cisco does business is cumbersome and broken in this day and age.
I was having a freaking blast at Cisco Live. I was changing my perspective on the stuffy company I thought it was.

Am I Going to Go Home and Star Selling Cisco?

Not as a reseller. Not yet. That part is going to be impossible to fix. Why? Because it’s not broken. It’s operating the way I’m sure it’s supposed to. It’s just not supposed to operate for small VARs like me.

Will I be more inclined to sells overall solutions that Cisco offers?

Absolutely. This company does a phenomenal job of being a solution expert. It’s what I imagine IBM used to be the giant of doing: taking complex problems and finding big, chunky, powerful ways to solve enormous problems. The difference is Cisco has the tools and tool sets in addition to the solutions. Granted, they might not always be the *best* products to craft the solution, but they will get the job done.

I get it..

I get why people use it, live it and love it. I didn’t really get it though until i showed up to Cisco Live. To be inside the machine is amazing. It’s informative, inspiring, and empowering. Cisco does a better job than any company I’ve seen making you feel like you’re part of the overall solution and not just a component.

And seriously, they can throw a party. Their Customer Appreciation Event was incredible. Absolutely incredible.

If only in some magical world I could either be big enough to compete to sell Cisco products or they had incentives that leveled the playing field for small business trying to be a part of the Cisco World of Solutions, it would be amazing.

At Cisco Live, you feel like being a part of this mystical world of the technology of tomorrow is attainable. What better place to have it than Vegas. In this town everything feels magical. At every turn you have a machine that sings to you about how it can change your life. At CLUS you feel the same vibe of “anything’s possible”.

But tomorrow, I fly home.

Part of airplanes landing is touchdown back on Earth. For me that means 5–10% margins competing against Cisco Gold partners with 3 or more CCIEs on staff and unlimited resources making it impossible for me to be a part of that magical Cisco world. It means not being able to survive marathon buying cycles and seemingly unlimited incentives for larger partners. It means continuing to work hard while being creative and intelligent enough to craft the solutions out of several best-of-breed products.
Until I can build a small business large enough to compete with the global dominance of big business…

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Thanks for the memories Cisco Live. See you next year.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Discovering HPE Discover

Early in 2017, I received a direct message on Twitter followed by an email inviting me to HPE Discover. Honestly, it's not a show that I had ever considered going to, but this year I wanted to give it a chance. I have been doing more with Aruba, selling complete solutions with HPE, and have a lot of respect for their teams and products. If there was ever a great time to attend, this was definitely it.

It always exciting to be a first-timer at events. The all-out production isn't lost on people that have never seen it, and every turn reveals something new and exciting.

What is HPE Discover?

Discover is a conference that celebrates all things HPE. From keynotes by the CEO, technical deep dives with Product Managers, and access to the people behind the products, Discover shows you the very best that the product families can produce when working in harmony with each other and anyone in their circle of supporting vendors. Discover is HPEs wonderland of solutions.

Their show floor is a beautiful, well laid out testimony to what they can provide with their family of technology solutions and has everything from product demos to solution demos, in an area they call the Transformation Zone. Every product they make is on the floor.  Every expert and product line manager is available. They are all eager to show you what you can do with their technology, and they step you through their platforms with genuine enthusiasm.  This is that great moment where the people that make the magic get to put it directly in the hands of the people that use it.

A great example of this is a well spoken, extremely intelligent, patient, and driven team member named simply, Y. Y took us on a tour of something that had absolutely nothing to do with wireless, but she did it in a way that was filled with pride, knowledge, and the type of affection that can only come from someone who has dedicated a significant portion of their time to passionately building something they believe in. Regardless of what it had to do with me and my purpose at Discover, the conversation I had with her had everything to do with the reason I was at Discover: to Discover what HPE could do for me, not from a brochure or sales pitch, but from someone who knew how to apply something they believe in, to anyone that cared to spend time with them. Y, you were incredible. Thank you for the laughs and thank you for loving what you do enough that it made the impression it did. HPE is lucky to have you.

Discovering Discover is truly what made it a great experience.

What About All the Products?

The products were all tremendous, as should be expected. The launch of the 8400 series Core switch, as another example, was something really neat to be around. The room buzzed with excitement about the new piece of hardware on the turntable in the Aruba section of the show. Demos were given by people like Ed and Karthik who again, weren't there to sell you, but to show off what they had worked on with an unmatched level of spirit. Why it worked, how it worked, why it did what it did and the thought process behind things as simple as the fan mechanisms to the intricacies of the database structure were applied to real world scenarios.

Again, the power of Discover was that the right product people were there, accessible, eager to talk, and ready to help.

From someone who is used to walking past tradeshow booths of people trying to pitch their latest product, quick-sell you on why they're awesome, or make their widget work in your world, it's refreshing to see the people behind the curtain being given the opportunity to come out and represent what they are passionate about. It makes a huge difference.

With the understanding that the formalities have been dropped and the acknowledgment that I was a guest in "their house", it made for candid, fun and meaningful conversations. There was nothing to prove about why their product was better than someone else, why the HPE solution made the most sense, or why it was imperative that we stop by the booth to "learn more". We were all there on their turf, fully immersed, and ready to soak it up. In other words, since we had moved passed any of the pitches long before opening the door, it was easier for everyone to keep it real.

