By Sean Robson
Proof of concept centres are still relatively untested and underutilised in the Middle East. NME looks at whether these centres will finally gain widespread traction.
Proof of concept centres are still relatively untested and underutilised in the Middle East. In the midst of the financial uncertainty and growing reluctance to spend on unproven technologies, NME looks at whether these centres will finally gain widespread traction.
The old maxim, the proof is in the pudding holds true even in the complicated world of IT. With huge amounts of new technology reaching the market almost daily users not only have the advantage of getting the best available bang for their buck but also face the challenge of selecting the solution best suited to their needs.
The financial situation that now exists for many users means that they need to know whether the product they are considering really does as advertised on the tin. This is where proof of concept centres becomes a valuable tool. A proof of concept centre allows the user to test the solution made by building a prototype of the application. It is essentially a scaled-down version of the eventual system.
Seeing a solution demonstrated on PowerPoint only is no longer enough. Customers want to discuss and see the solution solve business challenges like cost reduction and improving the efficiency of their existing IT system. A solution centre is the unique opportunity to embrace all aspects.
Many of the Middle East's most prominent vendors and distributors offer proof of concept centre facilities in which their respective solutions and products can be put to the test.
Ahmed Baig, head of business management and advisory services, eHosting DataFort said: "We offer sophisticated IT managed services to meet the requirements of discerning clients. These requirements need a test platform, which eHosting DataFort (eHDF) provides from its existing universal datacentre which hosts many advanced technologies, tested to meet client needs."
Amongst the technologies eHDF tests are virtualisation, cloud computing and virtual storage. Baig says a user looking to host an application is able to bring just the app and test it on the eHDF platform.
"The most interesting part of this exercise is that the underlying infrastructure demonstrates exactly the same set of services and performance that they would commit for their production systems. This allows the clients to test and evaluate the security, performance and conformity of our advanced technological solutions in a safe environment prior to implementation," explains Baig.
Brocade and Khalid Khalil, regional sales manager for CEMA use the proof of concept centre to introduce its customers to new technologies. "We offer proof of concept in different forms.
Customers with technical resources tend to prefer installing and testing new equipment in their own labs. Customers who are more comfortable with the technology are satisfied with tours of Brocade labs where specific demos of the technology are created to match the end users' needs. Many other customers are satisfied with shorter demos at Brocade briefing centres and reviews of the technology and its usage cases," explains Khalil.
Each individual centre offers a variety of services aimed at making a user as comfortable and knowledgeable about a product as possible.
"EMC strives to use its solution centres to demonstrate the value that it can bring to customers. All of our centres are equipped with state-of-the-art briefing rooms and are designed to host a number of activities including; briefings, seminars, and workshops, live hardware and software demonstrations, execution of complex proofs of concept, migration planning and benchmark testing," says Francois Chazalon, marketing manager, EMEA south region at EMC.
"We offer various services such as demo live, concept testing, cross platform testing, benchmarking, staging services, enterprise mash-up testing and even hands on workshops for partners and customers at the centre," says Guru Prasad, general manager of networking at distributors FVC.
As thorough and plentiful as the services may be, reports suggest that adoptions have not been as widespread or plentiful as initially predicted. However all that seems to be changing given the current economic and business climate.
"We have seen a very strong rate of adoption since opening our solution centres in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and in Abu Dhabi so much so that we have a full agenda of customer workshops updated regularly to address new topics. The increasing role of solution centres workshops has transformed the solution centre into a real and powerful sales tool for both partners and EMC. We are seeing an increasing success rate of transformation from workshops to concrete projects," says Chazalon.
Baig of eHDF has also observed a growing uptake in interest in making use of the proof of concept setup to demonstrate its range of technological solutions and products in order that customers can make quick decisions.
"Many CIOs and IT managers responsible for enterprise IT have used the eHDF proof of concept to demonstrate their business services to their stakeholders and make the transition to outsourcing a lot easier," notes Baig.
"In general, customers that participate in proof of concept centres are ones with great interest in the technology and tend to deploy the tested solutions within a few months. When measured over a period of a year following the tests, the success rates tend to be much higher than at customers who did not participate in a proof of concept exercise," says Khalil of Brocade.Khalil acknowledges that while general adoption has been good, with the recent world wide economic recession some customers are facing shortage of resources and delaying some POC activities along with other datacentre activities.
"While the services of a proof of concept centre is a key step used by end customers in their decision making process, it is also important for enterprise customers to see how a technology performs in their own IT environments and networks. This may impede the adoption or uptake," says Guru Prasad.
Baig says that proof of concept often requires enormous efforts and budgets from both clients and service providers. "Although the technology and facility requirements are mostly covered by the service provider and technology vendors it still needs considerable client effort and participation for it to be a success." says Baig.
It's not all straightforward when it comes to proof of concept centres. There are a number of challenges facing companies when it comes to setting up a centre and delivering best in class service.
In general, customers that participate in proof of concept centres are ones with great interest in the technology and tend to deploy the tested solutions within a few months. Success rates tend to be higher than those who did not.
"Apart from the large investment on the infrastructure, you need to have the right expertise and capabilities in managing these centres. As per our guidelines, a minimum of two dedicated and qualified professionals are required per centre, should they need any additional assistance in complex engagements, they can fall back on a pool of Sun solution centre resources worldwide," says Ajoy Pinto, channel development partner manager, MENA, Sun Microsystems.
Prasad and FVC have also seen the key challenge to emerge to be the cost and time of setup.
"The initial setup and running costs are quite steep for these centres; however the benefits and return on investment outweigh the costs in the end. The second issue is having to keep up with the pace of ever-changing technology and ensure that the centre has the latest technology that vendors roll out," warns Prasad.
"We have seen the challenges centered on finding enough people with specific technical skills and knowledge of new technologies at the vendor and customer sides. These resources are always in short supply because they are needed for critical tasks at the vendor and at the customers own activities," says Khalil.
For all the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of proof of concept centres the advantages these locations provide add real value to users.
"A solution centre offers customers real-world scenarios, instead of reading proposal inserts and attending presentations on the solution offered. It provides an environment to solve customer's integration and interoperability challenges across multi-vendor solutions, so that customers can test and experience the solution before they invest," says Pinto.
Over at EMC, Chazalon has seen a marked demand from customers who want to ensure they get the best return on their, often substantial, investment. "Seeing a solution demonstrated on PowerPoint only is no longer enough. Customers want to discuss and see the solution solve business challenges like cost reduction and improving the efficiency of their existing IT system. A solution centre is the unique opportunity to embrace all aspects of their solution including services with a concrete proof of concept," Chazalon weighs in.
Prasad points out that amongst the advantages of the centre is the opportunity it gives customers to see technologies in a risk free environment, without any preparation or cost to themselves.
POC centres fulfil a valuable service to users allowing them to test and understand solutions before making a commitment.