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2007 CRN Channel Champions: Software

Find out which software vendors were this year's CRN Channel Champions in the areas of business software suites, databases and data management, e-mail and collaboration, infrastructure integration, network operating systems and system/network management.


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Microsoft had the highest overall rating of 76.9, Oracle logged second with 68.1, SAP was third with 65.8, and Sage Software was a point behind at 64.8.

Microsoft fields four ERP lines—once known separately as Great Plains, Solomon, Axapta and Navision—now all sold under the Dynamics brand.

Longtime SMB player Sage also fields multiple ERP lines. SAP, meanwhile, is parlaying its enterprise ERP muscle into the midmarket, primarily with Business One. And Oracle, which offers not only its own E-business Suite but J.D. Edwards and PeopleSoft wares as well, is likewise moving downmarket.

Microsoft is the technology company to beat in SMB ERP. In overall technical satisfaction, Microsoft was top dog with 84.6, followed by Oracle with 77.9, SAP with 74.4, and Sage with 72.7.

In programs and support, Microsoft also carried the day with an overall score of 81.6. Oracle and SAP were nip-and-tuck with scores of 70.8 and 70.6, respectively. Sage earned a 69.1 rating. This category includes criteria such as pre- and post-sales support, technical education resources, program consistency over time and channel conflict management.

In financial criteria, which include services attach rate, margins/rebates/spifs, the order held: Microsoft won with 65.9, Oracle was next with 57.2, and SAP and Sage tied for third with 53.9.

The survey results did not come as a surprise to John Hendrickson, CEO of InterDyn Business MicroVar, a Microsoft Business Solutions partner in St. Paul, Minn.

"From a product function standpoint, all of these [vendors'] offerings do the job. The difference I see is that Microsoft's commitment to partners and the channel is huge. They're committed, and the partners know it," he said.

Linda Rose, CEO of Rose Business Solutions, San Diego, agreed: "Microsoft has the biggest partner focus, no question.

"We were a [Sage] MAS 500 partner, and it didn't compare," Rose said. "Microsoft has so much more training and field assistance. Before, we didn't have anyone in our sales territory. But Microsoft physically plants its people in your territory to support you."

— Barbara Darrow

Microsoft 84.6 81.6 65.9 76.9
Oracle 77.9 70.8 57.2 68.1
SAP 74.4 70.6 53.9 65.8
Sage Software 72.7 69.1 53.9 64.8

Next: Databases/Data Management DATABASES/DATA MANAGEMENT

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Unlike past years, the 2007 race in the database/data management category did not end in a photo finish. Microsoft won with an overall satisfaction rating of 72.3, Oracle was second with 69.9 and IBM finished third with 67.3.

Microsoft beat Oracle by two-tenths of a point when it came to the technical criteria. On closer inspection, Oracle outshone Microsoft in three technical areas. On scalability, Oracle towered over Microsoft by 5.5 points. IBM also finished two tenths of a point higher than Microsoft in this area. Not surprisingly, Oracle's mature database technology also scored higher than Microsoft's offering for product quality and reliability, and multivendor support. It helps that Oracle's database has been released on multiple operating systems.

The scalability results may be a case of perception outweighing reality, said Raj Gill, CTO at Scalability Experts Solution, Coppell, Texas. "In the last seven years, we never had a challenge in getting SQL Server to scale to meet business requirements."

Microsoft has been increasingly integrating its development and middleware products, and using SQL Server as one of its key bridging technologies, so this year's high rating for price for performance was no surprise. Microsoft beat Oracle and IBM by more than 8 points.

"Customers realized in the last few years that the bang for the money on their investments is based on the entire Microsoft stack and not just SQL Server alone," Gill said.

On channel criteria, Microsoft bested Oracle by a margin of 1.9 points. With MSDN and TechNet in its corner, Microsoft flexed its muscles and won the technical education area. "It is very easy to get information about SQL Server in a wide variety of places," said Ron Talmage, a SQL Server mentor at Solid Quality Learning, Seattle. "Microsoft has done a great job informing us about new technologies."

Once again this year, Microsoft clearly won in the area of managing channel conflict and for the ROI it provides to partners.

Oracle pulled ahead for both post-sales support and the consistency of its channel program, while IBM tied with Microsoft when solution providers were asked to rate the vendor as a percentage of projected sales increase for the next year. For the most part, however, Microsoft stayed ahead of the pack in the channel criteria.

