Anyone waking from a Rip van Winkle-like slumber would struggle to comprehend just how much the world changed in 2011. But has it been a similarly momentous year for the IT channel?
Well that's something you can decide for yourself as we glance back over the stories that shook our industry in 2011.
Unlike our rather elegant review of the year, this is more of a rough-and-ready rundown of the most sizzling news of the past 12 months, so strap yourself in for extra comfort...
Vendor hall of shame
2011 was a tale of big vendors falling from grace, with HP, Research in Motion, RSA and Acer all crashing down to earth following questionable managerial decisions, flagging sales, outages, external attacks, or a combination of all four.
Cisco also went through the mill, with chief executive John Chambers (pictured, right) admitting in April in a candid email to staff that the networking goliath had lost its way. It has since slashed 11,000 staff and exited certain non-core products.
But one vendor got the channel's goat more than any of these big names in 2011. Step forward Webroot, whose rumoured decision to exit various parts of its business, including email security – and slash its channel staff – sparked fury among the reseller community.
With several smaller vendors, including Brit 2FA vendor GrIDsure, pulling up lame, 2011 has served up a diabolical reminder that backing the right horse has rarely been so critical for resellers. Vendor spats were also frequent, with Blue Coat and Websense among those to get their handbags out this year.
Apple was among those to enjoy a scorcher of a 2011, despite the sad passing of founder Steve Jobs in October.
Android-based rivals tried – and largely failed – to make inroads into the fruit-based vendor's dominance in the rapidly emerging tablet space. According to Context, 433,500 iPads were shipped through European distributors in Q3, dwarfing the haul of 66,000 managed by its closest rival HP (which had already decided to exit the market). Some 92 per cent of UK IT managers questioned recently by Equanet cited the iPad as the first thing that springs to mind when asked about tablets, with Mancunian binmen among those to adopt Apple's touchy-feely device.
Apple may have a sketchy reputation in the channel, but the vendor sparked speculation that it is finally ready to invite resellers in from the cold by poaching HP PSG's UK channel boss Trevor Evans earlier this month. Another one-time channel tormentor, Dell, also launched a channel charm offensive as founder Michael Dell told CRN that partners will soon generate half of its business.
2011 was undoubtedly a painful year for channel firms themselves, with analyst Plimsoll warning at the start of the year that a quarter of the UK's top 1,000 resellers were in danger of going under. Some of the year's higher-profile casualties included Dataplex, which was rescued from administration by Intrinsic in January (strictly speaking it was last December, but who's counting), Sonex, Skye IT and Tempus.
Indeed, Plimsoll's dire assessment appeared not to be far off the mark as reseller insolvencies spiked to their highest level for eight years. Close to 100 resellers are now perishing each quarter, according to data from Graydon UK.
The ICM name also bowed out of the channel this year following parent Phoenix's decision to consolidate the company into five business units.
Deal or no deal?
However, despite the downturn, the historically high level of tech sector M&A activity continued into 2011 as private equity houses gobbled up everything that moved – including, most recently, Clearswift. In the channel, Micro-P and CMS Peripherals were among the distributors to make acquisitions, grabbing Advent Data and CCI respectively. The reseller space also saw several sizeable deals as B2Net, Eurodata, GSS, Security Partnerships and Mesh were all acquired.
Not everyone who made an acquisition got exactly what they bargained for, with buy-and-build security VAR Accumuli calling in the cops after discovering a £500,000 black hole in the balance sheet of recent acquisition Boxing Orange.
Former SpiriTel boss Alistair Mills bounced back with a new buy-and-build outfit, Six Degrees Group, while fellow comms player Daisy bought £15.4m of assets from Niu Solutions. Daisy boss Matthew Riley featured on The Apprentice again, while Lord Sugar awarded 2010 winner Stella English a role at his set-top-box firm YouView following her short stint at Viglen. However, chiselled telecoms salesman Vincent Disneur was booted off this year's show early doors.
In June, Misco and Wstore parent Systemax announced the US federal government was formally investigating the firm, two months after top executive Gilbert Fiorentino left following allegations from an anonymous whistleblower.
Networking VAR Redstone – which came close to going under last year – sealed some of the year's juciest contracts. Stone, Viglen and Softcat were among those to secure a berth on a coveted further education framework announced in March thought to be worth £100m over two years. The same trio, as well as ComputerWorld Wales, Insight, Computacenter, Gaia, XMA, Misco and DTP, enjoyed success on the Value Wales framework that was announced in September.
But it was tiny Nottinghamshire-based reseller Bear IT which bagged one of the most eye-catching contracts of 2011: a deal to provide antipodean warbler Natalie Imbruglia (pictured) with IT support.
Look to the future (it's only just begun)
CRN was left in disarray in November when it emerged that most resellers are not happy with being called resellers. According to our poll, which we launched on the back of our Top VARs report, some 48 per cent of you liked the term "IT solution providers" the best out of the available options. Just 29 per cent went for "reseller", with a meagre three per cent plumping for "VAR". Predictably, our rundown of the UK's 100 largest resellers placed Computacenter top of the pile, with SCC, Insight, BT, RM, Kelway, Misco, 2e2, Softcat and Danwood rounding out the top 10.
The report also attempted to shed light on what end users will want from their IT suppliers in the future and it is clear that ours is an industry in a state of flux. Cloud and IT consumerisation look set to continue to reshape buying patterns in 2012.
The components industry was still reeling from the impact of the Japanese tsunami when the Thai floods hit hard drive production in October, an issue that is also set to affect the channel for several quarters to come.
And with the UK's role in Europe up for debate and the country teetering on the edge of a double-dip recession, 2012 promises to be just as bumpy as 2011. Despite the gloomy backdrop, IT spending looks set to rise – albeit modestly – and resellers remain as optimistic as ever, with 90 per cent of you saying in a recent CRN poll that you would set up a business in the current climate. So you can keep that seatbelt on for a while yet.
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