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Opportunity, yes. But more video conferencing opportunities expand, the more the margin pressure question still nags.
"The challenge is that the Tandberg product line will be available to Cisco ATP [Authorized Technology Program] partners," said Wainhouse's Weinstein. "Now, they're not all knocking on the same doors, but video conferencing represents high-margins and service opportunities. Cisco channel partners, on the other hand, are used to seeing lower margins. If I'm a Cisco ATP partner, I'm looking at this as more competition. If I'm a Tandberg partner, instead of just three Tandberg partners responding to the bid on the street, I might be competing with five Cisco partners, too. All of it depends on how Cisco rationalizes the combined channel."
Cisco hasn't provided much in the way of details for how it will qualify existing Tandberg VARs that don't already sell Cisco. There's just no way to be certain how it will all shake out until there's a firmer integration plan in place, according to some solution providers.
"You'll be OK as a Tandberg reseller? Please. That's what Cisco wants you to think as they offer up that stuff to every ATP with a name and title," said one longtime videoconferencing reseller, who asked not to be identified. "Unless you have a services business that can clean the clock of the 10 guys in your area -- and most of us don't -- you're going to be fighting for scraps."
Many Cisco devotees dismiss that kind of discussion as spin from Cisco's competitors. But even those who applaud Cisco's efforts to make the channels integration as smooth as possible acknowledge the potential difficulty.
"The margin pressure in the Cisco world is very real," said Gia McNutt, CEO of Special Order Systems, a Campbell, Calif.-based solution provider. "If it weren't for the back-end programs, you really couldn't make a living selling Cisco if you weren't one of the top guys. Polycom, for it's own sake, is smart to throw that out there if it is."
Others say that Cisco's mighty channel machine will provide a dose of discipline that Tandberg VARs haven't enjoyed in some time.
"Tandberg hasn't managed its channel very well for a while," said Annese's Healy. "I thin some partners are uncomfortable here because Tandberg quite frankly has allowed some of them to operate outside of the rules. I mean, they'd take orders from people who haven't met channel partner requirements for years. It's been a scramble to see Tandberg get its act together before the sale closes. Partners who had a good self-support model were OK, but those who couldn't do that were left twisting in the wind by Tandberg."
Overall, solution providers and channel observers said, Cisco has its work cut out for it to integrate Tandberg's channels and thread the needle with existing partners while it simultaneously announces itself as the new power in video.
Its success or failure to do those things won't be immediately determined, either.
"What I want to know is not necessarily the one-year roadmap, but the two- and three-year roadmap," said Intercall's Trampler. "They put out their press releases and you see battle lines being drawn, but how does Cisco merge all those product lines and stay strong for video partners two, three years down the road? We'll be watching."
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