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The channel has long been reticent to consider white-box builders as a viable alternative to their established brands. But is that now changing?


Super Micro Computer, long a name in components manufacturing and distribution, has made inroads into the channel with its blade systems, servers and high-end desktop systems, bringing to market products often at lower price points than the likes of name-brand vendors Hewlett-Packard and Dell. And that has some solution providers talking.


“Super Micro is easy to do business with–they have a large variety of products and they stay on the cutting edge of technology,” says Tony Scicluna, vice president of sales at Rave Computer Association, a Super Micro partner based in Sterling Heights, Mich. “Plus, they have product that lasts a long time–sometimes two to three years, which is a long time in this industry.”


Rave signed on as a Super Micro partner almost four years ago. “We have a good relationship with them,” Scicluna said. “We’ve been able to take their products and integrate them into our product line and build a solution that works for our customers. That’s a big thing.”


But how big Super Micro’s presence is in the channel depends a lot on whom is talking. Its partners of the San Jose-based company are happy with Super Micro’s cutting-edge technology, customer service and–to a certain extent–price, but the company has a long way to go to establish any sort of traditional channel presence, says Beth Vanni, director of consulting practice at Amazon Consulting.


Super Micro’s current business practice “is all about component-level quality and that’s a different dynamic than the branded platform of products,” Vanni said. “If Super Micro is making a play, they’ve got a host of channel-program components they would need to build, or at least position their offering against.”


Don Clegg, vice president of marketing and business development, contends Super Micro has always been in the channel, and its stealth business practices have enabled it to catch up to the branded vendors and surprise them.


“[Our channel presence is] really the result of over 15 years of having a consistent strategy and more of a variety than the volume guys,” he said.


Clegg added that because it has operated quietly for so long, Super Micro may not have the name recognition that the branded vendors have. Which means its partner program is not well-known outside its sphere of existing partners. But, he said, the company does have a reseller site featuring information about upcoming products, marketing materials, a configuration tool and other products and services to help its solution provider partners.


“The channel is an extremely important part of Super Micro because majority of our sales go through the channel these days,” Clegg said.


Super Micro cut its teeth 15 years ago on component manufacturing for white-box builders, including motherboards, add-on cards and chassis, and has always had a reputation for staying on the cutting edge of technology. In fact, some solution providers say they can get new technology revs more quickly through Super Micro than through branded vendors.


“They have a great breadth of products, they’re innovative in terms of what they produce and they’ve been responsive as a partner,” said Jill Bellak, chief operating officer at MBX Systems, a contract manufacturer of OEM appliances for software companies and Super Micro partner. “We could go direct to a company like HP or Intel to get our components, but Super Micro has done a good job of having a complete product line at a cost that is on average with or slightly lower than the competition.”


Some field reps of name-brand vendors are whispering about Super Micro cutting into their sales with lower-priced products. Market leading vendors declined commenting for this report on Super Micro’s competitive positioning.


But Vanni noted that Super Micro–indeed, any new vendor looking to penetrate the channel space—would have to go through some hoops to prove their mettle.


“A lot of it depends on whom they are going after and how grand their ambitions are relative to their customers,” she said. “If they’re trying to go after some of the bigger hardware integrators who are selling the platforms that are available today, [Super Micro’s] program will have to evolve pretty significantly. And they have to demonstrate how partners are going to make more money, especially with Dell now in the mix.”


Clegg said the proof is in Super Micro’s pudding—namely, the value proposition of its technology.


“It’s pretty obvious the economy is going through tough time, but that has opened the door for solution providers to offer up Super Micro products because customers are saying, ‘We need the optimal solution,’” he said. “Now it comes down to real competition and who’s got the better product.


“A year or two ago we’d have been locked out of a lot of accounts,” Clegg added.


MBX Systems’ Bellak, agreed, saying Super Micro is doing quite well in its current niche.


“For us and the channel in general they have a corner on the market in a lot of ways,” Bellak said. “Because of their variety of products and their relationship, if something were to go wrong [with them] it would be bad for us.


“Their value statement is so compelling that we’re not exercising other options,” she said.