Channel Marker

February 10, 2008  10:19 AM

Bright idea: Rhode Island VAR attempts to demystify technology

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as up-to-date on some technology trends as I used to be when I was covering some of these issues on a daily basis. Moreover, I am as susceptible to tunnel vision as the next person, although I just happen to deal with a whole bunch of tunnels at once. I’ve been well trained in attention deficit disorder.

Solution provider Atrion in Warwick, R.I., figures there are a lot of people like me out there who just happen to run the technology engagements at their existing clients or would-be customer accounts. So, the company has started a series called the ThinQ workshops to help out. Apparently, it started doing the seminars late in January based on the number of questions that it was getting.

These things aren’t your standard technical training or certification prep sessions. Rather, they are meant to explore concepts such as network admission control or quality of service or unified communications, with an eye to tying these ideas to bonafide business objectives. Of course, there is an ulterior motive: If customers understand these concepts and their potential business impact better, they’re more likely to invest.

I’ve always felt that a VAR’s technical personnel were an oft-underutilized asset in snagging more business. This is a great example of showcasing technical talent while keeping it real. For a long time, many VARs and resellers have gotten away from helping their customers with any kind of training. With all the change going on in the IT industry right now, it might be time to change that philosophy.

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist and channel communications consultant with SWOT Management Group. You can reach her by e-mail at

February 6, 2008  8:26 PM

VAR gone bad? Former CTP CEO slammed for tax deliquency

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

James Sims won fame and fortune as the first CEO of Cambridge Technology Partners.

Mitt RomneyHe’s now found the opposite after being outed by a Boston TV station as a tax scofflaw and subsequently separated from Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

WBZ‘s I-Team found that the former tech exec — and Mitt Romney operative — owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. The damages, totted up by the I-Team, amounted to more than a half a million: $263,000 for his Beacon Hill place over three years and $266,000 for a Pebble Beach, Calif. property, going back four years.

Sims paid up when the I-team came a-calling. But in the time he owed all these taxes he also ponied up $300,000 for Romney’s campaign . Oh, yes and he worked for it. As a national campaign finance co-chair . To be fair, there are about a gagillion co-chairs, but still.

Not anymore though. Sims is now out.

February 6, 2008  2:02 PM

Step 1: Cut a hole in the Vista box

Bcournoyer Brendan Cournoyer Profile: Bcournoyer

Hardware and software compatibility isn’t the only problem that Microsoft partners can expect when helping customers migrate to Windows Vista.

Broken Vista DVDApparently the Windows Vista packaging is so confusing that Microsoft felt compelled to post online step-by-step instructions for opening it. The convoluted process requires users to first cut along grooves in the outer packaging, then pull a set of red tabs in different directions so the DVD case is extracted through said packaging.

A Gizmodo report on the situation has solicited dozens of comments from Windows Vista owners sharing their own experiences of opening the box. Some who tried using brute force said they ended up breaking their DVDs. User “JONB4MORE” took a shot at both the packaging and Vista itself, saying, “It took me 45 minutes to open the Vista case and 30 minutes to decide I wasn’t using it.” And “BSPROWL” joked — I think — that he had to use a hacksaw to get his Vista box open.

All the attention paid to Vista’s packaging problems could just be a case of kicking a product while it’s down. More than a year after its release, Vista hasn’t caught on among businesses, and IT solution providers are pretty apathetic about the operating system.

Still, Microsoft is one of the most scrutinized companies in the world, and the befuddling box is just one more thing for critics to point to when talking about Vista.

February 4, 2008  7:44 PM

EqualLogic CEO staying on as Dell channel consultant

Bcournoyer Brendan Cournoyer Profile: Bcournoyer

Don Bulens, the channel-friendly CEO of EqualLogic, is staying with Dell — for a little while.

Dell closed on its acquisition of EqualLogic last week, leaving Bulens’ role up in the air. But Dell kind of cleared things up during a media event today at EqualLogic headquarters in Nashua, N.H.’s Beth Pariseau was there, and she reports that Bulens will serve as a channel and customer-retention consultant. He’ll keep that role for at least three months, according to Brad Anderson, a Dell senior vice president and general manager.

Analysts at today’s event continued to question how Dell — which launched its first formal partner program in December — will balance the channel with its own history of direct sales. EqualLogic partners had enjoyed a healthy channel program and are especially concerned about Dell’s intentions. They hope to find out more tomorrow during a partners-only conference call with Dell execs.

February 4, 2008  10:43 AM

Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 release

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

It’s a couple days earlier than our sources said, but Microsoft says both Vista SP1 and Windows 2008 have released to manufacturing as of Monday. In reality, however, both parts of the Windows tandem are way late, but I digress.

