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When does a certification double as a symbol of expertise in a major technology area and knowing how to do business with a particular major vendor? When the certification is a New Enterprise Data Center specialty certification from IBM.

Big Blue is moving toward a new mindset around selling solutions by creating a program that certifies solutions providers to sell a broad array of IBM products and services that are all targeting the data center.

According to Rich Hume, IBM’s general manager for Global Business Partners, the company is investing $10 million to $15 million over the next two years to develop data center expertise in the channel. To that end, the company is making two tiers of investments available to partners. Under one tier of the program, IBM will make available $25,000 to partners to invest in developing expertise in a specific technology area that is used as part of a data center solution. For solutions providers willing to make a deeper commitment to the program, IBM is prepared to make available $100,000. The money being provided by IBM can be used for virtually anything related to building a data center practice, including staff salaries.

The IBM program, which spans servers, storage, systems management software, virtualization and energy management technologies, is part of a broader effort embraced by vendors such as Cisco Systems, Dell and Microsoft to create meaningful certifications around specific sets of solutions for customers.

For IBM, this represents a watershed moment in the channel because solutions providers have long complained for years about the costs of navigating the various product groups within IBM to build a solution. To make that process easier, IBM has created a Deal Hub tasked with supporting partners that are trying to build IBM-branded solutions across multiple products from different IBM business units.

IBM has invested in creating an assessment kit that solutions providers can use to assess a customer’s data center requirements and is committed to making researchers in the IBM Labs available to consult with solutions providers.

Given IBM’s product strategy, the New Enterprise Data Center specialty is tantamount to a certification on how to work with IBM. But instead of asking individual solutions providers to understand how to work with IBM, the company is finally taking a more structured approach to making it easier to work with a company that has thousands of products.

As Hume puts it, IBM is looking to move away from the traditional towers of products and technologies that it previously relied on to go to market in favor of a more solutions-oriented approach to the customer. From a solutions provider’s perspective, the change in culture may ultimately represent the single biggest event in IBM channel history in the last 20 years.