— Mario Morejon

Microsoft 85.3 72.5 61.3 72.3
Oracle 85.1 70.6 56.4 69.9
IBM 81.2 68.6 54.5 67.3

Next: E-Mail/Collaboration Software E-MAIL/COLLABORATION SOFTWARE

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The gap between Microsoft and its rivals in the e-mail and collaboration software space is widening.

Microsoft bested its competitors on every single criterion and sailed past the runners-up with a 77.8 overall rating, more than 10 points higher than IBM's 67.6 score and Novell's 64.3 finish.

Solution providers say Microsoft's channel-friendly policies and powerhouse Exchange/Outlook combination give it the edge. Solid integration with the rest of Microsoft's ubiquitous Office stack, mature technology and strong opportunities for ancillary services make Microsoft's products the most attractive in this segment, according to resellers. And while Vista has earned mixed reviews, Exchange Server 2007 is looking like a hit, they said.

"More so than Office or Vista, this is the product that clients are curious about," said Todd Croteau, vice president of consulting services at All Covered, a services firm and Microsoft Gold Partner in Redwood City, Calif. "The feedback from front-line consultants is that they like it. I think Vista has been slower than we thought to be adopted, but I don't think the same will be true for Exchange. It's the No. 1 product we're training on internally."

While new entrants are emerging to challenge Microsoft's collaboration infrastructure dominance, especially from the open-source arena, the survey showed that its traditional rivals are stumbling. IBM's Workplace line, once positioned as the modern successor to its Lotus Notes/Domino platform, was officially killed off this year after much grumbling from users and partners fearing a forced migration. The misstep dinged IBM's reputation and let Microsoft take advantage of the confusion to build its own market share.

"Lotus Notes and Domino is basically an end-of-life product," said Ron Herardian, managing partner at Global System Services, Mountain View, Calif., a messaging and collaboration specialist that partners with IBM and Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has earned high marks for its channel education and sales support programs. Partners say that once you have Microsoft's attention, it is responsive to requests. Wanting a head start on preparing for the Vista wave, All Covered asked Microsoft for a custom training opportunity, offering to fly 20 of its engineers to its headquarters.

"Once they saw our commitment, they matched it by making speakers and resources available," said Nick Pegley, vice president of marketing at All Covered. "It really helped. Microsoft is a company that really gets the channel."

— Stacy Cowley

Microsoft 82.4 82.8 68.1 77.8
IBM 75.2 72.4 55.2 67.6
Novell 72.4 69.9 50.6 64.3

Next: Infrastructure Integration INFRASTRUCTURE INTEGRATION

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After years of shadowing IBM, Microsoft pulled ahead in the infrastructure integration software category to earn top marks in the 2007 CRN Channel Champions survey.

The battle was close, but Microsoft won out with a score of 73.9, thanks to high marks for its overall dominance in the software market and the resources it pours into supporting its channel. IBM came in second with a score of 70, while Oracle middleware trailed with a 65.6 score.

Microsoft partners say the company's .Net strategy has come into its own recently, with notably improved software and stronger market share.

"Five years ago, Microsoft bet their business on integration and made a wholehearted commitment to that," said Tim Marshall, vice president of technology at Neudesic, Irvine, Calif. "What we're seeing now is a lot of the benefits of the billions of dollars of investment that they've done to get their stack to this point."

Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration and data management software is a prime example of the company's growing strength in integration infrastructure. Partners say they're seeing booming activity: SharePoint is "becoming front and center to how companies are doing business," Marshall said.

InterKnowlogy, a Microsoft specialist in Carlsbad, Calif., started a dedicated SharePoint practice two years ago in response to customer interest and to its own evaluation of the software's usefulness. "In SharePoint 2003, you essentially needed a crowbar to make it do anything it didn't do out of the box," said Rodney Guzman, CTO of InterKnowlogy. "Now, you can truly call SharePoint 2007 an extensible platform."

While resellers are seeing some pushback against Microsoft's Vista client, the back-end technology powering Microsoft's full Vista-linked software portfolio gets strong reviews. Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), the new presentation platform underpinning Vista and backward-compatible with Windows XP, is a huge breakthrough that enables major advances in application development, partners say.

"WPF is going to do to desktop applications what Adobe Flash did to the Web," Guzman predicted. "We're finding that we need more design skills now than we've ever needed before. We're dealing with things in a much more artistic way."

