Sun Mixes Apples and Oranges

Traditional integrators are back in vogue, but will they push commodity products?

Sun Microsystems next month will begin unfolding concrete plans for its revamped partner strategy, including how it intends to integrate recently acquired Cobalt Networks.

The summit, slated for Feb. 6, will bring together 50 executives in Suns National Systems Provider Program to discuss partner sales, distribution models, and the companys refocus on integration partners as the primary method of pushing hardware.

"Lately, theyve gone through a round of really listening to [Sun partners]," says Harry Kasparian, CEO of Corporate Technologies, who recently met with Joe Womack, Suns VP of Americas Partner Sales. "They really do care and want to do it right. Theyve really come around."

This comes in stark contrast with Suns message early last year, when it said its future sales depended on Web integrators, ASPs and selling online. While Sun is still bullish on Web integrators, the crash in their stock prices and the bloodbath in the dot-com market has forced the company to reconsider its position with traditional integrators.

Mike Shook, president of 12-year Sun partner Strategic Technologies, sees the move as a retreat back to Suns partners that have invested heavily in it. Shook calls Sun a "very opportunistic company" that needs to bring its commitments back to its older community of classic resellers and systems integrators. "I think there has been a bit of a void [for the past six to eight months]. … I believe that whats in the best interest of Sun is in the best interest of the reseller community."

One of the question marks is what Sun will do with its Cobalt product line. Cobalt builds AMD-based server appliances that run Linux, and it recently released two new server appliances under the Sun Cobalt name. Aimed at service providers, the RaQ XTR and CacheRaQ 4 will be sold through Suns distributors, GE Access, Arrow Moca and Ingram Micro. But with prices starting at $1,800 for the low-end CacheRaQ 4, Sun is dealing with a different kind of sale than its high-end Sparc servers.

Will Cobalt fit into the traditional Sun reseller product mix? Womack says the answer depends on whom you ask. "I had folks whove said to me, This is tremendous, this is going to open some new doors. … Ive had other partners come back to me and say, Reselling is less important to me. "

Sun has wrestled with its two distribution strategies. It has focused on highly trained integrators to sell or recommend its Sparc servers, but it has never mapped out how it will get less-expensive commodity products to customers.

Now it has no choice but to figure out how to merge those two worlds.