Although Microsoft's Certified Network Reseller program is off to a fairly modest start with just 21 members, many of those reseller/integrators enrolled are giving the program a definite thumbs up.
"The CNR program affords us a number of advantages, not least of which is the fact that it has brought us a lot closer to Microsoft," said Bruce Buchanan, sales director of Rexcel, a Sydney-based systems integrator. "We can now get directly to the people we need to speak to. We seem to get priority tech support when we need it, and we're getting quite a lot of promotional and sales material."
Gary Hall, managing director for Brisbane-based systems integrator Hall Computers, says the CNR program fills a niche for companies like his. "On one end of the spectrum you have the SOHO market where the big retailers are predominant, and on the other end you have the COGO market where the large integrators tend to get the big contracts," he said. "Until now, I don't think any of the vendor programs have really addressed the middle of the market. One of the things the CNR program does is give mid-sized companies a profile that distinguishes us from some of the other outfits out there."
Hall also thinks the CNR program anticipates the future of network reselling. "The money is not in selling anymore, it's in maintaining the networks," he said. "I think the CNR program builds a lot of value for those integrators who have a lot of skills and are focused on the selling and maintaining networks in the middle of the market."
John Grogan, CEO of Adelaide-based CitySoft, a systems integrator that is South Australia's first - and so far only - CNR, says the program "separates the men from the boys.
"I think in a lot of ways it tests the seriousness of the companies operating in the networking arena. If you are serious about it, you will become certified. If you don't have the technical skills or are not willing to invest the time and money to become accredited, it is going to show," he said. "CNR gives us a level of recognition that says we have the technical skill to do the job, and that we have the products in stock. Internally, it's also been a big morale booster."
Making the grade
In order to become a CNR, at least one member of staff must pass Microsoft's Windows NT Server examination. Training options for the exam include self-paced study kits, classroom study through an Authorised Technical Education Centre (ATEC), and/or a six-week, online training program via Microsoft's Online Institute. Additionally, all CNRs must sell a minimum of 10 copies of Windows NT each year. There are two payment options: it costs $950 if the reseller agrees to hold one copy of Windows NT Server with 10 client access licences in stock, or $1,950 without the stockholding requirement, said Kevin Burke, Microsoft's channel development manager.
Burke says the associated costs for the CNR program can vary, but offers this summary: "The NT exam costs $135, although we've given away a lot of exam vouchers for people to use. The NT study kits costs $495. The five-day ATEC course is about $2,000, and the OnLine Institute course is about $1,000," he said. "Companies are looking at it [the costs] as a long-term investment."
Rexcel's Buchanan says CNR accreditation requires commitment on the part of the reseller/integrator. "It's quite an investment in terms of time and, like all investments, the idea is that what you get out of it is a reflection of what you put in," he said. "It also gives us an opportunity to take a look at Microsoft's Solution Provider accreditation [which has more stringent requirements] to see if it's worth it."
Time is money
Hall says he has invested between $5,000 and $10,000 for courses as well as his employees' time to become a CNR, but it's been worth it. "We're finding it to be well worth the time and effort," he said.
Although CNR enrolment is hardly staggering at the moment, Burke says Microsoft expects great things from it. "By the end of June '97 we believe we'll have 300 resellers and by the end of June '98 we believe we will reach critical mass with about 800 resellers in the program."
Judging from requests for CNR information packets and study kit sales, Burke says the CNR program is attracting a wide range of resellers and integrators. "We're not just getting contacts from the metropolitan areas. We're getting a lot of resellers in country towns, which is great because the program is focused on small-to medium-sized businesses."
For more information on the program, call Microsoft's CNR hotline: (02) 870 2161