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Now that Dell EMC has formally launched its unified channel program, a battle to command the loyalty of the channel partners of the largest provider of IT infrastructure is now under way among distributors.

Dell EMC has named Arrow, Avnet, Ingram Micro and Tech Data as its primary distributors, along with a smattering of regional distributors that operate in specific countries. The most surprising addition to that list is arguably Ingram Micro, which while having had a relationship with Dell, had been previously dropped by EMC.

“We’re excited to be back in the game,” said Kirk Robinson, senior vice president for go-to-market for Ingram Micro.

Under the terms of the new agreement, Ingram Micro is restricted to deals that involve net new channel partners until August. After that date, Ingram Micro is free to compete at all levels, said Robinson.

The terms of that agreement are most likely meant to be a salve for existing Dell EMC distributors, said Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath, a consulting firm specializing in channel programs. On a practical level, she added, most resellers need to have relationships with two or more distributors.

“Most partners need access to multiple lines of credit,” said Krakora. “That’s especially true when selling higher-end solutions involving hardware such as servers and storage.”

The inclusion of Ingram Micro as a Dell EMC distribution partner is another sign that the line between so-called broadline and value distributors has all but vanished, said Ingram Micro’s Robinson. Rather than cede the higher end of the marker to rivals such as Arrow and Avnet, distributors such as Ingram and Tech Data have been investing in services to support partners for several years.

“We’ll put our services up against anybody in the business,” Robinson said.

In general, Dell EMC channel chief John Byrne said Dell EMC is clearly going to reward partners that sell more services by moving them up to higher tiers within the Dell EMC channel program. “We want to create a certain amount of envy among the partners,” he added.

There are very few partners, however, that are going to be able to move up those tiers without some financial and logistical assistance from a distributor.