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VMware’s Maritz to channel: ‘We want your business’

While VMware's CEO is downplaying channel conflict, an analyst notes they have some challenges

SAN FRANCISCOVMware (NYSE: VMW) may be moving further into cloud computing, enterprise Java and other strategic areas, but its CEO wanted to provide reassurance to channel partners at VMworld this week that the company has no plans to move further into direct sales.

Speaking at a press conference shortly following his opening keynote at the company’s annual user conference, Paul Maritz responded to concerns that the company’s attempts to grow its business in the virtualization space will see a shift in its channel strategy. VMware has been accused in the past of encroaching on its VARs’ turf by acquiring partners and creating channel conflict by integrating niche technologies into its hypervisor.

“If there is any confusion we should work on clearing it up, because there’s no reason for there to be any confusion,” he said. “It’s quite simple. We want your business.”

VMware already enjoys a large installed base, Maritz said, so on one hand it’s focused on helping those customers further advance virtualization in their environments. “At the same time, we’re obviously trying to reach out to customers we don’t currently sell to, and selling through the channel is a critical part of our strategy,” he said.

Maritz estimated that VMware has about 10,000 channel partners right now. “And we have every intent to make those folks as successful as they could possibly be.”

Others aren’t so sure. According to Warren Shiau, an analyst with The Strategic Counsel in Toronto who is attending VMware this week, VMware is undergoing a channel identification program for who in their channel can target the small and medium-sized business segment, but VMware is defining SMB as an organization with 10 to 15 servers, he said.

“Does this mean they don’t have anyone for SMB with, say, five to six servers or below?” he asked. “This is that domain of that creature called ‘The IT guy,’ and it’s why Microsoft is so strong in small business. They’ve got the IT guy all wrapped up.”

Although Shiau noted the investments VMware has made in its channel programs over the past year, he wondered whether the company would further explore channel development for that much smaller segment of the market.

VMware is showing much more interest in the SMB space this year with the launch of VMware Go, a product designed to help customers ease the deployment of the ESXi hypervisor. VMware has seen massive downloads of other more lightweight products before, Maritz said, but has no relationship with those firms. VMware Go could change that, and in the press conference he indicated it could become a solution for channel partners as well.

HP on Tuesday also announced the integration of its Insight software into VMware’s vCenter management software product line. On the cloud computing front, meanwhile, VMware formed service provider partnerships with Verizon, AT&T, Savvis and Terremark for its vCloud Express, which would see service providers offer virtualized cloud computing as a managed service for customers.

VMworld 2009 runs until Thursday.