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This year at its annual gathering of Hewlett-Packard partners, Avnet invited Robert A. Carroll, chief information officer of Apollo Group, parent company of online education institute Phoenix University, to talk about his IT priorities in 2007.

When he came to his last slide, titled “What we care about,” Carroll told the 240 partners and staff in attendance “help us get these desktops off of the desktop and into the back office,” said Rick Alvarez, vice president and general manager of Avnet’s HP business unit.

The solution trend is already on the minds of CIOs and there is money to be made for Avnet, HP and VARs prepared to help businesses “get desktops off of the desktop and into the back office,” Alvarez said.

“Organizations are already focusing on consolidation,” said Alvarez. “They’re thinking about consolidation in servers and storage, and they’ve been reading and hearing about desktop consolidation… They’ve seen the advertising from HP. The blade solution resonates with them, and they’re bringing it up to solution providers.”

“This is one of the top opportunities in the channel right now,” he said.

Consolidation, specifically desktop blade consolidation, was the topic du jour for Avnet and HP reps in discussions with the 90 partner organizations in attendance.

The companies are recruiting partners to take advantage of the market opportunity to build around the solution through end-user awareness and education programs.

HP has been running extensive advertising on the solution, and Avnet has been hosting half-day seminars.

“Partners are coming to us saying, ‘we just had our fourth request to look at this,’” said Jack De Blasi, business manager, Industry Standard Servers, IT Consolidation, of Avnet’s HP Business Unit.

“That’s when we say, OK, it’s time you guys get certified on this stuff. Let’s take advantage of that.”

Four Avnet VARs have already become certified, with six more in the works. Based on participation in its HP server consolidation programs, Avnet expects 40 partners to become certified.

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Avnet also announced at the partner event a blade version of its Consolidation Impact Assessment program, an analysis tool that reviews an end user’s environment to deliver a new architecture and a Return On Investment analysis to accelerate the sales cycle.

In 2006, partners using the CIA version for server consolidation initiated more than 280 such assessments, more than 32 percent of which resulted in new business, Avnet said.

One partner, Trilogy Solutions, Cranbury, N.J., recently secured a project to help a large convenience store chain in the Northeast move from 136 Windows servers to 17 HP servers, said Mark Darlington, Trilogy’s chief operating officer.

“Avnet provided assistance with financial analysis and modeling, helping us to demonstrate to this Dell-only shop that they can achieve consolidation savings of more than $860,000 over the next three years,” Darlington said.