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Challenging economic conditions are beginning to affect IT sales, if the earnings of IT distributors are any indication.

Arrow, Avnet and Ingram Micro all announced their earnings this week (all three links will expire after 30 days), and all reported that macroeconomic conditions hurt sales. From high gas prices to their effect on the prices of consumer goods to the scary state of the real estate market in the United States–conditions put the fear of a downturn into the budgets of IT purchasers. The distributors’ financial results, while generally higher than the year-ago quarter, did not meet the companies’ or analysts’ expectations.

Arrow and Avnet in particular reported that lower-than-expected server sales and the impact of rebate programs had pulled revenues and earnings down. And Avnet said enterprise servers, aka RISC-based/Unix servers, were especially hard hit and that one server vendor suffered more than any others. While Avnet declined to name which vendor was hurting, one might easily deduce that Sun is a likely candidate, since it focuses on those types of servers and not x86-based servers. Sun doesn’t report its earnings until the end of next week. In 2007, 65 percent of Sun’s sales went through the channel.

Separately this week, on April 23, Sun announced a program for ISVs that lets them offer their applications to customers on demand as SAAS (software as a service), hosted by service providers and based on Sun infrastructure. It’s called Solaris On Demand, and ISVs can get a free 90-day sandbox trial.

Avnet’s president of Technical Solutions said some of its deals in process were pushed from the end of the quarter into the next quarter as CIOs looked to delay purchases during uncertain economic times.

Meanwhile, Ingram Micro’s CEO said the company was surprised by the flatness in sales at the end of the quarter. While the company added two to three extra days’ worth of inventory during the quarter due to the slower than expected sales, the company’s management told analysts that its outlook for the next quarter is still relatively positive. CEO Greg Spierkel said analysts were surprised that the outlook provided was so positive, given the unexpected disappointment at the end of the last quarter.

Both Ingram Micro and Avnet have implemented cost reduction initiatives, with Avnet’s looking more severe than Ingram Micro’s.

What does it all mean? IT departments are taking a wait-and-see stance when it comes to making big capital purchases for major projects. But other IT sales so far seem unaffected.