Canonical's fledgling channel partner program for Ubuntu just got a healthy assist from IBM and Virtual Bridges, two key partners that are promoting Ubuntu as a low-cost alternative to Microsoft desktops. Here's the scoop.

First, a little background. In December 2008, IBM, Canonical and Virtual Bridges announced a strategy to offer virtual Ubuntu desktops. The VAR Guy hasn't tested the solution, but he thinks the virtual desktops actually run on centralized IBM servers (on a customer site or in a VAR's data center). Users, in turn, can access the centralized productivity applications from a range of clients. And somehow, the system even supports offline users. Magic (translation: The VAR Guy can't explain how it all really works.)

Today's News

Now, fast forward to the present. According to a press release issued today, Virtual Bridges says 16 new channel partners embraced the Ubuntu virtualization solution in Q1. And those channel partners serve customers in Germany, France, England, Italy, South Africa, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico and the United States.  This more than doubles the partner network for Virtual Bridges offerings, the company adds.

Of course, Virtual Bridges is crowing a bit over the news. In a prepared statement, Virtual Bridges CEO Jim Curtain said:
“The global recession is driving companies of all sizes to seek the cost savings that a virtual Linux desktop can provide. The surge in our reseller ecosystem indicates that PC management has moved to the top of IT priority list. The IBM-Virtual Bridges-Canonical desktop delivers a sea-change in desktop infrastructure cost versus Microsoft products.”

Managed Service Providers: Cashing In?

Among the most interesting tidbits of info: Midas Networks, a solutions provider in Austin Texas, is hosting Virtual Bridges for customers. In other words, Midas Networks is a managed service provider of sorts, offering Ubuntu-based SaaS (software as a service) applications to end-customers. Intriguing. Smart. And definitely where the IT channel is heading.

Still, let's keep things in perspective. The IBM-Virtual Bridges-Canonical relationship truly is promising. And Virtual Bridges' momentum seems impressive. But 16 new partners is a tiny number compared to Microsoft's massive channel partner network, and many VARs remain fiercely loyal to Microsoft.

To be sure, Canonical's channel program for Ubuntu remains a work in progress. Canonical this month is launching new training programs for Ubuntu Server Edition, And Hewlett-Packard is expected to begin certifying its ProLiant Servers to run Ubuntu shortly. Plus, it's safe to expect Canonical to position its new Landscape 1.3 remote management tool for VARs and MSPs.

Of course, plenty of questions remain about the Ubuntu partner channel. Can Virtual Bridges and its growing network of VARs and MSPs really profit from hosted and virtual Ubuntu desktops? How much of the money will flow back to Canonical? Hmmm. Plenty of questions. Time for The VAR Guy to go find some answers.

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