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HP’s latest enhancements to its PartnerONE program are aimed at increasing its focus on data center solutions through its enterprise channel partners. Since Cisco announced its unified computing system strategy earlier this year, HP’s focus on its data center and ProCurve networking solutions channel partners has been a top priority.

The most recent announcements include both new program requirement as well as sales, marketing and financial benefits. HP announced several new Elite level certifications to its PartnerONE program, including a Virtualization Elite and Data Center Elite certification. The Data Center Elite designation combines training requirements for the Enterprise Storage, Virtualization and Services parts of HP’s portfolio. Partners with existing VMware, Citrix and/or Microsoft virtualization competency will have those skills recognized within this Elite designation as well, though we found it interesting that Sun’s virtualization offering was not included in this ISV list. Program benefits for achieving this Elite designation include new back-end rebates, special pricing benefits, MDF and leads.

Perhaps most intriguing in this announcement was a new method for measuring services delivery success. A Services Penetration Rate Index (PRI) will be used as a single measure of partners’ services delivery effectiveness. We like this model as it applies to partners of varying sizes and engagement models. Partners acting not only as resale agents for HP’s own support and professional services but also those in a services subcontracting capacity to HP will be able to use this PRI index to qualify for benefits. Total hardware product sales will be divided by service sales/delivery to set the PRI goal. Program benefits will not start, though, until May 2010.

A final new program benefit includes the partners’ ability to use marketing funds to offset the cost of sales and technical training courses required for certification and Elite designations. Enterprise Server and Storage (ESS) training passes will be issued and will be able to be used for a variety of ESS fee-based coursework. Although this benefit is relatively common now among other vendors’ enterprise channel programs, we’re sure it will be a welcomed change for these sought-after enterprise solution providers.

All of the data center platform mega-vendors, namely Cisco, IBM, HP and Dell (not to mention Oracle/Sun), now have significant training, enablement and incentive programs encouraging enterprise partners to focus on their solution sets. And, the major virtualization ISVs are playing the field, cementing co-marketing relationships with all of them, as you would expect. Given that, it will be interesting to watch who makes the greatest marketshare gains over the coming 12-to-18 months, and what percentage of that growth by vendor is actually driven by channel partners.