HP Vs. Cisco: What Does It Mean For Solution Providers?

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Hewlett-Packard's $2.7 billion bid to acquire 3Com ups the ante in the HP vs. Cisco networking battle. And partners are likely to be caught in the cross-fire.

Solution providers say this is personal for both HP CEO Mark Hurd and Cisco CEO John Chambers. And its personal for HP and Cisco's direct sales reps working with partners on account strategy and planning. That means partners that refuse to choose to line up 100 percent behind one or the other are going to face recrimination and payback in the form of favored or unfavored treatment. Not good news particularly in -- to put it mildly -- a difficult information technology spending environment.

Partners say they are already feeling the heat to choose one or the other in the wake of Cisco's all-out push to grab HP blade server share with the Cisco Unified Computing System and HP's all out assault to grab networking share with the HP ProCurve networking portfolio. But the 3Com deal takes it to a nuclear war level. In a post on ChannelWeb Connect, one solution provider complained: "I wish these two could just play nice together (HP/Cisco)," he said. "They each do things well and forcing partners to choose one or the other is not smart, but I can already see this coming."

Dave Donatelli, HP's executive vice president and general manager, enterprise servers and networking, is lining up his sales force, and that includes partners, to take down Cisco. And he is not going to stand for any flip-flopping from HP partners looking to cross over into Cisco territory.

For those of you that don't know Donatelli, he comes from the EMC School of hard sales knocks. Donatelli spent 22 years at EMC where he headed up a team of Boston College ex-athletes-turned-sales-pros who thrived on giving competitors a sales beating like they had never seen in their lives. Yes, Donatelli is a BC graduate and so is his new handpicked head of sales in the U.S., Randy Seidl.

To put it simply, HP is turning from a sales lamb into a sales lion. "HP has a new 'take no prisoners' attitude," said one top solution provider executive who does significant HP and Cisco business. "The HP sales force was kind of passive before. Now they are, like the Cisco sales force, very, very aggressive."

The top solution provider executive said he sees both HP and Cisco putting the heat on partners to line up on one side or the other. "We should not be lined up by vendors, but by the unique needs of our customers," he said. "That is who we serve. We have to embrace the notion that our bread is provided by our customers."

Partners' bread may be buttered by customers. But believe me, both HP and Cisco believe they butter the partners' bread -- not the customers. "My concern is what do we do if one of them tries to withdraw or pull big amounts of support from us," said the solution provider executive. "How do we sustain our business? Because we've got to be multivendor. The efficiency of the channel is based on a multivendor model."

The need to choose sides is likely to be felt more by midmarket enterprise solution providers rather than product-oriented giants like CDW.

"This is personal between Hurd and Chambers," added the solution provider executive. "They are very competitive people and they have decided they are going to go at it. It may be rooted in some good business practices, but it is two egos going at it." And solution providers that aren't careful are likely to be stepped on in that bruising battle between the two.

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