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Networking and data center specialty distributor Westcon Group has unveiled a facility in Denver designed to give resellers in the United States an environment where they can test, train, experiment and simulate a range of data center solutions.

The new facility is the first in the United States and the second in a series of what Westcon is calling “Centers of Excellence,” designed to allow partners to LEAP (Learn, Experience, Architect and Plan). Westcon also opened a center in Brussels in September.

With new integrated data center solutions coming online from the likes of industry giants such as Cisco and HP, IT organizations may be interested in the efficiencies and cost savings those solutions can offer, Westcon CEO Dean Douglas told Channel Insider.  But the idea of a forklift upgrade on production systems can cause even the biggest risk takers to hesitate. Not to mention the cost of systems which are unproven in the customer’s unique IT environment.

Westcon itself was in that same position a year and a half ago when it was looking for new servers for its own data center, according to Douglas. Under consideration were servers from HP, IBM, Sun and Dell, but then Cisco announced its Unified Computing solution – Cisco’s integrated server and networking data center offering.

“Cisco invited us to their labs to see how our workloads would perform in the UCS environment,” Douglas said, and seeing how the workloads did made all the difference in Westcon’s choice to go with UCS. “It made our decision to go forward a lot easier.”

But although Westcon has moved to Cisco and the company is a big Cisco distributor, Douglas told Channel Insider that the LEAP Centers will be vendor-agnostic. They will include vendors and product lines that are not distributed by Westcon, because that’s how customer environments look in the real world. Some of the vendors that will be included are NetApp, EMC, VMware, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Functionality will be available both on-site and via remote access.

Douglas said that many customers he’s encountered seem afraid of the hype associated with many of these highly integrated data center solutions. The Westcon centers are designed to allow resellers and their customers make their own decisions about the technologies and whether they make sense. Resellers are invited to bring customers and their engineering teams to the centers, which Douglas says can significantly shorten the sales cycle.

“We’ve become very focused on Capex, and very focused on ROI. They determine what projects go forward and what ones need analysis,” Douglas said. “These centers give the opportunity to get real – to give these end users and resellers the opportunity to talk about ROI in terms of real numbers. That becomes more reassuring. Now they know the products work.”

Access to the centers – on in Denver and another one that opened last month in Brussels, can be arranged by contacting a Westcon account manager. Basic services are available for free, but Westcon is also test marketing some services that are offered on a fee basis.

Westcon is looking to open additional centers in Sydney, Johannesburg and probably Dubai.