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Imagine a contract featuring cutting-edge servers, storage and the opportunity to offer high-level consulting services.

Don’t have one of those? Some channel executives think there could be quite a few in your future. And you’ll have Microsoft to thank for the windfall. Microsoft will cease support for Windows NT 4.0 at year’s end. That means many NT 4.0 holdouts are looking to move to new platforms.

“End users will be forced to migrate to a new operating environment,” said
Eileen Gibson, vice president of product marketing for Avnet Inc.’s Hewlett-Packard Business Unit. Migrations, she added, “are ideal times to retool infrastructure.”

As customers seek to retool, resellers can do a lot more than just sell Windows Server 2003. They can help customers assess their environments, plot a transition strategy and move forward with a new technology roadmap. Migration is a chance for resellers to lead with consulting services.

From a hardware perspective, the NT 4.0 migration also leaves the door open for introducing blade servers. Jim Custer, director of HP server product marketing at Avnet, believes customers will migrate to a consolidated server environment. And as customers consider power consumption, cooling and floor-space issues, blades may prove to be the server direction of choice.

Consolidation, Custer said, “is a great opportunity to drive that blade technology.”

Eric Williams, executive vice president of Arrow Electronics Inc.’s Support Net Division, also cited the blade server opportunity as a “consolidation play.” He noted, however, that he was unaware of any hard numbers quantifying the impact of the NT 4.0 support expiration.

But don’t forget the storage angle. Kevin Schoonover, director of engineering for Arrow Electronics’ Enterprise Storage Solutions unit, said customers may “pull out of direct-attached storage” as part of their NT 4.0-related migrations. That could provide an opening for network-attached storage, Fibre Channel storage-area networks or iSCSI storage solutions.

“A few customers are starting to experiment with iSCSI,” Schoonover noted.

Adding to the migration mix is another support sunset: Microsoft’s extended support for Exchange Server 5.5 will expire at the end of 2005. Schoonover said most 5.5 servers are hosted on NT 4.0. Customers rethinking their e-mail strategy may be good candidates for consulting services. Do they have a strategy for regulatory compliance? Do they have a mechanism for archiving e-mail?

“There is good professional services money to be made in that whole server/e-mail migration … area,” Schoonover said.

Channel executives said migration deals are starting to surface, noting the bulk of the projects have yet to arrive. Custer said he expects the market to heat up in late summer or early fall. “We are at the very front end of the tidal wave,” he added.