CDN’s #1 Newsmaker: VMware Canada’s Grant Aitken

Long time channel executive Grant Aitken is the general manager of VMware VMware Canada (NYSE: VMW), which up until this year was the only major vendor providing virtualization software solutions to the market place.

The broad market acceptance of virtualization as an IT solution that can save money, while producing amazing results in efficiency has led to Aitken being named the top newsmaker for this year – the year of virtualization.

Of course, VMware is no longer alone in the virtualization space. Microsoft and Citrix have joined the fray. This is what happens when you get broad market acceptance.

While Aitken acknowledged that 2008 was a huge year for virtualization he came short in saying that it was the year of virtualization. Aitken has lived virtualization for the past four years and believes that in 2009, with the uncertain economy, virtualization will be even bigger.

There is no denying that VMware has put virtualization on the IT map, but Aitken states that the company’s most significant accomplishment in 2008 was the maturation of its channel. This goal has enabled VMware partners to deliver more sophisticated virtualization solutions to the market place.

“They are now mapping solutions around our technology instead of the basic slicing and dicing of servers into virtual consolidation. Virtualization is no longer a big thing, but a fundamental building block to an IT infrastructure,” Aitken said.

Compelling ROI

When most customers become aware of virtualization they simply can not ignore the potential benefits as opposed to other technologies. In Aitken’s 25 years in the IT industry, virtualization goes unmatched when it comes to return for customers. “The technology itself has an incredibly compelling ROI. It is not a question of will they do it, but when and how they will do it,” he said.

It came to a point this year that virtualization passed the tipping point. The customers are now past issues such as risk or workload challenges. As Aitken puts it: “We are on the other side of that.”

With the economic situation worsening in Canada, the IT channel will be looking at solutions such as virtualization to keep business sustainable and profitable. There are many aspects of virtualization that can be used as key selling points such as:
*improved productivity;
*reduction of capital,
*cost certainty with IT infrastructure; and
*environmentally friendly.

“(Virtualization) is more compelling in a down market than a growing economy because the pressure is more acute. I think that people still have to spend money to achieve the benefits of virtualization. It is a message that is more compelling in tough times than frankly in good times,” Aitken said.

Beyond the customer benefits of virtualization there are many business cases for the channel to take hold of. For example, for every dollar of licensing from VMware the channel partner averages between $6 to $10 of additional IT spending from other technologies and services.

“It is critical for our partners to push virtualization as a message because it drives an entire ecosystem along with it,” he added.

Running a non-virtualized data centre operation is simply too costly theses days. For every single server that is not virtualized the customer spends between $5,000 to $7,000 more than they need.

Channel is the cornerstone

Close to 100 per cent of VMware’s business in Canada goes through solution providers. The channel is so critical to VMware that the company made significant improvements to its program this year. And, according to Aitken, the company is committed to refining it even more in 2009.

The company introduced broad and easier to understand channel marketing messaging in an attempt to help solution providers sell more virtualization solutions to SMBs.

Further to this, VMware changed its packaging with its Acceleration Kits and lowered the entry-point in its deal registration program, called Advantage Plus, to encourage partners to sell down in the SMB. The company also lowered its entry-level price to under $3,000 to try to make it more profitable for partners who sell in the SMB and enhanced rebate levels.

“The recognition at management that we can’t scale fast enough as a company to address the market opportunity without fully leveraging the broad ecosystem of partners. That is part of our system,” Aitken said.

And the rest…

With success comes more competition and VMware positioned itself to meet those challenges, mainly form Microsoft, but also from Citrix.

Out was Diane Greene, the founder of the company. And, in came Paul Maritz, a former high profile executive at Microsoft to take the company to the next level.

“Obviously as the founder of the company Diane Greene brought incredible life to VMware from zero to many hundreds of millions of dollars. That said; the decision to make the change in leadership (made by the board) was based on this company no longer being a start up, but a fast growing software company,” he said.

Aitken looks at Microsoft and Citrix both as a challenge and an opportunity. “This is good news because we are no longer competing with vapourware. There is actual product and it is better to compete against reality than fiction. The emergence of Microsoft with competitive products means the market fully understands that VMware isn’t the only voice in the wind and that virtualization is a macro trend for rejuvenation.”

This also helps Aitken in his job to educate the market on supporting applications on a virtual platform. In the past some apps vendors and ISVs did not want to work in a virtualized environment. “That will be less of an issue in 2009.”

As will virtualization, thanks to Aitken and his team at VMware Canada.

To view a video of Grant Aitken being interviewed by CDN, please see below.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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