Sun Clarifies Partner Program

Sun executives, including Bill Cate, director of U.S. partner programs, and Tom Wagner, Sun's new vice president of partner and alliance sales organization, used Access Distribution's New Frontier conference, held this week in Colorado Springs, Colo., to unveil the plan to solution providers.

Many of the planks of the SPA program, which was launched for ISV partners last year, are already in place, with a few additions being brought to the program to formalize it for Sun's worldwide partner base, said Cate.

For instance, Sun in February introduced its "Grow America" partner strategy, which changed its rebate program to reward solution providers more for opening new accounts or attaching more software and services to the sale, Cate said.

With SPA, Sun is adding new partner level nomenclature that is consistent on a worldwide basis, with progressive benefits depending the level.

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The lowest level, or member, is for partners outside the United States that sell Sun products but do not sign a formal contract with the vendor.

At the Associate level, partners agree to maintain minimum competency certifications and minimum annual revenue in return for quarterly training funds and access to go-to-market funds as they are available.

At the Principal level, solution providers must certify for a minimum of one of Sun's elite programs, including Storage Elite, Software Elite, or Strategic Data Center Elite, the latter of which was formally known as Systems Elite. Solution providers who are part of one of those Elite programs are immediately moved into the Principal level, Cate said. Benefits are those of their current Elite status, including guaranteed allocation of training and go-to-market funds and access to a technical training advisor.

At the Executive level, partners are expected to be certified for all the company's Elite programs at minimum annual revenue levels, including having a minimum of $10 million in revenue for Strategic Data Center Elite products, a minimum of $5 million in Storage Elite revenue, a minimum of $300,000 in Software Elite revenue, and a minimum of $3 million in Services Elite revenue.

In return, those partners get preferred allocation of go-to-market funds, the highest allocation of training credits and an opportunity to join Sun's national advisory council, and they are assigned Sun partner field coverage and technical advisors, Cate said.

The minimum revenue requirements for the different levels will not be tracked until July of next year in order to give partners time to prepare for the new SPA program, he said.

By October, Sun plans to inform solution providers about their new SPA levels based on their competencies and performance, Cate said. "We will really provide crisper expectations to our partners," he said.

Wagner, who in July took over the top channel role at Sun, said the SPA program is designed to ensure partners focus on providing value to customers rather than order fulfillment.

"We will be asking our partners to align and step up with Sun to establish competency in servers, storage, software and services," he said. "That's frankly where our customers are pushing us. There's not a CIO out there who is really concerned about the performance of a T1000 server. They want to know, how are you going to help me make money and solve my business problems. If we don't have that focus, we won't be able to compete."

John Varel, CEO of FusionStorm, a San Francisco-based Sun solution provider, said that while his company is loyal to Sun and has great relationships with the vendor, doing business with Sun can be difficult sometimes as the different parts of the company do not always communicate about how it deals with the channel.

"Marketing funds are a big issue," Varel said. "Also, at the field level, Sun [officials] need to tighten their message and make sure they don't come in a grab a deal. They need to work on the [SPA] program. If that's their message, they need to make sure it goes all the way down to the field."