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EqualLogic partners to meet on Dell acquisition, CEO's status unclear

Dell executives will speak with EqualLogic partners next week, but what's the new role of EqualLogic CEO Don Bulens?

Dell Inc.has scheduled another conference call with EqualLogic Inc. partners on Tuesday, Feb. 5, to discuss how the recently completed Dell acquisition of EqualLogic will affect their businesses. Meanwhile, the role of EqualLogic CEO Don Bulens remains unclear.

Unlike the conference call last month -- during which executives from both companies told EqualLogic partners that the acquisition would not hurt them -- this call will not be open to the media. Dell said Greg Davis, its channel vice president and general manager for the Americas, and Bob Skelley, the channel director for the Americas, will take part in the conference call.

Dell would not say what Bulens' role is now that Dell's acquisition of EqualLogic is a done deal, but the company will announce that information during a product launch event Monday at EqualLogic headquarters in Nashua, N.H. The media invitation for that event made no mention of Bulens, but EqualLogic vice president of marketing John Joseph will attend. Bulens has a channel-friendly reputation that stems from his earlier work as the chief Lotus Notes partner advocate.

Mike Noordyke, the president of Trivalent Group, an EqualLogic partner in Grandville, Mich., said he still has a guarded outlook on Dell in the channel -- and the way the company's handling the partner conference call doesn't ease his concerns.

"Why aren't the executives from EqualLogic who they kept going to be on this?" he asked. "Those are the people we trust. EqualLogic's had a great program and a great product, and we're concerned."

But Frank Kobuszewski, the vice president of technology solutions for EqualLogic partner CXtec in Syracuse, N.Y., said he didn't read anything into the absence of EqualLogic executives on the agenda for the product launch or partner conference call.

"I'm not concerned about that at all," he said. "It's time (Dell) started setting the course."

The upcoming partner conference call is the latest development since Dell's acquisition of EqualLogic was announced in November and Dell launched its first formal channel program a month later. Dell was founded on a direct-sales model, and that history has led to questions about its dedication to the channel.

Dell officials have said they will listen to partners' feedback and tweak the Partner Direct program to meet their needs. The first major example came this week, when Dell decreased the threshold for its deal registration program from $75,000 to $50,000. (EqualLogic products have no deal registration threshold.)

The move should help Dell partners that sell more successfully to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), whose deal sizes typically aren't as large, said Jeff Connally, the president and CEO of CM IT Solutions in Austin, Texas.

"There's less chance that there will be channel conflict," he said. "(Dell understands) that maybe the bar was set too high."

Deal registration is a relatively painless process for users, who can access an easy-to-use online portal, said Bob Guilbert, managing director for Eze Castle Integration in Boston.

"It's pretty straightforward, just using the Dell partner Web site," he said. "The information requested is not very exhaustive."

Dell has approved 70% of the deal registration opportunities submitted by partners, the company said. Most rejections occur because a deal already exists as a Dell direct opportunity, another partner has already registered the deal or the deal falls below the price threshold, according to the company.

Dell said it has already signed up 3,500 U.S. partners. Most of these partners had existing business relationships with Dell, but 170 are completely new, and they alone have generated $20 million in new business opportunities, Dell said.

The Dell partner program offers training and certification in specialized practice areas, short-term financing and marketing materials. David Cantu, the vice president of Redapt Systems in Redmond, Wash., said he also appreciates the ability to communicate directly with Dell. Redapt partners with Hewlett-Packard and IBM as well, and most of those dealings go through the vendors' distributors, Cantu said.

"There's a layer that we don't have to deal with," he said. "It's really nice."

That direct communication with Dell also helps minimize potential channel conflicts.

"They're actually willing to cooperate with us going in there if we have a unique value-add that the client can use," Cantu said.

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