Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

In the closing months of 2009, as the world tried to close the books on a terrible year, Cisco Systems tapped Avnet and WestCon to
distributed its blade servers and enable resellers to go to market with
the foundational building blocks of its Unified Computing Systems. The
announcement was the culmination of nearly nine-months of waiting for a
tangible, widespread channel development to come from Cisco’s “Project

"With the incredible amount of convergence taking place within the
data center, it is critical to provide customers with complete
solutions designed to address their business challenges," Jeff Bawol,
president of Avnet Technology Solutions for the Americas, said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard announced a three-year, $250 million collaborative alliance to
develop new, highly integrated and optimized data center solutions came
with promises of new products and opportunities for partners as well as
offerings that bread-and-butter resellers could take to market today.
While the Microsoft-HP initiative is applicable to environments ranging
from the Global 2000, the optimal market target is organizations with
50 to 1,000 seats.

“We’re not going to create things that have inherit value, but build
a platform that partner can add value to,” Ross Brown, Microsoft’s vice
president of solutions partners, told Channel Insider this week.

The two initiatives are not only contrasting approaches to winning
the battle for the future data center and cloud computing
infrastructure, but a polar opposite approach to engaging reseller
partners in going to market with emerging technologies and strategies.
Understanding these two initiatives – the inevitable number of similar
initiatives by other vendors yet to come – is critical for VARs and
solution providers in knowing their place in the channel of the future.

Cisco’s Project California was perhaps the worst kept secret in IT
history. For months leading up to the announcement, the industry buzzed
with speculation and rumors about Cisco’s server market entry to
compete directly against longtime allies Dell, IBM, Sun Microsystems
and HP. When Cisco took the wraps off its plans last March, it was
explicit in its intent to go to market direct with its virtualized
servers and converged data center strategy, develop strategic working
relationships with a handful of large integrators and, over time, push
the technology and product offerings out to rank and file reseller

Cisco did work with partners such as Dimension Data, Tata Consultancy Services, World Wide Technology, Computer Science Corp.,
in fleshing out the USC strategy and bringing the concept to early
adopting enterprise. But Cisco was light on details for what the
products actually looked like and how the strategy would manifest
itself through the rest of its broad channels. In response to cries
from smaller partners and – as some speculated – the need to push new
products to offset declining sales in core infrastructure gear, Cisco
announced at its partner conference last June that it would release
conventional rack-mount servers.

From the state, the Cisco data center strategy was slow in unfolding
to its partners. And Cisco can’t be faulted for this build up since its
UCS strategy is based in complexity – pulling together numerous
hardware, software and services components from multiple vendors is no
easy matter. The Microsoft-HP deal, however, is based entirely in
simplicity and, conversely, leverages the two vendor’s vast partner
communities out of the gate.

First, let’s clarify what the Microsoft-HP initiative is really about.