When it comes to keeping it real, you can't get more real than Jon Garside. From the Baccarat table to the boardroom, you need to get this guy in front of everyone you work with if they don't think security is important. With the understanding that we were all there to learn, his session on security was insightful and eye-opening without being so scary that it drove everyone away. Just to clarify, we didn't actually play Baccarrat but I though it added a nice touch of character to throw it in there.

Real-world security examples were laid out in thoughtful and ultra-realistic ways that provoked thought, conversation, and hopefully, calls to action. From using vending machines and printers to compromise corporate networks to identifying anomalous behavior with machine learning, the conversation was confident yet candid and very well put together.

Talks like this are always appreciated, at least by me, because they are not filled with vendor buzzwords and dialect, they're filled with things that make you think and that drive you to be better at your job.

How About the HPE & Aruba Acquisition? 

Obviously, the Aruba acquisition is finally starting to settle in with the move of all of HPE Switching being branded Aruba switching. Now, somewhere between second and third place globally, Aruba and the HPE team have coalesced to do amazing things with wireless technology, that's a given. Adding their powerful switching line to the mix and throwing the HPE resources at it, if handled the right way, is sure to make an impact on the industry. They are off to a great start with the 8400 and the 2900 series switches.

Culturally, there are still some small traces of Aruba "ride til ya die" in the crowd. I can't necessarily say who or where, but I can tell you that it's still pretty easy to recognize the Aruba folks in the HPE crowd.

Honestly, and I wasn't sure I was going to mention this, but I want to be honest about my experience, my first impression of HPE Discover was "Look at all the suits!"

This show is dripping with old school "business". In my head, as I was walking in the first day, I couldn't help but think of the words of Bad Religion's "Inner Logic"

Automatons with business suits clinging black boxes,
Sequestering the blueprints of daily life
Contented, free of care, they rejoice in morning ritual
As they file like drone ant colonies to their office in the sky

I mean, this place was straight up suitville. I didn't smell an ounce of Tom Ford or see a set of sneakers at this show. This is definitely an after shave only scented event straight out of a traditional business setting.

Normally I would have felt totally underdressed rocking my typical jeans and a button up with some bright blue kicks, but my name tag did say "blogger" not "analyst" and besides I was humming Bad Religion, so yeah .. to be the man you gotta beat the man. I was surrounded by the man. But that's what made being there so punk.

This is of absolute stark contrast to the Aruba Atmosphere show that took place an earlier in the year in Nashville. Engineers stormed the floor, filled the sessions, and had no problem talking shop in the hallways of the Gaylord.

Here, amongst the crowds and lunch tables, it was mainly filled with mouthfuls of jargon that is the typical dialect of a corporate CxO.

Dare to be Different?

Maybe that's what opened the teams up to me and created my experience. Maybe because I was so willing to let the nerds geek out about their products and not focus on the business case, bottom line and P's and Q's they were willing to keep it real. A funny thing happens when you tap into passion, it equalizes the conversation and gets down to the why instead of the how that drives decisions.

What I will tell you is that if you're a techie nerd at heart, this might be a great opportunity for you. Get there before it becomes so laid back that your presence doesn't make a difference. In a sea of gray suits, rock your favorite band T-shirt, grab a pair of kicks from Midnight Run on the strip, and give the product teams a breath of fresh air that doesn't smell like starched wool.

All kidding aside, the show is absolutely worth your time. I am truly appreciative that I was invited by HPE to attend and I will gladly welcome the opportunity to attend again, regardless of what I'm wearing.

All of it couldn't be possible without the teams at HPE and Aruba, namely Pegah and Becca that took care of us. Instead of stumbling around trying to figure out where to go, Pegah had sessions, tracks, and showcases that may interest us identified and optionally available for us to attend. It was awesome. We got the best of the show and the rest of the show. Thanks for your hard work ladies.

Friday, June 2, 2017

What's Wrong With Your Wi-Fi? I want to hear about it..

Every network is a special little snowflake. And every admin is a magical, mystical and all knowing unicorn amiright?

If that's the case, what does that make the end-users?

I'll tell you one thing end-users can be: unhappy.

When what they want to work doesn't work, that's when they get downright angry. The transformation from happy end-users to Wi-Fi monsters is quick and vicious: the teeth come out, the growls get deeper, their chests puff out ... it can get scary!

How do you keep Dr. Jekyll Wi-Fi users from going to Mr. Hyde?

Well that's the question. But read it again with some emphasis on YOU.

How do YOU keep Dr. Jekyll from turning into Mr. Hyde?

We all have our problems with our networks and we all have our toolsets and practices for finding the best solutions.

I want to hear about it.

I will be working on a new production for Cape Networks where we interview people to find out what their problems are, specific to industry, and what the solutions are.

What makes YOU great at what you do? I want to understand that and share it!

Starting at HPE Discover 2017 and Cisco Live 2017, I will have a studio in a box with me to hear your stories. I'm asking for 30 minutes of your time. I will have 4 questions for you, and through some banter, we'll get it down to 4 answers, record it, edit it, and publish it!

After we get the stories online, we'll collectively solve the world's wifi problems! By getting to learn how we all work in our own industries, hopefully we can find ways to help each other solve problems and be the best at what we can do!

Interested in sharing your story?

To prime the pump on the stories, you can sign-up to be interviewed. Let me know what show you'll be attending next so we can grab your story!