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Novell Wants a Partner on Every Deal

The news today is that Novell released the latest version of its operating system aimed at datacenters, SUSE Linux Enterprise 11. But what might be news to partners is that Novell has seriously increased its commitment to the channel in recent months, and it's not just about SUSE Linux anymore.

Your editor traveled approximately five minutes by car from his home in Waltham, Mass. to Novell's headquarters in Waltham, Mass. last week to chat with a couple of Novell channel executives. Their message was loud, clear and repeated more than once: The company wants partners in on deals -- every deal, even -- early in the sales cycle and will rely on the channel to serve customers after the sale.

Novell had announced enhancements to its channel program in February, including a deal registration program, extended training offerings, and consolidated product SKUs and a single price list, both aimed at simplifying the ordering process and holding partners' costs down.

But there's more to Novell's new partner plan than just a few tweaks. There is, to hear the company's channel executives talk about it, a renewed and very genuine commitment to partners, led in part by former Microsoft channel executive Steve Hale, now Novell's vice president for the global datacenter channel, and by 15-year Novell veteran Scott Lewis. Lewis, vice president of partner marketing and enablement for the company, said that Novell is looking for partners not just to sell and implement SUSE Linux, the company's flagship product, but also to sell and support its other offerings, as well.

"We go to market in datacenter, end-user computing, and identity and security," Lewis told RCPU. "We generally are looking for partners in one of those solutions."

Or more than one, he said, noting that expertise in multiple products is a positive. Those offerings include the PlateSpin product line, which encompasses datacenter management, server virtualization and disaster recovery, among other categories. Novell acquired the vendor for $205 million about a year ago.  

That datacenter management category is where a lot of recruitment is taking place, Lewis said: "If you look at our end-user computing, there's much more of a push to grow the partners we have. Those products have evolved in recent years. If you look at identity and security, there is a push for recruitment there, but it's not massive. If you look in the datacenter space, there's an overlapped set of needs there. That's not Novell's historic partner base. We're recruiting there."

Partner recruitment isn't just a numbers game, though. Lewis said: "When we look at partners, it is a quality not a quantity game. We're not looking to radically increase the number of partners we have."

And the company's also looking to increase the amount of revenue it derives from the channel. Partners account for more than half of the company's revenue now, according to Lewis, and Hale said that figure is increasing. It'll keep going up, too, he said, as Novell continues to reach out to the channel in more deals.

"That number continues to increase, and it's one of [our] directives to be inclusive of a partner in every opportunity we go after," Hale said, noting that the company is looking to get partners involved earlier in the sales cycle. "Ideally then you've already got the partner ingrained in the whole process."

Some of that business includes services, something Novell already provides its customers. Hale notes that the company is looking to make Novell services complementary to partners' service offerings while recognizing that many partners now make the bulk of their revenues through services.

"We want to engage with [partners] to make sure that they are as good as any of our Novell services people," Hale said. "Novell services is really there to be the expert of experts around Novell technology, and we will be there to deliver great services, but very clearly a part of the charter is to do partner enablement."

The company wants to "pair up Novell services with our partners," Hale added. "We want to encourage that kind of behavior so that our partners understand there's a market and Novell will be there to help [them]."

The company is also trying to tailor its program to different categories of partners, and if some of what Novell is doing sounds similar to Microsoft's current and forthcoming partner efforts, that's no accident: The recently appointed Hale said he has taken lessons from Microsoft into his new gig.

"What we're trying to do is get a very crisp taxonomy of the different types of partners out there," he said. "In general, there's about six or seven different profiles of partners, all the way up from ISVs to SIs."

For his part, Lewis added that Novell won't shut partners out of bigger -- or smaller -- deals. "We expect partners to play in every size account we deal with," he said.  
Hale and Lewis hope to bring a new channel focus to a company that has seen its share of transition over the years. Partners shouldn't lack for opportunities with the new, channel-centric Novell.

"We're starting to turn business over to partners that they wouldn't have seen before," Hale said.

What's your take on Novell's channel overtures? Send it to [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on March 24, 2009