Sun partners looking to gain an advantage

July is shaping up to be a defining month for Sun Microsystems following the launch of its new partner programme in the MENA region. Channel Middle East looks at what it all means for the reseller community.

The official roll-out of the long-awaited Sun Partner Advantage (SPA) programme, which supercedes the iForce scheme familiar to any reseller that has sold Sun storage hardware during the past few years, caps a hectic six months for the vendor's Middle East and North African channel.

Resellers across the region have been re-training and re-certifying themselves with Sun after the vendor cancelled all iForce contracts at the end of 2006.

That process has created some churn as inactive partners, or those who failed to meet expectations, were cast aside. Sun currently has 63 distribution and reseller partners on its books - 11 fewer than it had at the end of December - with a further seven likely to be brought on board next quarter.

Sun is confident that resellers operating in the Middle East and North Africa will find the new programme more structured and better tailored to their capabilities and skills.

The vendor made it abundantly clear to partners that attended its channel get-together in Egypt last month that the new programme is a remarkably different beast to its predecessor, not least because it divides partners into four categories - member, associate, principal and executive - as opposed to two. Furthermore, the scheme is based around four core product pillars - SPARC, X64, software and storage - and then split into four ‘platforms' dubbed high, mid, entry and base level.

So far, 11 partners in the region have qualified for the high-flying executive tier, which requires a high degree of commitment to working with Sun.

"To achieve executive status, a partner must gain accreditation in seven platforms and at least one of these must be at high-level," explained Hani Barakat, channel development manager at Tech Access, the primary distributor for Sun in the region.

In contrast, a member partner can join at any base-level entry point, but would naturally be entitled to lower discounts and reward initiatives than partners certified at higher levels.

Bruno Haubertin, partner and alliances sales organisation manager at Sun, says the SPA programme is designed to appeal to a wider range of partners.

"It will drive selection, which means that at one end of the spectrum we will have very high-value partners selling very high-end datacentres and storage, and at the other end it will drive simplicity because to be a member of this programme you don't even need a contract with Sun," he explained.

Under the new programme, resellers who were reluctant to get into a deep relationship with Sun can now gain access to a limited range of products simply by registering their details. "To get into business with Sun in the past required a full contract and a full business plan and discussion," conceded Haubertin.

"Some partners just want to sell entry-level products in an easy way. We lost a lot of opportunity on that entry-level side."

At the other end of the scale, Sun believes the structure of the SPA rebate scheme - which is intrinsically linked to achieving pre-defined targets - should force resellers into sitting down with Sun and Tech Access to make dedicated business plans.

Rakesh Ranjan, VP at 350-strong ISV and systems integrator ETA-InfoTech, believes the SPA scheme is more open and transparent than the iForce programme. "The best thing about the programme is that Sun is encouraging partners to develop technical capabilities. What was happening earlier was that the focus was only on selling and very few partners were capable of delivery," he added.

The speed at which partners get into the stride of the SPA programme is vital to Sun's aspirations in the region. "We believe that the total Sun addressable market for fiscal year 2008 - which includes services, software, storage and systems - is worth US$1.299 billion in MENA," revealed the vendor's regional boss, Chris Cornelius.

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