SAN DIEGO – Sun Microsystem’s Canadian subsidiary has announced new program enhancements to ensure partners’ continued business growth, particularly in the mid-market space.

The announcements were made to VARs attending this year’s iForce Partner Summit, which attracted 1,500 partners to

the four-day conference here.

The first program enhancement, titled “”Volume Competency,”” is an entry-level accreditation that enables iForce partners to sell Sun’s hardware, software and services including x86 products, SunRays, Sun Workstations, UltraSPARC servers (I to V), selected Sun StorEdge servers and some Spectrum Instant Upgrade services aimed at Canada’s mid-market.

The program will only be available to partners who are certified in one of the following: IBM AIX (RS6000/pSeries Servers), HP-UX (HP9000), SuSe Linux, Red Hat Linux, CompTIA Linux or Sun Solaris.

Newly accredited partners can increase their revenue opportunities and receive benefits available to Workgroup or Enterprise accredited iForce Technology Integrator Partners including co-op market development funds, rebate programs, recognition programs and loyalty programs.

Sun Canada also announced Canadian Registry of Opportunities Program (CROP) to encourage iForce partners to expand their reach into vertical markets including life sciences, manufacturing, retail and distribution.

Partners who address customers’ demands in the above targeted verticals will also be rewarded with rebates for their efforts.

Richard Severa, president of distributor Arrow Moca said the program announcements “”solidifies the alignment with Sun with a strategy that is Canadian as opposed to a North American approach.””

Severa added the total available market here is different than the U.S. in terms of demographics. “”In the U.S., it’s a free-for-all for the channel whereas you don’t have nearly as many voices in Canada.””

Xwave was one of the first partners to embrace CROP since it was introduced in January.

Barry Fitzgerald, company director of Sun business practice, said the program is a “”good marriage for Sun and its partners.””

“”We will know our bottom line today. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in training sales execs. It makes the company feel comfortably protected in delivering the solution.””

These announcements are part of Sun Canada’s continuing effort to strengthen its channels. Three years ago Sun Canada cut the number of channel partners in half, switching to a smaller partner community focus with less competition. The decision seems to have paid off. A recent study by a major research firm showed a significant improvement in areas including overall channel satisfaction, willingness of partners to recommend Sun to other business partners, and willingness by partners to maintain or move more business to Sun in the coming years.

IDC Canada’s Channel Satisfaction survey, which was conducted in late 2003, suggests partners are very loyal to Sun and satisfaction ratings have gone from low to high, especially among channel partners with assigned direct support to another category, said Keates.

“”One year ago, partners were unhappy with the channel,”” he said. “”In 2004, we focused on how to make a healthy channel.”” While Sun Canada has improved its channel satisfactory rate among partners, the study also showed weaker scores in training than in year’s past.

Brad Keates, Sun Canada’s vice president of channel and mid-market, said the annual partner event is a good opportunity to let partners know where the company has been and where it is headed in the upcoming fiscal year, which runs from July to June.

P>””We’re trying to create positive momentum,”” he said, comparing how Sun deals with its partners today versus a few years ago. “”In the past, we said, ‘If I suffer, you suffer too.”” Keates made these comments in a roundtable discussion that included three other Sun Canada reps: Carl Chesal, business development manager of Canadian system providers, David Locker, manager of iForce program office, and Mark Bignell, marketing manager of channel and programs.

“”In 2005, we need to focus on how to deliver training to partners,”” said Keates, explaining that training with product is straightforward whereas services is more challenging.

Cheryl Kelly, director of iForce for Sun Microsystems, said Canada is a very important piece from a global marketing perspective.

“”In terms of localization, it’s a different set of partners with a different set of needs,”” said Kelly. “”At the local level we can build with different partners but the proof of concept remains the same.””

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