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What’s the state of Windows 7 deployment? More than a year after the release of Microsoft’s most recent Windows operating system, only 31 percent of  businesses have made the transition to Windows 7.

But that’s about to change.  Forrester is expecting that figure to shoot up to 83 percent in the next year, pointing to a big opportunity for channel partners who are ready to help businesses navigate the upgrade.

Although IT management software and services provider Prowess thinks it’s optimistic to think 83 percent of businesses will completed have completed their Windows 7 migration by the end of 2011, the company’s CEO does expect a lot of those migrations to begin in 2011. Prowess has just launched a new channel partner program designed to help partners use its deployment software to make customer OS migration easier.

Prowess SmartDeploy Enterprise is a one-and-a-half-year-old hardware-independent imaging solution that makes it easier and more cost-effective to perform application and OS deployment. One of the company’s big expected growth areas is in Windows 7 migration, and Prowess has an aggressive channel strategy for 2011. With approximately a dozen partners currently using SmartDeploy to deploy applications and operating systems in customer environments, Prowess’ goal is to boost that number to about 100 partners by the end of 2011, said Aaron Suzuki, CEO of Prowess.

“Quite candidly, we hope to realize a vast majority of our sales through the channel, like 80 to 90 percent of sales would be derived through the channel,” he said.

Although Suzuki said he expects 2011 to be a big year for Windows 7 deployments (one of the reasons Prowess has launched its partner program and become more aggressive in the channel), he said the deployment window will extend through at least 2012. He said customers will begin planning for Windows 7 deployments in 2011, and that’s where channel partners can step up as trusted advisors, offering not only the software that makes it easier to deploy the latest incarnation of Windows but also deployment consulting services.

“It’s going to be a long road ahead, and I also suspect Microsoft is going to revise the end of life dates for Windows XP because of that,” he said.

There are other deployment solutions on the market, and Prowess is trying to set itself apart through the robustness of its product and in the way its licensing system works. Licensing is based on a per technician basis instead of a per node basis, which Suzuki said has been a great differentiator for the company in the channel.

“Our goal is to attach to a number of large account resellers, and next is to roll out a deep venture in value-added resellers who will have the ability to resell our product into our customers but also use our products themselves and train customers to use our products,” Suzuki said.

Prowess currently has about a dozen partners in North America, but Suzuki hopes to see that number increase to more than 100 by the end of the first half of 2011. Prowess also has channel and market expansion plans for EMEA and Asia in 2011.

“We want to get out there and start winning the hearts and minds of the channel so we start to realize some execution through that channel in a timeframe that makes us relevant,” he said, adding that IT decision-makers are already starting to figure out how they’re going to solve the challenges associated with migration to Windows 7.

Prowess’ channel partner program has the traditional three tiers. Platinum partners receive benefits like internal use licenses, deeper discounts, sales spiffs, co-funding of marketing activities and joint go-to-market campaigns. Gold partners have similar benefits, except that they’re not eligible to take advantage of marketing co-investment initiatives. Silver status is for entry-level partners to get access to Prowess’ products, earn margin on sales and tap into the vendor’s partner portal and its sales and support materials.

With such an aggressive expansion plan, the company is actively looking for new channel partners that target mid-sized enterprises and/or that have a service component to their business.