This distributor's professional-services offering is designed to help resellers supplement their engineering skills.

Beyond Boxes Distributors are pushing into services to build businesses that go beyond boxes. That strategy takes a range of forms, logistics services and data mining among them. But at Comstor, the focus is on professional services. This Cisco distributor and division of Westcon Group offers staging, configuration, consulting, design and installation. Comstors objective is to extend the engineering resources of a reseller or integrator.

"Its difficult to find a good, solid network engineer," says Joseph Heinzen, VP of engineering and professional services at Comstor. The companys engineering resources, which include Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts, make resellers "bigger and faster" he says.

The faster part of the equation was put to the test last summer, when Qwests government systems division called on Comstor to help set up a network for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The network was to be installed at six sites in New Mexico, where FEMA was aiding victims of the Cerro Grande fire. Comstors deadline: five days.

Supplementing Staff Qwest didnt have the resources available to get the job done, so Comstor designed the network, sourced the required products, and configured and tested the equipment. Comstor had engineers in its lab assembling, testing and configuring the network about three and a half hours after receiving the initial call from Qwest, recalls Larry Rowe, senior systems network engineer at Comstor. Rowe was dispatched to New Mexico to help with the installation.

The FEMA network, built around Cisco routers and Catalyst Gigabit Ethernet switches, was installed at a core site in Santa Fe, N.M., and five remote sites. The main site and three remote sites continue to operate. The network will remain in place for about 18 months to process claims for individuals seeking reimbursement for losses.

Comstor also provides services supporting more commonplace needs. For example, the distributor is packaging services in fixed-price bundles that resellers can offer their customers. The SecureCheck Security Assessment service, for instance, is a baseline security audit that identifies areas of concern. Comstor, based in Chantilly, Va., focuses on Cisco products and also includes such vendors as American Power Conversion, Check Point and Citrix Systems. In targeting the government vertical, Comstor has its own General Services Administration schedule contract, which came into play on the FEMA deal.