Sun Moving Into SMB Channel, GE Access Following Suit


Sun Microsystems and GE Access are aggressively reaching out to small- and midsize-business-focused solution providers that do not currently offer Sun's SPARC platform.

Sun hopes to build a channel for the Linux-based servers it introduced earlier this week, as well as for Linux-based desktop units company executives hinted might be available next month.

One of Sun's two U.S.-based distributors, GE Access, is following suit, expanding into the SMB space for the first time as it looks to recruit solution providers to work with Sun's Linux products.

Sun is already getting ready to put plenty of folks in a position to drive its Linux strategies, said Peder Ulander, director of marketing for Sun Cobalt. "We need to extend Sun's channel to reflect new products," he said.

Sun has signed up about 1,900 solution providers worldwide for its new LX50 x86-based server. About one-third of these partners already sell the company's Cobalt Linux-based appliances, Ulander said. The vendor will also sell the servers direct and through its traditional SPARC channel, he said.

To attract PC-type solution providers, Sun is lifting some of the requirements normally in place to become a Sun-authorized reseller, including training and certification on SPARC, said Ulander.

This will allow such partners to establish relationships with GE Access and Moca, another Sun distributor, Ulander said.

GE Access is developing marketing and training materials as part of its push to sign up SMB solution providers, said Anna McDermott, vice president of the distributor's Sun Business Group.

McDermott said GE Access is no stranger to the SMB space, since it had been a distributor for Compaq. However, GE Access now focuses only on the Sun platform, with its other vendor partners all offering products for that platform.

Another U.S. Sun distributor, Tech Data, offers Sun Cobalt appliances to its solution providers under an agreement predating Sun's acquisition of Cobalt about 18 months ago, Ulander said. Sun's current Linux strategy is based heavily on technologies that came with that acquisition.

Whether Tech Data will carry the new Linux-based servers remains to be seen, said Ulander. "We need to examine that relationship and see how it fits with Sun products," he said.

Even so, Sun is not looking to engage "mom-and-pop" solution providers, said Ulander. "We are not looking for 50,000 resellers, but instead want to find partners in certain areas," he said. He did not estimate how many solution providers Sun hopes to attract.

Linda Chiarle, sales executive at MSC Software, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based solution provider and Sun partner, said she sees no problem if Sun opens a new channel to sell its x86 and Linux line, as long as it makes the new products available to all its channels.

Sun's focus on the SMB market can only help traditional channel partners, said Kevin Reith, manager of strategic technology at Info Systems, a Wilmington, Del.-based Sun solution provider.

However, Reith said, despite the big rush to the SMB space by Sun and other vendors, eventually the 80/20 rule will apply,80 percent of the business will get generated by the 20 percent of the players that understand the market.

"The SMB space is like youth soccer," Reith said. "When kids are young, boys and girls play on the same field. And when someone kicks the ball to the other side of the field, 10 or 12 kids rush over in a pack to get it.

"That's where the SMB space is today," he continued. "People have kicked the ball in SMB. Everyone is running after it. It will be like this for the next year or two until the market matures. Then there will be fewer players."