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IBM taps Unix sales exec to drive System i

IBM recently appointed its star System p sales executive to direct ISV and partner sales for System i.

IBM recently appointed one of its star Unix sales executives to direct independent software vendor (ISV) and partner sales for System i, tasking him to boost a platform whose numbers over the past year have seen both surges and plunges.

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Peter Small, an IBM employee since 1984, known most notably as a sales executive for pSeries, was named director of sales for System i's business partner and ISV channel -- the predominant source of the platform's revenue.

Small now reports to Bill Donohue, vice president of System i sales. Both worked together and were promoted after grabbing the reins of IBM's pSeries line in early 2000, which helped IBM lift its Unix market share from third to first during their tenure.

"I passionately believe he will do the same to System i," Donohue said, who arrived at the top System i sales spot last July after four years as the top pSeries salesman. "I saw first hand the enormous impact this man made."

There's not a huge amount of overlap between p and i customers, so you can't really break out the Rolodex and ping customers -- but Small said the experience working closely with business partners at his most recent post translates well to the System i world.

"[Selling pSeries], the secret to clients was through the ISVs, and ISVs are what have built the System i brand." Small said. "For the clients who struggle to integrate business and platform initiatives -- they need what we have. Our goal is to educate them about our value proposition through our ISVs. Power architecture is just the next phase of support. I'm excited to be a part of it."

Others were more skeptical about Small's experience translating without a hitch; p customers are typically more concerned with maximum performance, while System i's sweet spot has traditionally been small and midsized businesses (SMB).

"You can be a great Ferrari salesperson, but does that also mean a great salesperson for family automobiles or delivery vans?" said Charles King, principal analyst for Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research. "These guys are obviously very good sales people. From a tech standpoint, the platforms have a lot in common; there are some obvious synergies, but it'll be interesting to see how well pSeries guys will be able to leverage their expertise for what is very much a midmarket platform."

IBM in April announced System i revenues plunged 22% in the first quarter of 2006, the second consecutive quarterly drop for a platform that saw its numbers surge last year alongside substantial company backing in the form of upgrades and vigorous marketing. Sales in the fourth quarter fell 12% at the end of 2005.

Though a disappointment, analysts have said the results aren't necessarily an indicator of doom. Still, the latest decline, even sharper than before, remains an obvious source of anxiety, and IBM is no doubt eager to prove the numbers are a trip-up and not the start of a fall.

To turn things around, Small, who holds a degree from Pace University and a master's degree in international financial management, says he's got ideas -- but give him a little time.

"I'm passionately in love with the Power platform," Small said. "You can tell I'm a little bit of a strange hardware guy, but my real thing is solution sales. I know conceptually where my passions are, and the market, and the individual verticals. But [the game plan] is not fully developed -- yet. We'll work very closely with solution providers to understand certain struggles in order to serve our client base more effectively."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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