— Stacy Cowley

Microsoft 86.7 75.5 61.6 73.9
IBM 84.1 72.1 56.1 70.0
Oracle 78.3 67.0 53.5 65.6

Next: Network Operating Systems NETWORK OPERATING SYSTEMS

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Microsoft cinched the 2007 CRN Channel Champions crown in the network operating systems category on the strength of its channel programs. The build-up to Vista's recent launch didn't hurt, either.

Microsoft pulled off an overall score of 77.4, 11.9 points ahead of last year's winner, Sun Microsystems. Red Hat was second with 65.6, Sun third with 65.5 and Novell was fourth with 63.1. Microsoft won handily across all three types of criteria, with double-digit leads for both the program and support and financial categories.

Solution providers need access to the latest tools and software and Microsoft is proactive, flooding the channel with Microsoft software, said Ron Herardian, CEO of Global System Services, Mountain View, Calif. That's in contrast with Sun, which earned the second highest score in this criterion, he said. "While it's possible to get the latest Sun tools, it's not as up-front. They don't push it. Microsoft really pushes," he said.

Microsoft's 8.2-point lead over Red Hat in the technology category was narrower than the other categories, with Microsoft scoring 87.7 to Red Hat's 79.5. Vista's oft-touted security features and improved graphics strengthened Microsoft's position, especially on the product quality and reliability rating. Sun had the next highest score for that rating.

Over the past year, it helped that Microsoft improved its communication with the channel, said Tim Marshall, vice president of technology at Neudesic, a Microsoft Gold partner in Irvine, Calif. "Before, nobody [partners] had any idea what was going on with Microsoft," he said. Integrating Microsoft's sales teams with Neudesic's own teams has harmonized and strengthened the solution provider's sales pitch, he added.

Microsoft's continued market dominance secured the financial category. Survey respondents reported that the Windows operating system still accounts for the lion's share of their operating system sales.

Red Hat, Sun and Novell earned similar scores across the criteria considered for the network operating systems category, although third-place Sun did marginally better than Red Hat in the program and support category. The directory support criterion was the exception: Last year, Novell edged out Sun in this area, and it maintained its lead this year.

— Fahmida Y. Rashid

Microsoft 87.7 78.0 68.1 77.4
Red Hat 79.5 67.3 52.5 65.6
Sun 78.6 68.6 51.5 65.5
Novell 77.9 66.0 47.9 63.1

Next: SystemsNetwork Management SYSTEMSNETWORK MANAGEMENT

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Microsoft's commanding market share and the interoperability of its products helped carry the company to a victory in systems and network management.

Microsoft, with an overall category rating of 70.8, outpaced Hewlett-Packard, which finished second with a 67.7 rating. IBM came in third with a 67.1 and CA fourth with a 63.8.

What's more, the company swept the three subcategory ratings, winning top marks in technical criteria, program and support elements, and financial factors. Judged by resellers in 17 separate areas for this particular CRN Channel Champions category, Microsoft placed first in 15. While Microsoft won handily in several of those areas, particularly notable was its commanding sales share, where the vendor had a 17-point lead over second-place HP.

The power of Microsoft's market share, in combination with its scalability and a surprisingly agile partner program, separate the company from its competition, said Bob Longo, director of channel development at ClearPointe, a Little Rock, Ark.-based MSP.

"From a development standpoint, they went out of their way to understand what it meant to offer a tool for MSPs," Longo said. "We saw it from sales and marketing to product managers and on down through the ranks."

There's just no arguing with the value of products that work well together, said Brad Cicero, a partner at Allied Technology Group, another Little Rock VAR.

"Obviously with their market share of operating systems, it's a winning relationship, but the biggest thing for us is the interoperability of all their tools," he said. "The only complaint [about Microsoft] I would have is the oversaturation of their partners. But they are working to specialize their partners, in security, advanced infrastructure, business communications and so on, so that's helped a bit."

Microsoft was bested in just two survey criteria, multivendor support, where IBM claimed the victory, and product quality and reliability, where HP received the highest ratings.

— Damon Poeter

Microsoft 81.3 75.2 58.6 70.8
HP 80.6 70.9 53.9 67.7
IBM 79.2 71.2 53 49.1
CA 76.6 67.8 49.1 63.8

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