HP Vs. Cisco: Let The Games Begin

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HP and Cisco will both draw their swords this week in dueling partner conferences in a technology battle for the hearts, minds and purchasing power of tens of thousands of solution providers worldwide.

HP has finalized its $2.7 billion acquisition of 3Com and launched its SMB networking offensive. And Cisco has launched its Unified Compute System (UCS), which is aimed squarely at HP's blade server and data center.

Keith Goodwin: The View From The Top

Now it's time for solution providers to converge on San Francisco and Las Vegas for dueling partner conferences in the battle of channel titans and choose sides.

HP's partner conference takes place April 26 -28 in America's playground Las Vegas, while Cisco's partner conference runs April 26-29 in the tony City by the Bay -San Francisco. The two cities, like the technology strategies being staked out by the two channel giants, couldn't be more different.

Cisco is hoping to convince more partners to join them in a bid to take HP down a notch in the server and data center market. HP is hoping to convince more partners to go "All-In" with HP and take a bite out of Cisco's robust networking margins and market share.

Talking HP With CEO Mark Hurd

The channel teams and direct sales reps from both sides are looking closely at which top solution provider executives and sales reps are opting for one conference or the other.

Some solution providers are, indeed, drawing a line in the sand and choosing one city or the other. And some are sending CEO's to one conference and Vice Presidents to another in what could be called a meager attempt at channel sales diplomacy.

"I feel like Henry Kissinger shuttling from one country to another for peace talks," said one top CEO for a VAR 500 solution provider, who plans on shuttling between Las Vegas and San Francisco for both shows.

Bob Venero, the president and CEO of Future Tech Enterprise, a Holbrook, N.Y. VAR 500 power, has decided to attend the HP conference and forego the Cisco event.

"I'm not attending Cisco," said Venero. "I had to make a choice and I felt that based on our business that it was a better to attend the HP Partner Conference. We do a lot of business with HP. And we do a tremendous amount of business with Cisco too. It is going to be an interesting fight. At the end of the day, the winners are going to be the customers who get choice and the solution providers who can provide choice."

NEXT: They Are Both Really Important

Mont Phelps, president and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based solution provider NWN said he's sending a substantial delegation to each show because they're both "really important." According to Phelps, NWN has the means to attend both HP and Cisco, but many other solution providers wanting to do the same will be left either overscheduled or shorthanded. "I suspect there'll be a few of us going back and forth," he reasoned.

One solution provider who asked that his name not be used said that he'll be attending the Cisco Partner Summit simply because he'll have "better opportunities for face time" with Cisco executives like worldwide channel chief Keith Goodwin.

"But I'm not happy about this," the solution provider said. "This really makes it a big pain in the [rear] to get stuff done with both vendors. There's a lot to be gained by attending each conference and it'd be nice if both HP and Cisco could recognize that this will do more harm than good."

Look for the top executives from each of the companys to rally partners. "I'm going to be pushing partners to go get more market opportunity," said HP CEO Mark Hurd in an interview with Channelweb.com "The U.S. is a market we're putting more resources into. We're putting more salespeople into the U.S. And our sales force -- let's be clear, that at HP, we know that whether we take a deal direct or take it through a partner, we're economically neutral."

Hurd says he wants partners charged up to go out and win more deals. "We want partners energized, fired up, focused on us, understanding our portfolio, trying to help us get to incremental markets," said Hurd. "And that's what we'll be talking about. We want to help them sell more!"

In a message on Cisco's partner conference Website, Goodwin says the talk at the Cisco event will "focus on how together we can accelerate our mutual growth and profitability in 2010 and beyond."

Jim Simpson, president and CEO of MSI Systems Integrators, an Omaha, Neb. VAR 500 power with $350 million in annual sales, is attending the Cisco event, while MSI COO Phil Sauvageau attends the HP event.

Simpson says MSI has succeeded by partnering with all of what he calls the Big Three Channel players: HP, Cisco and IBM. "They are all great companies committed to their partnerships with the channel in very visible way," he said.

MSI, which staked out a new relationship with HP two years ago, is working with all of those Big Three channel powers to build out cloud computing solutions. "All three are all really strategic," he says. "We have a very active strategy and plan to grow each of those relationships significantly over the next three years."

The key to being successful with all three vendors, Simpson said, is to make them each feel "we're doing a good job" for them, said Simpson. That will mean, he said, "very open and honest communication on whether we are partnering with them or not (on a deal) and then executing with integrity."

Simpson said that is going to require some "tough conversations" with vendor sales reps, but, as he tells his own sales reps, it will be a lot "tougher not to have those conversations" because of the mistrust it could breed in the sales ranks.

No matter how you cut it, there is going to be some hard feelings in the sales trenches. Both HP and Cisco, and even IBM, are pushing solution providers hard to choose one over the other. This week, however, is the time for partners to listen to both HP and Cisco and decide where they are going to place their bets.

Damon Poeter contributed to this article

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