All too often you see a disconnect in the marketplace between what a vendor aspires to be and what seems to be actually happening in the channel.

Case in point is Symantec, which in the last two years has rolled out a number of significant new products while making several strategic acquisitions. All of these offerings are intended to create a combination of technologies that theoretically are irresistible because they target major customer pain points.

For example, Symantec has pieced together a number of storage and server management products to create a unified approach to data center management that should be a pretty compelling offering given the fact that every IT organization out there seems to be short-handed these days.

As a result, they are looking for more integrated suites of management tools, a fact that is borne out in a survey that Ziff Davis Enterprise, the parent company of Channel Insider, did of IT organizations at Symantec’s behest. The study confirms that data centers are not only becoming more complex to manage, but points out the fact that the third most important cost containment strategy being sought by IT organizations—after server consolidation and virtualization—is tools that automate routine tasks.

Now, it is a sad state of affairs that for an industry that prides itself on automation we have a very labor-intensive approach to data center management. The good news is that this creates a significant opportunity for solution providers that Symantec has correctly identified.

But being able to identify a problem and actually doing something about it are two different things. On a practical level, Symantec is having difficulty integrating its acquisitions into a unified channel for fear of alienating the partners of the companies it acquired. In addition, the company has experienced any number of IT glitches trying to create a unified ERP system that have made it difficult for partners to conduct transactions. So not only do partners have a hard time sorting out what combination of Symantec products might be needed for a given solution, once they figure it out, the Symantec ERP system has made it difficult to actually order the products.

Symantec channel chief Julie Parrish and Randy Cochran, North American channel vice president, have been working diligently to solve these problems, and happily they both report that the channel can expect to see the company rationalize a lot of its product offerings in the coming year to make it easier for channel partners to do business with Symantec.

Unfortunately, the current Byzantine system that is Symantec’s channel program represents opportunity lost because while the company’s marketing department aggressively pushes forward to position Symantec to serve emerging customer needs, the channel infrastructure has not been able to keep pace. In addition, a lot of the messaging aimed at the IT community is not being shared with the channel community, which in turn creates a gulf between what the end customer is hearing from Symantec and what the channel is actually seeing. The end result of all this is all too well reflected in Symantec’s latest financial results and a recent round of layoffs.

Hopefully, things should get better for Symantec in 2008 as it gears up to launch a more robust managed service offering for the channel in the first quarter while simultaneously making it easier for solution providers to actually order the products they need to fulfill burgeoning customer demand.

In the meantime, the adventures of Symantec in the channel in 2007 stand as a stark reminder about just how much can go wrong when the ambitions of vendor exceed its real channel grasp.