Sun Microsystems wants to help partners increase collaboration with it and each other in a series of enhancements to its channel program.
The company on Wednesday added two enhancements to its Sun Partner Advantage Program, including a social networking platform and new tools to help partners demonstrate the value of their solutions to their customers.
The first, ExecConnect by Sun, is a social networking environment aimed at helping partners collaborate for new ideas and find opportunities to work with each other, said Bill Cate, the vendor's senior director of global channel marketing.
ExecConnect came about from a meeting in January between Sun executives, including CEO and President Jonathan Schwartz and about 150 partners from 27 countries. Solution providers asked how to keep up spirit of collaboration developed at the meeting, which lead Sun to develop the program, Cate said.
ExecConnect is an invite-only forum which allows partners to communicate with each other and connect to Sun executives, including Schwartz; Peter Ryan, vice president of global sales and executive sponsor of the forum; and Anil Gadre, executive vice president and CMO.
The forum lets them start and follow discussion threads and open folders specific to certain geographies, share articles and other materials, and poll other partners on things like what applications work best in certain situation, Cate said.
Partners could use other social networks, such as FaceBook, but Sun offers a secure environment where they can communicate with their peers, Cate said.
"Social networking typically is open to anybody," he said. "You don't know who you are talking to."
Sun does not intend to use the forum to push its own agenda, Cate said. "We walk a fine line as a vendor," he said. "It's not our intention to drive business with this."
That's an important prerequisite to using such a social networking forum, said John Murphy, executive vice president at Advanced Systems Group, a Denver-based Sun partner and former head of Sun's partner council.
"If it doesn't become a Sun-spewing thing, it will be of real value," Murphy said.
As a forum, ExecConnect is a good idea, Murphy said.
"As far as getting feedback from changes to programs, Sun hopes that partners will contribute," he said. "If they don't, it doesn't matter, but it is a way for them to discuss the changes. There's a lot of value in that. The bi-annual partner meetings are kind of spotty for getting such feedback."
However, Murphy said Sun cannot expect its solution partners to start working together just because they have a new social networking tool.
"I've told Sun to be realistic," he said. "We all compete with each other. Sun needs to look at ground rules about how to do this from a technology or a geographic perspective. This won't become a panacea of partnering."
Sun on Wednesday also unveiled the Sun Value Platform, a Web-based sales tool for helping solution providers show customers their expected return on investment using Sun solutions.
Cate said Sun Value Platform helps solution providers justify customers' investments by looking at Sun and competitive platforms to see how a new solution compares to existing solutions, and to model expected future costs.
The Sun Value Platform, which came out of Sun's StorageTek business, currently is available for storage solutions, but in the future is expected to be expanded to other specializations like virtualization, SOA (services-oriented architecture), high-performance computing, MySQL, ID management, and open storage, Cate said.
In theory, Sun Value Platform can be a significant tool, but only if Sun can keep the important content up-to-date, Murphy said.
"If they're going to have information on Dell servers, for instance, they need to keep the data current," he said. "We don't want to see six-month-old data. There's no value if the data is not current."