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VARs blasé about new Red Hat partner program perks

Red Hat adds 'Advanced' partner tier and three specializations to partner program, but that may not be enough to convince VARs of its channel friendliness.

Red Hat Inc. is ramping up its channel program, but it's far from clear whether the latest changes will dispel the perception that the company doesn't "get" partners -- at least VAR partners.

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Members of a new Premier-level tier -- added to the existing Advanced and Ready partner designations -- will get an additional 20% discount on new Red Hat business for the first year of the subscription, said Roger Egan, vice president of Red Hat North American channel sales. They'll receive 10% in the second year.

Also new is Web support for lowest-tier Ready partners and phone support for Advanced tier partners. Premier partners will get the benefits of both Web and phone support and have access to 30 solution architects as resources as well, Egan said.

Red Hat, which has wooed ISV and hardware partners, still has work to do in convincing reselling partners it really is committed to them, several partners said Monday. None of them had been briefed on the program changes.

Several open-source-oriented VARs said they retain their low-level Red Hat affiliation because of the company's well-known brand but prefer to work with other Linux distributions, Novell SUSE and, in one case, Canonical Ltd.'s Ubuntu. They said those vendors are more accessible and easier to work with than Red Hat and also less likely to compete directly with them for big deals.

The company definitely has a brand worth capitalizing on -- Red Hat by most accounts remains the pre-eminent enterprise Linux server distribution -- but some of its own partners say privately that it is losing steam there to SUSE and even to Canonical's Ubuntu, which has been known primarily for its Linux desktop flavor.

"Red Hat owned the Linux server space, especially after 9/11 when many big Wall Street companies rebuilt their data centers with it. But Red Hat also pretty much abandoned the desktop, giving Ubuntu a huge opening," said one Florida-based open source consultant who requested anonymity because he still works with Red Hat. Now Ubuntu is gaining traction in servers as well because of its strong support policies and well-timed releases, he maintained.

Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat concentrated for many years on large accounts but recently has beefed up its push into small and medium-sized companies (SMBs), inking an alliance with Synnex to facilitate that move. Egan said there are more distribution deals in the works. He also noted that Red Hat's goal is not to recruit a lot more VAR partners but to concentrate on quality. There are roughly 1,500 resale partners now.

Another perception problem for Red Hat is that although it periodically talks a big partner game, its follow-through has been lax, said one New York metro area Red Hat partner who also works with Novell/SUSE.

"Nine months ago [Red Hat] had a big shindig here for partners," said that partner. "They were quite aware there was no partner program -- and they talked about changing that. But the problem with Red Hat is the only time they come to the dance is when you, as a partner, have the deal in hand. It's a one-way street."

This partner said that with Novell/SUSE there is more interaction and two-way communication with partners. Three or four years ago, he said, a Linux VAR had to have a Red Hat relationship because customers only knew that brand. Now that has changed.

Egan said Red Hat has listened to channel concerns and that the new program enhancements respond to those concerns.

Three specialization areas for Red Hat VARs

Red Hat also created three broad product specialization areas in infrastructure, middleware and virtualization for its partners.

Infrastructure covers the various Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) flavors, the cluster suite and global file system. Partners must maintain at least two certified salespeople and one Red Hat certified technician. The middleware specialization covers the JBoss lineup and requires two sales-certified employees and one JBoss administrator. Virtualization also requires two certified salespeople and one Red Hat certified engineer who focuses on virtualization training.

A New York-area VAR said he maintains his Red Hat partnership but leads with SUSE and sees a lot more traction for Ubuntu as well. Red Hat's remaining advantage is that almost all hardware is certified for it, but SUSE and Ubuntu are closing that gap as well, he said.

"It's critical that the lines of communication are maintained between its business partners [Red Hat] so partners understand the direction … of the company," he said.

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