There has been so much hype surrounding the Internet, intranets and Java over the past 12 months that resellers could be forgiven for sticking their heads in the sand and waiting for the fuss to subside.
But where once there was just a blueprint of the client/server network computing model alongside lots and lots of Java hot air, soon there will be real tin coming off the production lines.
Leading this assault will be Sun, whose Javastation and the Netra j servers roll out in the UK next month. 'We're at the beginning of a completely new phase in the industry,' said channel development manager Pete Deane.
Those will be ominous words to resellers' ears.
Every new phase of computing has bought turmoil and transition in the reseller channels. Deane likes to play down talk of revolution and strife, preferring the term evolution to describe the current watershed. He talks of transitioning the dealer base, encouraging Sun's resellers to see the new threats to their businesses alongside all the new opportunities, and helping them to re-engineer their businesses.
He dismisses talk of channel changes, saying Tplc is still flavour of the month and doing a great job. The Sun division at Tplc has been involved in transitioning 66 new resellers, many of them former direct Sars, on to its books, leaving Sun to deal directly with a handful of systems integrators and partners.
Although Tplc does not have a contract that guarantees exclusivity, Sun is still highly conscious of the margin erosion generated by the open warfare between Technology and Frontline in previous years. Sources inside Tplc told Internet Dealer they would be surprised if Sun took on another master reseller for some time yet.
'Our level of investment, and everything we have put into making Sun successful, was acknowledged a year ago when Sun signed a three-year contract with us. As long as we deliver the revenue they expect from us and continue to grow the market, they say they won't look elsewhere,' said one source.
Deane points out that it will probably be 18 months or so before the new Java environments really catch fire in the corporates, and the existing channel can probably absorb the growth next year. He thinks it's best for now to opt for channel stability, and to encourage reseller re-engineering while continuing with steady expansion of new resellers in key vertical markets.
But all that could change suddenly. The Javastation message is a compelling one for corporate IT departments. As Deane says, it marries the strengths of the old mainframe world with those of the PC world. 'It's the best of both worlds, and there are big cost savings. An IT manager can update a piece of software centrally overnight, and not go through the hassle of upgrading thousands of machines.' A compelling sales message like that will be music to Sun's resellers ears.
Deane added: 'There are 32 million 3270 terminals worldwide, and our resellers can integrate these machines as interactive GUI-based front-ends linking into that infrastructure. It's not a matter of rip out and replace, it's all about integrating into legacy systems."
It's also about zero administration costs. The cost of maintaining a Javastation will be about a third of a traditional PC. 'The corporates are very excited about this,' said Tplc Sun division manager Joan Williams.
'I expect we'll start seeing volume shipments through our resellers by March next year.' So it's not just Sun's resellers that need to prepare themselves for year Zero.
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