Call it a rare triple play in the open source server market. Lenovo, Red Hat and Tech Data are partnering to give resellers discounts on select Lenovo ThinkServers with Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced. Here are the details -- and the implications for open source solutions providers.

First, the details. According to a spokeswoman for the three companies:
  • Qualified Red Hat resellers can buy a ThinkServer from Tech Data with a $75 instant rebate, or they can buy a ThinkServer with Red Hat Enterprise Linux for a $150 instant rebate, or they can buy a ThinkServer with Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced for a $250 instant rebate.
  • Resellers do not have to be Lenovo resellers.
  • Additional details can be found on Lenovo's channel blog.

The Bigger Story

Now, some key themes involving (1) open source in the IT channel, (2) big distributors promoting open source and (3) Lenovo's server strategy.

Overall, the open source IT channel continues to grow -- as The VAR Guy's own Open Source 50 report proves. Still, there's much room for improvement. For the most part, open source has been an enterprise and consumer success story -- involving Linux server virtualization in data centers, and free options (like Firefox) catching on with consumers.

But open source in small businesses is more of a mixed story. Sure, some small businesses run Linux. Many do so without even realizing it, because of the growing proliferation of Linux and open source appliances. Yet for the most part, Microsoft remains the dominant brand in small businesses.

Distributors Step In

Meanwhile, distributors like Tech Data and rival Synnex have been trying to promote more open source solutions to their respective partner bases. Synnex partnered with Red Hat in early 2009 to launch the Open Source Channel Alliance. Tech Data countered in late 2009 with Open Tech, a similar open source channel effort.

Sources say the Tech Data and Synnex efforts are off to slow but promising starts. The reason: Both distributors have thousands of reseller partners, but the distributors are trying to shift the open source conversation beyond Linux to include open source applications like databases, email, CRM, ERP and content management systems. Many resellers in the Tech Data and Synnex camps don't have that application-level expertise -- yet. So it will take time to train and ramp up resellers in these new markets.

Lenovo's Moves

For its part, Lenovo has been building a server business. Best known for ThinkCentre desktops and ThinkPad notebooks, Lenovo launched the ThinkServer line in September 2008 with Windows and Novell SUSE Linux support.

Since that time, Lenovo has also introduced Red Hat Enterprise Linux support. The move potentially positions Red Hat and Lenovo to push Linux deeper into the small and midsize business markets. And now, Tech Data is lending a hand with the effort.

The VAR Guy is certainly intrigued. Lenovo needs a strong server story to compete effectively against Hewlett-Packard, Dell and even big-time partner IBM. And Red Hat needs stronger partnerships to infiltrate smaller business and midmarket opportunities. The VAR Guy will be watching to see if the triple play -- involving Red Hat, Lenovo and Tech Data -- helps all parties to move forward.