Things could get interesting in the volume servers category where HP was No. 1 both this year (sweeping the category) and last, and IBM was No. 2. IBM, remember, is selling its x86-based server business to Lenovo (No. 4 here behind HP, IBM and Dell) for $2.3 billion. Watch this space next year
Desktop and server virtualization is another dynamic technology category with eye-opening Channel Champions scores. VMware, not surprisingly, was the overall winner in 2013 and the company swept the category this year. But this year Red Hat, which held the No. 5 spot last year, substantially improved its scores across the board and surged to No. 2, knocking Microsoft from No. 2 to No. 5. (Citrix and Oracle retained the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively.)
Another vendor that wielded a broom in this year's Channel Champions survey was EMC, which swept the backup and recovery software and SMB network storage technology categories. The company also nearly swept the enterprise network storage category, but Dell scored 0.3 points higher in financial criteria.
"We have a broad product portfolio in those categories," said Fred Kohout, EMC's vice president of global partner marketing, in an interview. "We're always looking to create distinct market value with and for partners." He specifically cited the vendor's VNXe unified storage system, a channel-exclusive product, as an example.
That's all the more impressive given that EMC is in the midst of a partner program overhaul, a time when uncertainty can pull down partner satisfaction scores. The company plans to launch the new program next month but, in the meantime, Kohout said, EMC has developed more enriched, more targeted rebate programs and offers market development funds based on demand-generation proposals from resellers.
IBM swept the data and information management product category and improved its standing in other areas (middleware, enterprise network storage, midrange servers, backup and recovery software).
IBM's major focus in the channel right now is "helping partners move to a higher-value business, moving from selling point products to selling more cross-product solutions," said Mike Gerentine, IBM marketing vice president for global business partners, in an interview. Also on the agenda are efforts to help partners sell more to front-office executives rather than IT departments, and move to a recurring revenue business model.
For the latter, IBM piloted a program last year to help partners identify their strengths and weaknesses before moving to cloud computing. Gerentine says that program will be scaled up this year.
HP swept the cloud backup/recovery and volume server technology categories, topped most scores for network security appliances (Cisco scored higher for technical satisfaction), held at No. 2 in notebooks (behind Lenovo), and came in at No. 2 to Cisco in the hot converged infrastructure category.
Meanwhile, Dell was No. 2 in SMB networking hardware and network storage but scored at or near the bottom in converged infrastructure, enterprise networking infrastructure, network security appliances, networking security software, backup/recovery software and other product categories. And it was in the middle of the pack in enterprise network storage, midrange and volume servers, and notebook and tablet computers.
But Solomon at Net@Work has high praise for Dell. "Dell is a good example of a company that's doing everything it can to go from being a vendor to being a partner," he said. The company is taking steps, such paying its sales force higher commissions for channel sales, toward its goal of making more than 75 percent of its sales through the channel, he said.
"They're putting their money where their mouth is," he said, noting that in March Net@Work did more business with Dell than it has previously done in entire quarters.
So can we look forward to higher Channel Champion scores for Dell in 2015? Maybe, if other solution providers are having the same experience as Net@Work. Dell, like many successful IT vendors, understands that upping its channel game is a never-ending challenge.