In his Vista blog, Mike Nash acknowledges that early customers had issues with both application and device compatibility. That is a mortal sin many in the Microsoft camp have yet to get over. Said one former Microsoft exec: “You never break anything to add features,” he opined. Anonymously, of course.

Nash noted that Microsoft’s decision to bolster security forced these glitches.

Mr. Anonymous, on the other hand, says Vista’s security “perks” actually represent an abdication of vendor responsibility. The incessant “accept, deny” conversation Vista kicks off every time users encounter a possibly questionable Web site or application do not make anyone’s computer more secure, he argues.

Today’s RTM news kicks off a rolling wave of updates that solution providers should know about. SP1 will go out Windows Update and the download center in mid-March. The following month it will start being delivered by automatic download to customers who’ve chosen that option.

More on Windows Server 2008 RTM here.

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

February 1, 2008  11:32 AM

It’s ‘Yahoo!’ time for Yahoo shareholders

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Microsoft finally made its move on Yahoo early Friday, offering north of $44 billion for the Internet portal pioneer.

This the day after board member and former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel hit the road and within days of Yahoo announcing a 1,000-person layoff. Also a day after Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang said that the company is facing “headwinds.”Yahoo says the offer is unsolicited. Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie says he can’t wait for the Yahoo engineers to join what is no-doubt becoming his “cloud computing” fold.

For bread-and-butter Microsoft infrastructure or apps solution providers, Yahoo may seem beyond the pale. But they must watch what Microsoft is doing here. For one thing, the lines between “consumer” and “business” applications are disappearing. That’s what the “Web 2.0,” mash up, hype fest is all about.

Microsoft is spending tens of billions in its quest to thwart Google’s incursion into what it views as its business-apps-and-OS core while also trying to make itself a software-as-a-service, cloud-computing yadeyadeya power.

If that doesn’t show its priorities, I’m not sure what does..

Steve Ballmer said at one of the big events this past year that when it comes to search sites “Microsoft has the most visitors, Yahoo actually has [people] spending the most total time with them. And Google makes the most money.”

We should have known then and there that this deal would be done.

January 31, 2008  3:16 PM

Same ol’, same ol’ at Oracle

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

Oracle’s next channel chief will have to deal with the age-old conflicts the company has always faced.

Many Oracle partners credit the recently departed Rauline Ochs with moving in the right direction with her All Partner Territory game plan. But most say that the company hasn’t gone far enough; that Oracle’s bred-in-the-bone direct sales culture still stymies their own sales efforts.

A northern California partner says his company has seen no new deals from the two APTs in his area and he probably should have. His knickers aren’t in too much of a twist about that because Oracle funnels APT deals to designated partners. What does boost his blood pressure increased competition with Dell and CDW. Both companies continue to cut the margin out of Oracle software to win hardware deals. This is not a new phenomenon, but it’s getting worse, at least in his territory, he says.

A Midwest partner says channel conflict between his sales force and Oracle’s field people is likewise ramping up. He says he brings new business to Oracle, only to have Oracle declare the company a “named account” and take the business direct.

To be clear, the rate of conflict varies according to territory and regional manager. And, in a world where companies like Dell and CDW and potentially Best Buy etc. up the heat on business accounts, there will be more channel-on-channel strife as well. VARs and solution providers have long considered Dell the enemy. Very few believe Dell’s new-found channel friendliness. CDW has always been part of the channel however, and VARs view that company as a real threat.

“They take the software margin down to zero to sell hardware,” says one Oracle partner. “I cannot sell Oracle software at no margin.”

Barbara Darrow can be reached at

January 30, 2008  1:32 PM

Time for VARs to get more adept at mobile

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association) has released some data that finds that IT departments are spending more money and resources supporting various mobile communications and computing devices, especially the BlackBerry.

To start, close to two-thirds of the 816 people who participated in the survey late last year reported that their IT departments were consumed with mobile issues surrounding the BlackBerry. Believe it or not, pagers were the second most common device they needed to support. But they were a very distant second, mentioned by only 10.9 percent of the survey respondents. Other mobile devices that are perplexing IT staffs and demanding more resources than in the past include digital music players (mentioned by 4.5 percent), handheld computers (4 percent), personal digital assistants (2.9 percent), cell phones (2.6 percent), iPhones (2.3 percent) (already!), laptop computers (2 percent), smart phones (0.5 percent) and tablet PCs (0.5 percent).

I believe these statistics indicative of several trends. First and foremost, mobility is here to stay. Second, consumer electronics devices that are bought personally and that are unsanctioned by IT departments will continue to proliferate.

People are foisting these things onto their corporate tech departments, and IT will need to support them — both to improve productivity and as sort of a corporate morale boosters. If someone’s on a plane two weeks out of every three on behalf of their company, why shouldn’t they be able to take their music library with them or watch movies and podcasts on their notebook?

