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The Changing Channel

For Partners, Where Are the Microsoft Alternatives?

Microsoft partners looking to diversify their practices might have a hard time finding viable alternatives. And no, Google isn't one.

I'm often amused and amazed by channel partners who say things such as, "I hate Microsoft." That's kind of like saying, "I hate Earth." Microsoft, like the planet, is just too big an entity to hate or love in its entirety.

Also, like Earth, Microsoft is just too diverse for such polar feelings. You may dislike some of its policies, some of its products, some of its programs, even some of its people, but with as many of each as Microsoft has, there just has to be something in there that you're going to like.

This point might be what's driving a lot of misunderstanding and much of the consternation that always swirls around the newly self-proclaimed "Devices & Services" company. When Microsoft made that announcement, there were hundreds of thousands of companies that had bet their farms on Microsoft staying a software company. Oh, well.

Viable Alternatives: It's Not About Microsoft, It's About You
Whenever I talk with channel partners that proclaim a wholesale disdain for Microsoft, I immediately ask what they feel the viable alternative is. Most immediately respond, "Google." It's probably true that in most minds Google is the latest in the long line of contenders to knock Microsoft out of the top spot. But Google isn't the right answer; it's a trick question.

For the same reason it's impossible to hate Microsoft in its entirety, it's almost impossible to replace the company as a partner. You really have to ask what the viable alternatives are in plural, and which are relevant to you in particular, and to the core of your practice.

Desktop Core
Your viable alternatives will identify themselves over the next year or two. Certainly, Google fits in here with new PCs introduced this year running Chrome OS and Android. Apple might yet wake up from its long sleep and introduce an iNotToyPad. Beyond the desktop OS, the devices themselves will continue to change. Nokia becoming Microsoft Mobile will probably mean nothing much.

Network Core
Network integrators or network engineers began to emerge in 1984 with the introduction of the 3Station and 3Server from 3Com. Windows Server still enjoys preeminence in large segments of this market. Microsoft Azure will erode much of this, and you might find Amazon and Google to be viable alternative contenders in this space.

Storage Core
Those who specialize in storage have never really had to contend with Microsoft much, and several have introduced network-attached storage (NAS) solutions that don't really require the presence of a network OS, so even Windows Server is iced out of that equation.

ERP, CRM and Other Applications
While you'll likely be hard-pressed to find anyone who claims Microsoft has any applications that are the top choice in their categories, the viable alternatives in this space are the usual suspects, including SAP, Oracle and Salesforce.com.

Productivity, Communication & Collaboration Core
While it can still be said that there are currently no viable alternatives that are "better" than the Microsoft Office suite, Microsoft has chosen to take this battle to the cloud. Most of you already realize that the image of one big all-powerful cloud where all services come from is a fantasy. There are many "little clouds" that we in the industry simply call "datacenters." Surprise, surprise -- the delivery of valuable services is moving back to professionally operated datacenters, and we can become the channel that connects those services to customers.

In the cloud, the list of viable alternatives is currently seemingly endless. Let's watch together as consolidation, attrition and acquisition change that, and we find the true viable alternative providers of the devices -- and especially the services -- that will drive the future of interpersonal communication and collaboration.

More Columns by Howard M. Cohen:

About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a consultant to IT vendors and channel partner companies and a board member of the U.S. chapter of the IAMCP. Reach him at hmc@hmcwritenow.com.

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