Brad Keates, the vice president of marketing and partners for Sun Microsystems Canada, based in Markham, Ont. has always worked towards protecting Sun’s partner base in Canada.

When Sun rolled out its blade products a few years ago he made sure that partners were able to earn the same margins

as before, even when the company lowered its prices.

Today Sun has a host of new and old challenges. One of them is attracting more partners, different partners than they have had to deal with in the past.

For example, Sun’s choice to support AMD and build a platform around the Opteron chip two years ago met with little success. The company’s enterprise partner base basically did not know how to sell it to their customers, Keates admitted. Sun Canada, he added, learned that it would have to cultivate a new group of partners with SMB savvy for the Opteron product line.

Keates sat down with CDN yesterday to discuss this and Sun’s latest technology acquisition.

CDN: Supporting AMD posed some challenges. Are you going to have to alter your channel plans in any way in this area?

Brad Keates: The big focus going forward is related to going into these new areas with Opteron and software. So we will be recruiting partners in those areas. There are not a lot of plans for new programs in existing areas. We will try to just make them richer than they are right now, such as the registration program for new opportunities where we pay out 10 extra points of margin called the CROP program. We’ve got a great program called Storage Elite, where we have paid out a couple of million dollars in rebate dollars over the last 18 months, so that will be enhanced. A lot of the programs will be related to margin.

CDN: How many new partners are you looking for?

B.K. In the Opteron area we have a target of 75 new recruits in either our registered reseller program or our foundation technology integrator program. These programs allow for very easy certification and authorization for partners. It is not expensive for them to be engaged and in many cases gives them access to programs that we have in place. So this would be across the country throughout our fiscal ’06 (From July to June).

CDN: Sun recently acquired Procom. What are the Canadian plans for it?

B.K.: I do not know what the answer is for the Canadian market. It is a new acquisition related to the storage area and related to NAS. It is pretty much a technology acquisition as opposed to a sales team or marketshare acquisition. Sun keeps rounding out the portfolio. It is part of a series of acquisitions Sun has done from the technology side in the storage area.

CDN: Sun just announced Sun Connection at the Network Computing ’05 show. How will you fit this into your channel plans?

B.K.: The Sun Connection program is a partner matching program where we take ecosystems of partners; partners with an interest in similar types of customers maybe an ISV, a reseller and an integrator or maybe an OEM and make sure they understand all the activities Sun’s partner community might have going on at an existing customer and knit them together. In Canada, we have been doing this for years to try and build it out. I think a great example is an initiative we will launch in four to five weeks up in Ottawa related to groups of partners focused in the healthcare area. Before the end of June we will be able to announce it. It will be a group of partners looking at a marketplace and knitting it all together.

CDN: Is this program going to help Sun partners share best practices and other services better?

B.K.: Sun has an established program called the Sun iForce program that is focused on bringing clusters of partners in certain marketplaces together so they can do things such as integration and benchmark testing. It has a single demo area for showing a complete set of solutions.

CDN: The N1 initiative is very strategic to Sun. How are you turning concept into real products?

B.K.: N1 is about how you integrate and manage networks together. Heterogeneous networks and systems and it is not just an overlay of products to manage it, but how you implement systems that are integrated and integrateable. The concept around N1 is that it is product based at integration as opposed to just monitoring or just going through problem resolution scenarios. These products are infrastructure products. They have been coming out on a regular basis, but there are not a lot of them out yet. They are the domain of some of the higher end systems integrators across Canada especially if you are dealing with large-scale deployments on multiple sites and heterogeneous systems.

CDN: Will it go downstream any time soon?

B.K.: I think so but it will take years. It is going to stay at the enterprise level.

CDN: Is Sun’s partnership with Oracle all about grid computing or is there more to it?

B.K.: Oracle is a great partner of Sun, right from the beginning. I think Sun and Oracle became successful together because we were technology companies that were going down a common path based on standards and quick deployments. As both companies have gotten larger we have taken our own paths for a while, but Oracle drives more sales of Sun than any other software products that are out there. With their integration of PeopleSoft they have clearly become top two in all the applications partners that we work with. There is some great work going on with the Oracle RAC on Sun, and part of it is related to grid computing, but there are many pieces to the Sun Oracle story than just grids. We are only a five-minute drive from headquarter to headquarter in Silicon Valley. There is lots of cross-pollination that happens all the time. In a technology world that is increasingly getting complicated especially with the large infrastructure companies it makes more and more sense for Sun and Oracle to work closely together.

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