Despite significant partner backlash IBM is sticking to its guns and defending the decision to include the AS/400 servers in the eServer rebranding campaign announced late last year.
IBM partners are concerned the AS/400 brand recognition suffered a significant blow when Big Blue's marketing collateral and support was abruptly switched to the iSeries name and logo.
According to Roger Davies, general manager of high-end integrator Aspect Computing, the rebranding has shifted the focus away from the AS/400 technology in order to focus on the eServer brand, to the detriment of the AS/400 market.
"They have dropped it into the bucket with the rest of their servers, so there is basically no visibility for the AS/400 technology," Davies said. "End users are concerned that the brand will not last the next 10 years because they are not seeing any brand awareness."
Stephen Matthews, business developer for enterprise software developer and integrator IBS, echoed the channel's concern.
"We are not tempted to drift off into the iSeries terminology because there is instant recall on the AS/400 server name," Matthews said. "The AS/400 is recognised everywhere as a reliable midrange server, people know it is completely safe and maintenance-free."
While they are overwhelming rejecting the rebranding process, IBM business partners are divided on the effects they think the process will have on the AS/400 market place.
Frank Tidswell, manager of Asia Pacific and alliances for ERP software vendor Momentum, believes the rebranding will not have a negative effect on AS/400 sales.
"For the most part people are attracted to the AS/400 because they never fall down, they can process anything you throw at them," Tidswell said. "Their success is based on word of mouth and recommendations, not on the IBM brochures."
Aspect's Davies on the other hand believes the market is already suffering from a lack of marketing capital.
"I believe the market is already feeling the effects of a lack of attention. IBM needs to show the end users the product has a future, they need to make a serious investment in marketing," Davies said.
In October 2000, IBM stated the aim of its rebranding exercise was to harness the company's best technologies in order to target the e-business market. Concerned the older brands would not be recognised for their e-commerce capabilities, IBM decided to group all servers under the one eServer brand.
IBM iSeries business unit executive John Schilt describes the name change as both timely and necessary.
"The key message is that we are offering a new generation of the IBM eServers to meet the growing demand of e-business," Schilt said. "Since 1988 we have reinvented and rolled out new technology under the AS/400 banner, but the brand has not reflected this change."
While Schilt concedes the AS/400 is a very strong brand, he recognised the importance of an integrated approach that saw the brand gradually integrated into the eServer strategy.
However, IBM partners are suspicious that the blanket-marketing program could backfire. Nic Dennis, client service manager with Aspect Computing, believes the eServer brand does not allow for sufficient product differentiation within the IBM range.
"The danger is that all the IBM servers will be judged on the weaker aspects of one of the group," Dennis said. "They need to isolate the AS/400 range and sell it on its own merits, instead they are trying to juggle a range of different offerings under the one brand."
Dennis believes IBM would benefit from a rethink of its entire marketing strategy.
"IBM has a technical boffin attitude to advertising their products," Dennis said. "They need to take an entirely new approach. The technology does not sell itself any more, you need to create the image and the hype."
Photograph: Aspect Computing's Nic Dennis