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April 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 4
Channel Interview

Al Higgins, President, Interlink Communication Systems

By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis

Founded in 1990, Interlink Communication Systems, Inc (, headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, is an Internetworking-focused specialty distribution company representing select manufacturers to an international network of VARs, Network Service Providers and System Integrators. By “select,” I mean that Interlink only distributes best-of-breed technology in Voice and Data Internetworking equipment to its resellers, so the products it recommends are among the most reliable, robust and cost-effective available for the solution sets Interlink offers.

Interlink’s Vendor Technology spans wire-line, fiber optics, console servers, power management for data centers from MRV, wireless, local and wide area networking, switch/routers from several Vendors. There is fast growing VoIP practice including products from Digium (News - Alert), U4EA Technologies, ADTRAN and others. VoIP phones are also available from snom, Aastra, and ADTRAN. Interlink maintains an inventory of new equipment for all vendors and in some cases refurbished products as well. Despite its wide range of expertise, the company is known for its fast, personalized and professional service. For example, their sales staff is available from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time, and they have a Regional office on the West Coast near San Diego.

The Interlink Technical Resource Center is staffed by certified and experienced engineers who are very knowledgeable in many areas of Voice and Data Internetworking. Their System Engineers handle pre-sale support, assist with network design, configuration, and with some vendors Tier 1 Support. The SE’s hold many of the highest Certifications from multiple vendors.

Recently Yours Truly had the pleasure to speak with Interlink’s President, Al Higgins.

RG: It’s interesting that you can bring multivendor solutions to the Small and Medium-Sized (SMB) space.

AL: Assisting the VAR Channel in this endeavor is something that is in our DNA. This is really where the term Specialty Distributor comes from. Since we started and well through the 1990s this was the approach we used in the WAN/LAN Internetworking space. Our customer base had a high adoption rate in terms of the solution sale. It turned out to be the only real strategy that made sense since many of them had to go up against the Carriers and/or Cisco (News - Alert). Pulling multiple technologies together that were less expensive with equal or better performance was the way to go. Look at the success of ADTRAN for example who helped drive the Solution sell through the channels and still does.

So a large portion of the customer base is open to the packaged multivendor supported solution today for VoIP, especially in the SMB space which is hot right now. This has allowed Interlink to enter the market through a very natural portal (our existing customers). With a newer set of Vendor partners including Digium, U4EA as well as ADTRAN (News - Alert) keeping pace, taking the “Solution” to market makes our VARs more competitive against the same traditional vendors they competed with in those prior years I mentioned earlier.

We spent 2008 taking a multivendor solution to market, based around Digium’s technology, but including U4EA, ADTRAN, along with a number of other vendors that we were featuring at ITEXPO (News - Alert) 2009 in Miami. This was presented as a working solution. By doing that, we found that the VAR’s ability to adapt to the solution sale was something that not only could happen but will happen. The fact that we signed some new accounts right from the show floor and continue to work with many that visited with us is indicative of the interest. As it happens, that was a very good show for Interlink and our Vendor partners.

RG: Everybody seems to be pursuing the SMB market these days.

AL: In today’s economy, we found that the multivendor solution is very viable financially, because a VAR can ‘wrap around’ whatever exists currently in the particular SMB office location and can put in the technology that’s necessary to bring them forward without having to forklift and replace everything. This also can mean professional Services Contracts for VARs who get engaged and that can result in recurring revenue. We are starting to facilitate this part of the sale as well.

RG: Interlink surprised everyone at ITEXPO East 2009 with an announcement, as I recall.

Like most people, I do not always like surprises but the fact is we have been requested by our VARs to help with the services and support engine they need to participate in more deals and extend their footprint for helping their customer with many of their support needs. To that end we have established a commercial relationship with a service and support company to give us the features and benefits we need to deliver to the VAR.

We have spoken to many of our VARs, and the concept has been met with great enthusiasm. There will be some formal announcements on all this hopefully starting before the end of the quarter which I will be most delighted to share with you in greater detail at that time. Very exciting things ahead indeed!

RG: You mentioned that Digium is the basis for the solution and of course Interlink appeared with partners in the big Digium Pavilion at ITEXPO East 2009.

AL: The Digium model is very strong. When assembling multiple brands into a multivendor solution, the core open source architecture that’s mature enough to be taken to a commercial level lends itself easily to be integrated into a multibrand-type solution. We have added best of breed vendors into the solution set and now have a strategic relationship with U4EA (News - Alert) who is developing a major presence globally. We have also been selected as a Value Added Distributor in a special new program with ADTRAN selling their IPT 7100 Series PBX (News - Alert) into the SMB space. The VoIP programs will continue to evolve and grow along with our core competence as a supplier.

RG: It’s a whole new world for the channel.

AL: It almost feels that way every year, doesn’t it? One of the things we need to keep in mind is the Channel(s) will almost always remain the avenue of choice for vendors large and small. Sometimes it’s a timing issue for the vendor. Are they ready to make the move into channels? We feel that part of our job is to provide help answering the questions about being ready. If the vendor is a start-up they usually are not ready. If they reach a point where they have some traction and need some help getting more, very often it may be the time. How the channel(s) operate still often dictates how a vendor goes to market and when. Also important is the support available through the channel. The more of this the VARs can take on, especially in recessionary times like these, their perceived value from their end user goes up. The end users are trying to save money and cut expense in support of their networks.

This ability to provide more service and support may be the most important part of the “new world” as you characterize it in the channel. Look at the growth in the MSP world. There is definitely an inflection point right now.

RG: Many distributors and VARs have had to re-invent themselves because of IP communications and convergence.

AL: Lots of truth in that. While we still have a very strong legacy business to support, we saw this as a requirement as did our VARs, years ago. The evolution to an IP world born on the Internet and nurtured by Cisco in the Internetworking space, defines much of the technology we all use today. Show me something without an IP address and I’ll show you something that’s likely is to be edible.

Hopefully the economic times we are in will help our VARs, their Commercial End Users, all the Channels and last but not least our Vendors, become very grounded in what we all are trying to accomplish.

Fix the short-term problems by focusing on the pain points. Next and even more important is to focus on where we are going. How can we help our customers get from point A to that Point B (News - Alert). The strategic thinking and planning needs to return and become more dominant in what we do. When we go through the adjustment period and come out on the other side of this recession we all need to be positioned and ready to meet the challenges which will surely come. IT

Richard “Zippy” Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC (News - Alert)’s IP Communications Group.

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