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Just what is the role of distributors -- and the solution providers they serve -- in an IT industry that's increasingly focused on cloud computing?
That was the question posed to representatives of the leading distributors during a Q&A session at UBM Tech Channel's XChange Solution Provider conference this week. The answers: Distributors see themselves as fulfilling a number of solution providers needs in a cloud-focused world, from managing cloud service logistics to helping the channel evaluate the true value of vendor offerings.
As cloud computing becomes more prevalent, there's been increased talk of "disintermediation" between vendors, distributors and solution providers, raising the question of the role distributors will play in this new world.
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A prime example is Microsoft's Office 365 cloud application set. While Microsoft initially sold the service direct to customers, with channel partners serving in a consultative and supporting role under the "Advisor" program, the vendor recently launched the Office 365 Open program under which partners can buy the service through distributors and sell it to their customers.
Office 365 "is creating a new business model for our channel," said Eric Martorano, senior director of Microsoft's U.S. SMB Channel Group, who co-chaired the discussion with Robert DeMarzo, senior vice president of strategic content at UBM Tech Channel.
"At the end of the day, at each inflection point, it becomes clear that, in fact, distribution does have a place, can add value," said Stacy Nethercoat, vice president of software product marketing at Tech Data. "It's around identifying the unique challenges around a technology change or, in this case, a change in the consumption model."
As cloud computing becomes more pervasive, the value provided by channel partners "is really around consulting, customization and integration," said Renee Bergeron, Ingram Micro vice president of managed services and cloud computing. "The channel's real value is understanding their customers' needs."
Distributors, Bergeron said, help solution providers determine which vendor's cloud systems "have real value."