With 2007 on our doorstep, ARN asked a host of distributors to comment on the hot products, channel favourites, and overall market sentiment during 2006.
The first star performer, according to value-added distributor, Express Data, was IP phones. Sales had more than doubled compared to the previous year.
"It was the number one standout performer of the year," vendor channel manager, David Peach, said. "A few years ago, the channel wasn't even selling phones."
Peach pointed to Cisco's release of a wireless IP phone as a significant product launch. "The IP phones are now a real run rate item, and it's no longer a strange thing to sell into an IP network," he said.
With the uptake of video and increasing bandwidth, Peach predicted unified communications would take off in the next 12 months. A complementary technology winner was data centre infrastructure, he said.
"We saw massive growth in this space," he said. "Power needs are greater thanks to the demands of a converged network. Resellers need to consider all aspects of the data centre."
Power consumption, cost and capacity are top issues for IT managers. With declining hardware margins, the data centre infrastructure story gave resellers the chance to increase their profit margins through improved sales generation and larger average order sizes, Peach said.
This year also saw data centre infrastructure technology tailored to fit the needs of SMBs, broadening the market for the channel, he said. Wireless was another standout in 2006, along with solutions that helped companies support a more mobile workforce. VPN, remote access and authentication products were channel favourites. Peach said security point product sales slowed this year. This was due to fierce competition and the fact it was no longer being sold as an add-on.
"Whilst still critical, there's not as much differentiation in antivirus products so it's harder for a reseller to add value," he said. "There's a big opportunity for end-to-end security products, whereby resellers can be a trusted security advisor, and sell content filtering, access control, remote authentication and antivirus firewalls."
Security distributor, Firewall Systems, also saw the market shift towards end-to-end solutions, marketing director, Nick Verykios, said.
"This year resellers started to see the whole point of security - it's no longer a thing customers do because of threats," he claimed. "We have moved from specific threat management to unified threat management, which is the consolidation of security applications. The shift away from point products happened quicker than expected."
The blend of wireless and security product development was a hot story.
A popular wireless product, the Aruba Mobile Edge, lets users connect over the air and across any network to securely gain access to enterprise resources - including voice and data - anywhere they need to do so.
Resellers had been successful pitching the mobile edge concept to government, education, hospitality, health, as well as mid- to high-end enterprises. Growing reliance on bandwidth and application optimisation products was also noteworthy, according to Verykios.
"Companies like F5 are putting more security features into their products, enabling resellers to start selling application access," he said.
Synnex managing director, Kee Ong, said the hot product sizzler this year was GPS navigation devices. Although these had not been a traditional reseller play, he said it could be as dealers continued moving towards the CE and digital appliance market.
Ingram Micro also saw strength in the CE space through GPS sales, product director, Matthew Sanderson, said.
"We saw a 260 per cent growth over 2005," he said. "It's mainly a consumer product, but resellers will crossover into this space."