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Making the team | How to land the right partners

Sun's Bill Vass

Consolidation and virtualization, cybersecurity,
and green computing top Bill Vass' roster of
opportunities for small-business partners and
government projects.

Vass, president and chief operating officer at
Sun Microsystems Federal Inc., also cited open-source
software, a Sun specialty. "More agencies
are standardizing on open source, he said.
Small-business partners who understand the
value of open source in addition to consolidation
and virtualization are especially useful in
government work, he said.

Reducing operations and maintenance costs
is high on government customers' agendas,
Vass said. For example, agencies are trying to
cut spending for operations and maintenance
from 80 percent of their budget to 60 percent.
Such reductions will let them invest in new
projects, he said.

BE A PARTNER

With those objectives in mind, Vass said, small
businesses should bring their skills and contracts
into Sun Federal programs. About 93
percent of Sun Federal's business goes through
partners, ranging from giants such as General
Dynamics Corp. to entrepreneurial firms such
as Dynamic Systems Inc., of Los Angeles and
Reston, Va.

"Our preference is to work through partners,"
Vass said, adding that the only time Sun
Federal works directly with an agency is if there
is a request for such a relationship.

Sun Federal has about 50 small businesses
on its authorized partners roster. The company
wants to add more partners that operate at different
levels, Vass said. Relationships affect
the margin points a partner can get.

Variables include the size of the project,
whether the partner brought it to Sun and the
nature of the alliance ? such as systems integrator,
reseller, value-added dealer or some
other relationship.

"We're looking for partners who can deliver
[services] as specified in the contract," Vass
said. "The more they generate demand for us,
the better returns they'll get. If they only fulfill
orders, which is an important role, too," the
margins might be smaller.

"Sun just put the finishing touches on our
Global Sun Partner Advantage program, which
we are very excited about," Vass said. "The SPA
program gives partners the flexibility of choice:
It provides SPA partners with a variety of focus
areas ? servers, storage, software and services
? and engagement models, allowing them to
focus on their unique niche."

BUSINESS CHALLENGES

Small businesses are recruited ? via recommendations
and applications on the Sun
Federal Web site ? at various points during the
contracting process.

Prospective partners must join the Sun
Partner Advantage Program, which assesses and
ensures their skills, including order fulfillment.
It can take a month or longer for Sun to
review and assess a company's qualifications,
but "we can accelerate the process for the right
partner," Vass added. "We invest in them; they
invest in us," he said. Sun spends time training
new partners on Sun products'
features and capabilities.

"We have 12 main solutions
that we work with partners on, such as service-oriented
architecture, multilevel security solutions,
data center consolidation and virtualization,"
Vass said.

Tasks for which Sun Federal brings in smallbusiness
partners range from case, financial and
grants management to information technology
security, IT infrastructure optimization and
geospatial data management.

CURRENT PROJECTS

Other projects include asset management,
engineering application development, server
and storage consolidation, identity management,
and enterprise computing.

Prospective small-business partners should
check with the local managers, Randy Zewe
and Lesley Lawrence, for details on the Sun
Partners program.

Vass is enthusiastic about the coming opportunities
for small-business teaming.

"There is so much demand," he said. "We are
only limited by our own resources."

Gary Arlen (garyarlen@columnist.com) is president
of Arlen Communications Inc., a Bethesda, Md.,
research firm.

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