FAQ: What's A VAR?


The question comes in with some regularity - and not just from folks visiting our sites for the first time. One e-mailer sent in this comment last month:

"Nowhere on your site(s) can I find the definition of VAR. Maybe everyone else already knows and I'm just a bonehead - but I would think that it might make sense to define what VAR means somewhere on your site."

Actually, there are a few spots on the sites where we take a run at this question, but it's not as simple as it appears.

The Tech Encyclopedia does a nice job of providing the traditional definition of VAR:

"(Value Added Reseller) An organization that adds value to a system and resells it. For example, it could purchase a CPU and peripherals from different vendors, graphics software from another and package it all together as a specialized CAD system. Although VARs typically repackage products, they might also include programs they have developed themselves."

But that definition just doesn't apply to many of the organizations we consider part of the technology channel. So our old About VARBusiness page broadened the concept:

"In the years VARBusiness has been around, the term "VAR" has become more of an umbrella term covering many different types of solution providers (SPs). Today's community of SPs includes application service providers (ASPs) Internet service providers (ISPs), e-business consultants, IT consultants, Web integrators and developers, independent software vendors (ISVs) and interactive agencies, as well as other types of providers and traditional resellers of hardware."

That's more what we have in mind, but the string of acronyms doesn't make the point much simpler. There just isn't one term that works for the whole range of organizations that provide technology solutions to business problems. Our industry just doesn't have the internal identity that doctors or lawyers or Electronics Engineers do. No high school guidance counselor ever suggested anyone become a VAR.

In fact, though it's less true now than it was a few years ago, the term VAR almost has an unwholesome edge to it, as if we're selling hot modems out of the back of a truck. I remember attending one of the launch events for Windows 2000 (I said it was a few years ago), and speaking with folks from a company that provided hardware and network integration. At one point, one of them held up his hands... as if to fend off the very thought... and exclaimed, "But we're not a VAR!"

They were, but if they'd rather consider themselves a service provider, or a solution provider, or an integrator, or a consultant, that's fine too. It's just hard to put on the cover of a magazine, or a home page.

To some extent, that attitude is changing. The 'new economy' ideas that seemed to make old business models passe, has itself gone out of fashion, and the idea of 'adding value' doesn't seem so dated.

Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech Enterprises, wrote in January about reclaiming the term VAR, focusing on the importance of the "value-add" in describing what VARs do.

"A true VAR is architecting solutions--not just selling equipment. A true VAR walks into his customer with no particular agenda or intent to sell the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. A true VAR sits and listens to the customer's needs, and then leverages technology to create solutions."

Actually, that's not a bad way to make a living.