Experiential Learning Hits IT
By Gennifer Biggs, security, storage, and managed services editor
We all know how fun it is to head to a local electronics store and play with the gadgets, or hit an Apple store to find out if an iPad is really as cool as it looks. But how about hands-on learning for the IT channel? Distributor Westcon Group has tackled just that issue with its LEAP Centers – a next-gen playroom for virtualized data centers and cloud infrastructure.
I had the chance to talk with Dean Douglas, president and CEO of Westcon, a few days before the distributor opened the first U.S. LEAP Center on Oct. 20 in Lafayette, Colorado. He explained to me that the LEAP Centers — LEAP stands for Learning, Experience, Architect, Plan — are not meant to be just another training or demo facility, but rather a place where Westcon channel partners can visit and learn what the data centers of the very near future will entail. "Many of our resellers come from a networking background and are not as savvy when it comes to products such as servers," explained Douglas. "So the idea of getting experience around those products and how to use them in a real-world environment is important."
The centers allow reseller partners to test, train, experiment, simulate and collaborate with a broad range of leading data center solutions. That's because not only will the LEAP Centers offer insight into cutting-edge data center technology, they will feature a wide variety of vendor products. "Often, when our partners walk into these data center environments at a customer site, they face a lot of different products. Therefore, our LEAP centers are multivendor environments; they representation what the real world looks like with products from IBM, HP, NetApp, EMC, VMware and more." In fact, the Westcon centers offer insight and experience with products the distributor doesn't even carry. "Even if we don't distribute those products, our partners need to be aware of them," says Douglas. "We want to go beyond what distribution meant in the past; we are dedicated to a more active education and migration role."
The LEAP Center in Colorado is the second center to open – the first is located in Brussels and opened in September. Five more centers will unfold rather quickly, but only after the initial two have been put through their paces. "We want to first evaluate that these centers are meeting the needs of our partners, and we'll make some tweaks before we then build out the others," says Douglas.
Behind the project was Westcon's own experience as it refreshed its data center, moving onto a Cisco UCS platform. Because that offering was still in development, Westcon engineers got the chance to play with the technology in Cisco's lab, and a new channel resource was born. "We tested our environment with their technology, and found that while anyone can read the specs, it is different than seeing the technology work and seeing it work in your environment."
The centers will feature other relevant products as well, such as networking and security accessories, all in order to create as real a data center scenario as possible. From there, Westcon will work with partners to add components that reflect their desires, including up-and-coming technology products new on the scene.