In some cases (ala the BlackBerry), the adoption of these things is a huge win-win for both sides. The user wins because they don’t have to plow through 50 to 100 “urgent” e-mails if they’re out of the office for a few hours. The company wins because when an employee has a BlackBerry, he or she is more likely to think and breathe about work on their “personal” time. Other devices are a bit more troublesome. What value could a digital music player have in a work context, you might ask? Well, when you consider that an iPod or an iPhone is a great digital storage device, it’s possible for some of these things to moonlight as alternative file archives. One executive that I spoke with recently from Hollywood, an agent, carries all of his clients’ demo videos around on his iPhone. That way, he can represent them, anytime, anywhere.

Regardless of WHY these things are popping up, in almost all cases, these things are appearing ahead of some bonafide corporate IT policy. And that’s where the VAR or managed service provider comes in. Helping your customers get a handle on how to set a mobile device policy BEFORE it becomes more of a time suck on the technical support department will make you look good. What’s more, it’s a way for you to recommend security and application options that weren’t previously available in a more tethered world. If you haven’t considered how to speak mobile, you’re missing out on the next wave of computing.

January 29, 2008  3:17 PM

Microsoft partner says portal makes him look stupid

Bcournoyer Brendan Cournoyer Profile: Bcournoyer

The Microsoft Partner Program Web site gets skewered today by John Powers, CEO of independent software vendor Digipede.Microsoft Partner Program

On his blog, Powers Unfiltered, Powers gripes about how hard it is to search for other Microsoft partners, the site’s incompatibility with Firefox and wrong information about Digipede’s partner status. The portal incorrectly says Digipede has neither renewed its partner program membership nor paid for its Gold Certified membership. Powers writes:

“This is not a trivial point. I’m not the only one at Digipede who can log into the Microsoft Partner site. I’ve promised my partners that I’ve taken care of our Gold Certified Partner status, and that we’re all set. Yet when they log in, they … are led to believe that I’ve forgotten to pay and that our status is in jeopardy despite their herculean efforts to get our products tested and certified in time. This makes me look stupid (and I get enough chances to do that without Microsoft’s help).”

Powers does go out of his way to point out the “wonderful information” available on the site, and he offers suggestions to fix all the problems he brings up. Still, he concludes that his interactions on the site are “often problematic.”

The Microsoft Partner Program Web site isn’t the only issue that partners are having lately. Stories coming this week on will focus on partners’ troubles getting certified for Windows Server 2008, as well as their cool reception for the Big Easy, a new program that promises $10 million in incentives.

January 28, 2008  10:14 PM

Attention MSPs: There’s a new online tech support site in town. Interested?

Heather Clancy Heather Clancy Profile: Heather Clancy

The exclusive Demo conference held several times each year is usually replete with great Web concepts and technologies that won’t really be relevant for the channel for at least a year down the road. But, behold, this week’s conference boasts at least one major exception in the form of SupportSpace, an online community that (in theory) brings together VARs, resellers and managed service providers focused on providing online tech support.

Yair Grindlinger, the Israeli transplant who is Redwood City, Calif.-based SupportSpace’s CEO, says his goal with the platform is to support a community of tech-support experts who have been certified and vetted according to a set of criteria defined by the community. Mostly, they’ll help you get the word out about your managed services. Providers get ratings within SupportSpace based on prior customers’ experience. People with a problem can search by criteria such as availability, or whether or not someone is online to help them NOW. They can also pick someone based on expertise, price, cases solved, and so forth.

When I spoke with Grindlinger on Monday afternoon while he was prepping for his Demo demo, he said about 200 experts are currently registered (not bad for a company that launched basically a few days ago as I write this), although there are dozens more going through the process. The one thing I’ll give them a big thumbs-down for is that the site only supports Internet Explorer-based support experiences right now. At least that’s the message I got when I tried to engage and play around on the site a bit. Then again, I use a Macintosh, so people like this don’t usually care about me. Nothing new there.

Still, this is a concept that is likely to gain more traction, given the sad state of affairs at most corporate help desks. According to Grindlinger, you’ll see SupportSpace align itself with product vendors, for which it might wind up being a support tool; or with organizations such as Tech Support Guy. The SupportSpace community also has an open source mindset and will encourage companies with online tech support tools to add their applications to the community for experts to use. And, of course, the company wants you — VARs and resellers — to get involved in providing your own services.

I asked Grindlinger to compare his site to OnForce, the marketplace for IT services that has been the subject of much channel controversy and debate since its launch a few years back . The big difference is that OnForce is used to organize on-site engagements of all types. In fact, Grindlinger sees the two marketplaces as complementary. I agree. Likewise, both will continue to inspire loathing among resellers and VARs who fear the commodization of their high-margin services business. Guess we’ll see how both marketplace models play out.

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist and strategic communications consultant with SWOT Management Group. She can be reached at

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