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When Cisco's Keith Goodwin opened this week's Partner Summit on Tuesday, he noted what a difference a year makes. He was addressing the recovering economic climate in the channel, but Goodwin might just as well have been talking about Cisco's competitive rhetoric toward rival HP: unmistakable at the 2009 Partner Summit in Boston, but barely a footnote at this year's Summit in San Francisco.
According to partners, that's no accident. And to many, it's also refreshing: even with all the anti-Cisco chest beating happening at HP's Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas this week, many Cisco VARs say they don't see HP so much as a market share threat in networking as they do a healthy competitor to keep Cisco honest.
"There was a lot of backlash that came from Cisco saying 'game on,' last year," said Peter Belyea, vice president of Teracai, an East Syracuse, N.Y.-based solution provider. "I think now they realized that they don't have play like that. They can set the strategy and focus on what's important."
Some partners see Cisco's comparative lack of saber rattling as another form of Cisco calculation. In other words, knowing that HP would challenge Cisco on the networking front, thanks to its acquisitions of 3Com and the debut of HP Networking, Cisco saw an opportunity to be perceived as taking the high-road.
"Well, they are trying to take the high road," said Kari Yent, vice president of strategic alliances at Force 3, Crofton, Md. "Staying away from that [HP bashing] is a good competitive strategy this year."
Last year, Yent reasoned, Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) was still brand new and Cisco needed to come out swinging with more aggressive messaging to help convince partners it was serious about server technology and the data center.
To some VARs, however, the messaging is now confused.
"They misplayed their hand on this one," said one Cisco VAR who asked not to be identified. "They can't just spend an entire Partner Summit calling out HP and then the next year pretend like it's not really an issue. If we're expecting fiery sermons, it's because we were conditioned to expect that last year."
Still, admitted the solution provider, to see Cisco buckle down and focus its Partner Summit discussion on high-level strategy has been "refreshing." A lack of HP-baiting is also a sign that there's a bigger elephant in the room than HP: Cisco's ongoing supply chain woes, which has been by far the most dominant topic among VAR and Cisco executive conversations at this year's Summit.
"It's affected us, no question about it," said Gia McNutt, president and CEO of Special Order Systems, Campbell, Calif., who said that compared to supply chain issues and strategy, Cisco's rivalry with HP seemed almost "silly."
"It hasn't been devastating, but it has been significant," she said.
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