April Shower: HP, Cisco Partner Conferences Scheduled For Same Days

Cisco's Partner Summit is scheduled for April 26-29 in San Francisco. The dates and location, according to a Cisco spokesperson, were scheduled years in advance.

HP has scheduled its Americas Partner Conference April 26-28 in Las Vegas, the dates of which were confirmed to Channelweb.com by an HP spokesperson on Thursday.

Further complicating scheduling for that week is Juniper's J-Partner Summit, taking place April 26-28 in Arizona, and also annual networking industry confab Interop, which is April 25-29 in Las Vegas.

HP hasn't released the agenda for its Americas Partner Conference, but the HP spokesperson said that "the focus will be on strategic development with partners, as usual, and plans for 2010." The spokesperson said HP's sales coordination with its partner channel would remain a top priority. For example, HP will continue to go full speed ahead with its popular Executive Connections program, in which HP Solution Provider Organization (SPO) executives join partners in customer sales meetings -- visits that HP CEO Mark Hurd himself frequently attends.

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Regardless of what factors went into scheduling the conferences, the fact HP and Cisco partners will be gathering in two different cities stands to further the two companies' rivalry.

The conflict has been escalating since early 2009, after Cisco jumped into the server space with its Unified Computing System and HP pumped up the profile of its ProCurve networking unit, setting up what became one of the biggest networking stories of the year.

Confirmation that the competition was officially "on" came at Cisco's 2009 Partner Summit in June, when Cisco North American Channel Chief Wendy Bahr said of HP, "We are competing. Period. End. It is competition."

Later in the year, HP made a major networking and data center grab, announcing in November its intent to acquire 3Com. 3Com's most recent 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, dated Jan. 6, indicates that 3Com has scheduled a meeting for Jan. 26 for stockholders to vote on the potential HP merger.

Solution providers contacted by Channelweb.com said the two conferences would undoubtedly conflict with each other, and it would be VARs that didn't have the resources to attend both who would suffer.

"As a VAR who is strategic with both HP and Cisco, it's unfortunate partners need to make a decision between the two," said John Convery, executive vice president of vendor relations and marketing at Denali Advanced Integration, Redmond, Wash. "I think HP or Cisco would benefit by changing the dates. The smaller VAR, without the resources, will lose out on some great content, strategies and relationship building by being forced to make a choice."

"We'll be well-represented at both because both are important to us. Each has superb products," said an HP and Cisco partner who requested anonymity. "But the smaller companies will be between a rock and a hard place."

The solution provider urged fellow VARs to think twice before getting caught up in too much HP-versus-Cisco rhetoric.

"I think there are a number of partners who view themselves as more the advocate of a vendor, and it's those who will have the most trouble," said the solution provider. "What you want to be able to do is advocate for the customer. At the end of the day, everyone is better off for that."

That said, HP and Cisco having a partner conference the same week sounds too good to be a coincidence, the solution provider said. Cisco has long been playing up the more competitive rhetoric, the solution provider said, but HP isn't exactly staying quiet, especially since the arrival of Dave Donatelli, HP's executive vice president and general manager, Enterprise Servers and Networking.

"Cisco's had by far the stronger field sales force," the solution provider said. "I think Donatelli is a game-changer. He brings that take-no-prisoners EMC mentality. Cisco is the one that's going to attempt to be a lot more controlling, but I've heard marching orders [to partners] from HP that partners need to sell HP or not sell HP. Competition is a good thing, but when you start pitting the channels against each other, you're creating a great deal of activity and misspent energy around things that aren't going to drive the market."

One New York-based solution provider with multiple vendor partners offered a simple solution to coping with partner conference conflict: don't attend any of them.

Stephen Allen, principal at Integrated Technology Systems said his company had severely cut back on its trade show and partner conference attendance in 2009 due to the state of the economy. And he plans to do the same in 2010.

"We figure we can get as much from viewing live Webcasts of most conferences, or else reviewing materials later when they're posted on the vendors' Web sites, as we can from traveling thousands of miles at considerable cost to sit in a room and watch a PowerPoint presentation," Allen said.

Integrated Technology Systems serves an SMB clientele in the New York area and counts HP, Microsoft and SonicWall as its key vendor partners. The availability of materials on partner portals and advances in videoconferencing technology have "really changed how partner conference attendance works in a contracting economy," Allen said.