Sun To Partners: Get Ready For Managed Services

Bill Cate, director of U.S. Partner Programs at Sun, said managed services is a key focus for Sun’s services group and aspects of Sun’s managed services platform will be available for partners to sell as a service during Sun’s 2007 fiscal year, which starts in July. “There is just a tremendous energy around managed services,” he said. “What we want to do is make it more channel-ready.”

Cate said Sun is developing services for the channel in two buckets, basic and managed, but declined to give specifics. He noted that the service likely would be evolutionary, starting with some basic services and building from there.

Much of the managed service infrastructure Sun is using stems from its 2004 acquisition of MSP SevenSpace. One benefit Sun picked up in the deal was the ability to manage heterogeneous environments.

Dan Berg, vice president and CTO of Sun Services, said Sun now is able to manage a variety of systems for customers, including servers, operating systems and applications from competitors such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

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Sun is trying to do more than “event-based analysis,” Berg said. The Santa Clara, Calif., vendor has budgeted R&D money so that engineers can study data from managed services at a deeper level and work to predict future problems.

For example, he said Sun is using SevenSpace to manage Microsoft Exchange in a clustered environment for one customer. The system would go down from time to time, but Sun administrators couldn’t immediately pinpoint the problem. After the system had gone down a couple of times, they discovered a set of conditions present that could lead to a crash. They were able to notify the customer when these conditions were present and reset the system, rather than wait for the system to crash. At the same time, administrators worked with Microsoft to pinpoint what they believed was a software bug that was causing the problem.

Berg said he believes Sun will not private-label its managed services, as some independent MSPs do, but instead likely will pass through MSP data, analysis and alerts to partners managing customer systems.

Berg said Sun is working to beef up its services capabilities, particularly outside the traditional break-fix warranty service that has been profitable for the company.

According to Cate, 20 percent of Sun’s U.S. channel revenue comes from break-fix contracts.

Services are considered more profitable than hardware, which continues to experience margin pressure, and many companies are emphasizing services over hardware sales.

According to Sun’s 10Q filing for the period ending Dec. 25, about 37 percent of its revenue came from services, and about 63 percent came from computer systems and data management.

Besides break-fix services, which all of Sun’s partners can either offer or resell, Cate said about 100 of Sun’s 500 partners currently participate in an Authorized Sales and Referral Program, which lets partners either resell or participate in Sun services. About 50 partners have become certified to deliver identity management, enterprise consolidation, ILM or desktop integration for Sun Services. That program has been available for about a year, Cate said.

Though at least one Sun partner privately acknowledged working with Sun on managed services, others said they have not heard from Sun on that front.

Ed Gogol, director of enterprise systems at Solarcom, said the Norcross, Ga., solution provider has not participated in any services programs besides the profitable break-fix opportunities. Solarcom has its own professional services, and “Sun Services competes with them more often than works with them,” he said.

While Cate acknowledged that many partners would prefer to offer their own professional services, he said partners should not count out Sun Services. “Vendors can make the mistake of asking a partner to invest in something that might be bad for them,” he said. “A lot of resellers might look at a program like this and say, ‘I don’t need that.’ But hopefully they are grabbing the [Sun Services] field staff and saying, ‘Look at me. I may not be on your list of accredited people, but I sure know what I’m doing.’ Our field staff is really agnostic to that. They are going to want to engage with partners that have the highest degrees of skill that meet customers’ SLAs.”

Sun, which has seen its stock free-fall over the past few years, said Wednesday it would continue to pare down its staffing, this time laying off up to 5,000 people, or 13 percent of its workforce, over six months.