Windows 7 services opportunities were a big draw in 2009 -- no big surprise, since Microsoft telegraphed the Nov. 22 launch months in advance. VARs saw the millions of Windows XP users who had refused to move to Vista as a potential windfall, and Windows 7 gave those VARs an opening to re-engage customers on other hardware and software upgrades.
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Oracle also remained a hot topic -- if not an obsession -- for our readers in 2009. That makes sense, given the company's $7.4 billion bid for Sun Microsystems in April. Four of this year's top 10 VAR news stories involved Oracle.
Cisco Systems Inc., a channel stalwart, also made waves when it ended support for nearly $10 billion worth of networking hardware in the field and again when it launched its Unified Computing System push, taking on erstwhile partner Hewlett-Packard Co.
Without further ado, here are the top VAR news stories of 2009:
1: Windows 7 beta hits; customers, VARs weigh migrations
As Microsoft prepped its big Windows 7 beta in January, VARs started to really think about customers' migration plans -- especially among that huge group of customers that had stuck with Windows XP and passed on Vista upgrades. Although many VARs maintained that large companies would take it slow, the immense interest in Windows 7 services opportunities made this the top VAR news story of the year.
2: Oracle layoffs hit channel operations hard
One partner characterized the Oracle layoffs among channel management staff and cuts to Oracle Direct as a "bloodbath." A considerable chunk of the 500 to 800 jobs Oracle cut in January 2009 affected how Oracle partners could promote and sell Oracle products. The company did not acknowledge the layoffs, which, in a company with more than 80,000 employees worldwide at the time, were not material.
3: Oracle maintenance and support fees under fire
Oracle's 22% annual software support and maintenance fee continued to raise hackles in 2009. After Oracle bought BEA Systems, the company raised BEA support charges to its own level, reopening these old wounds. Customers hate Oracle's support contracts because they're pricey; partners hate them because they don't get a piece of the action. Oracle, obviously, loves them because they are supremely profitable.
4: Cisco faces controversy over 'forced obsolescence'
Cisco's decision to end network gear support on some of its most popular products raised a ruckus. Every VAR wants to sell the latest and greatest gear, but no VAR wants to be caught between a customer that wants a straightforward upgrade for old (but still working) hardware and a vendor that won't sell replacement parts or support that hardware. Thus, Cisco VARs want to sell the company's latest high-end telepresence, unified communications and data center servers, but they don't want to tick off existing customers that simply want new router software.
5: Google Android OS on netbooks: An intriguing proposition
Windows still dominates the desktop, but the Vista experience gave many resellers and customers reason to look at alternatives. Google is attempting to out-Microsoft Microsoft by getting hardware OEMs to at least think about preloading its Android operating system on their netbooks.
As this story reported in April, both Hewlett-Packard and Dell said they might put Android on some of their upcoming netbooks. Those pledges gave the OS some instant credibility.
6: Exchange Server 2007 won't run on next Windows Server
If Microsoft execs thought they could sneak this one by partners, they had another think coming. In July, the company quietly advised customers (via a blog post) that future versions of Windows Server 2008 would not support Exchange Server 2007. Instead, they would have to upgrade their mail server as well as the server operating system. This went over like a lead balloon. In fact, pushback was such that Microsoft reversed the policy a few months later.
7: HP vs. Cisco data center hardware battle heats up
When CEO John Chambers announced Cisco's plan to build and sell converged data center servers, Cisco's previously tight alliance with Hewlett-Packard was cast aside. His company's subsequent Virtual Computing Environment coalition with EMC and VMware made things worse. HP responded with its Matrix lineup of converged hardware and redubbed its "Adaptive Infrastructure" strategy as "Converged Infrastructure." VARs that had sold Cisco and HP lines peacefully into joint data center accounts were in a tight spot.
8: Oracle and Sun: A virtual sweetheart deal for VARs
Most reports on Oracle's proposed Sun Microsystems acquisition focused on the future (or lack thereof) of Sun's chips and servers. But some channel players said Oracle's previous acquisition of Virtual Iron Software, along with its own OracleVM and Sun's virtualization portfolio, showed that Oracle wants to be a major player in virtualization.
9: Oracle-Sun deal delay takes toll
Oracle bid for Sun Microsystems in April. By November, Sun VARs were feeling the pain of Sun's unresolved future as European regulators dragged the deal out until 2010.
Many of these VARs weren't wild about Oracle ownership but preferred it to a hostile IBM acquisition. But the longer the deal dragged out, the worse things got for them, as customers -- with help from IBM and HP -- expressed doubts about Sun's longevity.
10. 'New' Siemens gets channel religion
Siemens launched its bid to become a channel-friendly provider of unified communications (UC) gear in April. UC, to date, is still an emerging market and one hotly contested by Microsoft, Cisco and Avaya.
Michael Garland, vice president of North America alliances and channels for Siemens Enterprise Communications, kicked off the effort by recruiting select UC partners for the push.