Federal Data Corp. has joined a club of 118 companies worldwide that have received Cisco Systems Inc.'s gold certification, signifying that the Bethesda, Maryland-based company has achieved Cisco's highest rating in sales, support, network design and network management.
Gold Partners provide a comprehensive service offering, including complex network design and implementation, product testing facilities, remote diagnostics and on-site trouble-shooting.
The certification highlights FDC's networking prowess as demand grows for converged networks carrying voice, video and data, said Rene LaVigne, vice president of sales and marketing for FDC's systems and technology group.
Gold certification, which no other company focused exclusively on the federal market has achieved, makes FDC an extension of Cisco and "puts us amongst the elite players," LaVigne said.
"We would not profess to be better than Cisco, but we're certainly on equal standing," LaVigne said. "Customers doing business with a certified gold partner would be assured of that."
The certification largely will impact future business, enhancing opportunities, especially in the convergence of network technologies, an area where FDC aims to become a leader, LaVigne said.
FDC, which previously achieved silver and premiere certification from Cisco, set a goal of achieving gold certification during strategic planning for the current fiscal year, said LaVigne, who teamed with Charles Mathews, vice president of FDC's systems and technical group, in carrying out the certification process.
FDC had to comply with a "cookbook of things" to get the gold stamp, the most strenuous of which was training, company officials said. For example, FDC had to increase the number of Cisco-certified internetworking experts (CCIEs) on its staff to at least four, said Julie Rotolo, director of worldwide channel marketing for Cisco.
The time it takes to complete the course depends on how quickly the candidate can learn. The fastest learners complete it in about three months, LaVigne said. Much of the course work takes place after business hours or on weekends.
"If you have a CCIE, that's a treasure. It's a significant individual achievement for those individuals who attain CCIE and an accomplishment for an organization that has to provide for that effort," LaVigne said.
LaVigne would not divulge the exact number of CCIEs now on FDC's staff out of fear that they might be recruited away. There are only about 2,500 CCIEs worldwide, Rotolo said.
To get the gold certification, FDC also had to increase the number of people with other classifications, including Cisco certified network professionals, Cisco certified design professionals and Cisco sales experts, LaVigne said. FDC also invested in its lab and network operating center, bringing the total outlay for achieving gold certification close to US$1 million, he said.
Other criteria required of gold certified partners include a technical assistance hot line answered seven days a week, 24 hours a day; a four-hour window within which to provide on-site service; and having a process for handling a problem that escalates.
Cisco audits its certified partners yearly and strips certification if the criteria are not met, Rotolo said.
"We don't take the certification lightly," she said. "We think we have one of the most difficult certification models that is out there."
SELECT CRITERIA FOR GOLD CERTIFICATION
-- Comprehensive network design, installation, configuration and complex trouble-shooting -- Around-the-clock logistics -- Proficiency in designing complex routed LAN, routed WAN and switched LAN networks -- Technical assistance hot line service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year -- One-hour call-back, four-hour on-site response, with spare parts (around the clock) -- Automated call-tracking system -- Advanced trouble-shooting and remote diagnostics * Post-sales support lab