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Avaya’s North American channel chief belies the bankruptcy and predicted demise of Nortel could be a goldmine for Avaya solution providers willing to go after Nortel customers.

“They need to practice competitive outreach,” said Carol Giles Neslund, vice president of North America Channel Sales at Avaya. “For Avaya business partners, this is a real opportunity to go after and attack competitively. The key is to get in front of Nortel’s installed base.”

Likewise, Nortel solution providers have an opportunity to service their existing customers by signing up as Avaya business partners. “We can offer them two important things: a real value proposition to the end user, which in this economy is so critical, and solid products,” she said.

Nortel, the troubled communications manufacturer and service provider based in Toronto, has been the subject of much speculation over its financial health since the telecom bust in the early 2000s. In January of this year the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and underwent a business and financial reorganization, and since then has reduced its workforce by an additional 3,200 and sold its Layer 4-7 data portfolio to Radware. Ciena Corp. is rumored to be in talks to purchase Nortel’s Metro Ethernet Networks unit, valued at about $300 million, while private equity firm Advent International is reportedly looking at a deal that would combine some assets of Nortel with Motorola’s handset division.

As it stands now, Nortel’s future is uncertain, to say the least. With major parts of the company on the selling block, it’s no doubt Nortel partners are feeling a certain level of anxiety.

“Right now Nortel is interested in mitigating its risk,” Giles Neslund said. “There is a high level of anxiety about mitigating risk and maintaining a base. There may be a strong maintenance base, I’m not seeing any new sales of Nortel products.”

Mike Taylor, CTO of SPS, a Parsippany, N.J., solution provider and Avaya platinum business partner, agrees that there is an opportunity to be had with Nortel’s current fragile financial position.

“We have seen an opportunity for new business and we are proactively looking,” he said. “If nothing else, the uncertainty of the marketplace creates some opportunity because many Nortel customers are in different stages, whether they’re adding sites or looking to add some new capability or functionality to their existing gear. When they’re looking at products to do that, [Nortel’s problems] force them to entertain options from other providers.”

Taylor noted that customers with blended environments are especially amenable to having a discussion. “There are a fair number of customers that have mixed environments, both Avaya and Nortel products, and those people have stepped up the conversation.

“Architecturally speaking, Nortel probably hasn’t spent as much time and energy on technology in the enterprise arena,” Taylor added. “It has had a large installed base, which before gave it an advantage, but at this point everyone is questioning whether the technology is going to disintegrate even further.”

Avaya, for its part, has been engaging Nortel business partners to gauge their interest in adding Avaya to their line cards.

“We have been focusing on the business proposition – why become a partner with Avaya,” Giles Neslund said. “It’s not just about capturing the opportunity, it’s also about what they get [in the Business Partner Program], the support and the backing.

“If we can’t demonstrate how they can make money, we’re not going to get on their line card,” she added. “Just having the market and a good product isn’t going to cut it these days.”