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Buyers want to know what they are getting for their money. With that in mind, F5 Networks is teaming with Access Distribution for a try-and-buy program.

Partners with the appropriate level of technical certification from Seattle-based F5 Networks, which specializes in application delivery and network load balancing, can qualify to borrow or lease equipment from Boulder, Colo.-based distributor Access Distribution for customer trials.

After the evaluation period, customers decide whether to keep the equipment. GE Commercial Finance, the General Electric company that owns Access Distribution, provides the lease, and the distributor manages the process of credit approval, documentation, distribution and tracking of the trial equipment.

The evaluation program is a new component in F5 Networks’ Partner Lifecycle Program, a channel initiative the company launched two months ago to tighten its relationship with partners. The goal of the initiative is to help VARs and integrators in the company’s Advantage Partner Program become more profitable, said Dean Darwin, F5 Networks’ vice president of North America channels sales.

The company, which Darwin said does 90 percent of its sales through the channel, also expects to recruit more VAR partners with the try-and-buy initiative. Currently, Darwin said, F5 Networks has about 290 channel partners.

F5 Networks’ technology provides application security and load balancing and manages network traffic to improve the performance and availability of applications.

“We’re a kind of glue that marries the network to the application layer,” said Darwin.

F5 Networks proposed the try-and-buy program to the distributor after determining from past experience that it would stand to boost sales by letting customers test-drive its solutions before making a purchase, Darwin said.

Customers may welcome the performance-optimization promise of the technology, but they want to see it in action before deciding whether to buy it. Once they see it, more than 50 percent of them do buy it, said Darwin.

Executives at Access Distribution said the distributor’s experience has been to close about three quarters of the sales with customers that try before buying, so the company has high hopes for the initiative with F5 Networks.

“Once you see how good the F5 Networks solution and its value proposition are, you’re not going to want to see it leave,” said Grant Hunter, vice president of enterprise solutions at the distributor.

Access Distribution also does pre-sales evaluation programs with MacAfee, Hitachi Data Systems, Sun Microsystems and Nokia, said Heather Allen, the distributor’s director of network security. Try-and-buy arrangements provide an effective vehicle for getting a vendor’s solutions into the marketplace, she added.

To take advantage of the F5 Networks try-and-buy option, VARs and integrators must fill out an application with Access Distribution outlining the customer opportunity, Allen said.

VARs and integrators have the option of requesting loaner equipment from Access Distribution or leasing it, Hunter said. Leasing gives VARs the flexibility of using the equipment for as long as they deem necessary, whereas loaner units have a 45-day use limit.

Access Distribution executives said they had no hesitation when F5 Networks proposed the try-and-buy program because its relationship with the vendor has been very successful. Hunter said the companies’ partnership goes back a couple of years and sales of F5 Networks solutions have exceeded the distributor’s expectations.

Optimizing network performance and improving the efficacy of applications have risen as priorities in countless IT departments as more companies adopt complex technology such as customer relationship management applications.

Implementations of these systems can run many millions of dollars, but too often the performance is less than desirable because of such culprits as poor network management.

“We’re the $100,000 box that makes the $25 million application work well,” said Darwin.

To be sure, the need for better application performance has been good to F5 Networks. In its last reported quarter, the company reported a 57 percent increase in profit from the corresponding quarter of the previous year, to $15.7 million from $10 million. Revenue increased to $88.1 million from $60 million in the year-ago quarter.

Allen said Access Distribution’s try-and-buy units are available as of this week. The distributor is working on training programs to get VARs up to speed on F5 Networks technology, she added.