Without doubt the biggest question facing the channel right now is what role does an aggregator play? It's hard to know what to make of Compaq's latest play as reported on our front page this week.

I spent the best part of a day on the phone and many people were not even familiar with the term, but most saw it as another link in the IT supply chain. Just whether that extra link is needed remains open to debate and I invite your comments.

I should also say I received so much off-the-record comment for this story that my head is still spinning. And even if I could print most of the comments I picked up, I'd need to devote a feature to it.

Instead, here are a few on-the-record reactions that didn't make it into the story for your digestion.

David Hancock, director of IT channel research outfit Inform, saw the move as positive for resellers in the SMB segment because Sweetwater can offer a strong niche focus.

"I see this as another distributor that's basically being used to take Compaq into a market they are not very strong in," he said.

Liz Lawson, Cisco's national channels manager, said she thought an aggregator only makes sense in a large market like the US. "Why would you have an aggregator if you're looking for a value added service?"

Meanwhile Peter Kazacos, MD of KAZ Computer Services, offered a more pragmatic view, stating it's an accepted fact that all hardware vendors will go direct. "In the scheme of things, there's nothing much we can do." But the big question for him was whether Sweetwater would hold stock or instead rely on existing distributors. This will impact the volume of products Sweetwater can ship, he argued. I'll take a rain check on those questions and get back to you.

Finally, Nick Vertes, sales & marketing director at Compaq reseller Intellicorp Australia, gave me the kind of classic reseller quote you need for this type of story. "I'm the sort of person who is loyal. I think if you have too many distributors you lose all that."

When it came to just what impact an aggregator would have, he drew a blank. "See how they go."

From my point of view, this story is potentially a can of worms because it says one of two things.

Either Tech Pacific, Ingram Micro, Dicker Data et al are not cutting the mustard when it comes to reaching the SME business sector enough to satisfy Compaq, or Sweetwater is an amazing company.

The only reason Compaq would appoint such a company to take on the SMB market is because it believes Abbas Aly and the soon-to-be-appointed MD of the company can drive up market share.

And the only way to capture market share is with volume, and I mean lots of it. I can only but imagine what sort of reseller and industry partners it must have to achieve the kind of volume Compaq is expecting.

Abbas promised to give me the opportunity to ask any question I like about Sweetwater this week, so stay tuned for more details on ARNnet.

Meanwhile, what's your take on Compaq, aggregators, Sweetwater and its link with Triforce, one of the channel's quiet achievers?

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