Channel Gears Up for Windows Server 2008 Sales

As signs of a U.S. recession abound, channel insiders were looking to Microsoft's enterprise server launch Wednesday for a boost in business.

At a Feb. 27 kickoff event in Los Angeles, Microsoft formally launched Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008. With Microsoft launch events, the devil is in the details. In this case, "launch" meant immediate availability of Windows Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008, while for SQL Server 2008, a "feature-complete" community technology preview was available, but general availability isn't expected until the third quarter. Meanwhile, one of the most important new opportunity areas in Windows Server 2008, the Hyper-V virtual technology, is currently available only as a beta.

Several channel executives felt they could get plenty of mileage out of the basic release of Windows Server 2008, which began shipping to Microsoft's channel earlier this week.

"I love server products. They're the easiest thing to sell," said Melodie Guthrie, vice president of sales operations with ATD Computer Solutions of Charlotte, N.C. The custom builder with a network of 500 to 600 resellers expects the Windows Server release to help with an economy-fueled trend that ATD is already seeing.

"When the economy starts having trouble, our business model kind of changes. We don't sell as many home units, but we get more of the corporate market," Guthrie said. ATD will hold events in a conference center in its new facilities to train resellers on the new server operating system's features and selling points.

One company planning to sweeten the pot for its resellers to help drum up business around Windows Server 2008 is Atlanta-based distributor SED International Inc. According to Rob Kalman, SED's vice president of U.S. marketing, the company will offer extra rewards to its network of about 6,000 resellers through its existing American Express-branded SED Rewards Card. SED Rewards will be doubled on the card for the month of March, and the first 20 customers to buy two or more Windows Server 2008 units will get $100 in bonus points on the card.

Microsoft is holding events in 40 U.S. cities as part of a broad marketing campaign for the enterprise product releases. According to John Ball, Microsoft's general manager of the U.S. systems group, a key difference compared to previous event-based marketing campaigns is an effort to steer business to local partners by inviting them to exhibit at the Microsoft events.

"We're going to actually have local system builder partners there. In the past, it was only large, multinational partners," Ball said.

Microsoft has also launched several channel-focused Web sites to help partners train on, sell and market the new server releases, Ball said. The company also plans to update its Buy Local campaign to include promotions around Windows Server 2008, he said.

According to Ball and the partners, Windows Server 2008 brings brand-new sales opportunities in several areas, even ahead of the release of the Hyper-V technology.

"There has been a sense of evolution in the system builder, where there has been a trend of adding services to the hardware that they're building for customers," Ball said. Supporting that trend are the management and maintenance tools built into Windows Server 2008 that create new opportunities. "A key strength of our local partners, our system builders, is that they're local. If they really understand these management tools and consoles, they're going to be able to provide a higher level of support," Ball said.

Adrian Law, a colleague of Kalman's at SED International, said several of his reseller contacts have asked about opportunities and interoperability of Windows Server 2008 on the storage side. Law also sees a channel opportunity in the Server Core, the new technology that allows a stripped-down version of the OS to be optimized for very specific server roles. "I think that will be big. Windows Server 2008 allows the resellers to customize it a little more than before," Law said.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.