An IT channel distributor is a business that acts as an intermediary between vendors and value-added resellers (VARs) or system integrators (SIs) in the distribution of software or hardware. Also known as "disties," distributors handle procurement and payment between VARs and vendors and are usually the only way in which a vendor will distribute its products to the channel. A distributor's customer base consists of a vendor's resellers and SIs, which are often referred to as its channel.
The distribution channel, or marketing channel, consists of the chain of intermediaries involved in getting a product from the producer to the consumer. Distributors are a common intermediary between vendors and end customers, which is frequently: vendor to distributor, distributor to reseller or SI, reseller or SI to end customer.
Distributors are often used by vendors that do not have the means to build out a channel program by themselves. Although they can play a small role -- for instance, handling only payment and procurement -- they frequently take a more proactive approach by educating resellers about new products from the vendors. This can include presales training, road shows, and demos for resellers held on behalf of vendors. Distributors also provide services around the procurement process, such as contract negotiation, marketing for resellers and SIs, and warrantees. Increasingly, distributors also host network operations centers (NOCs).
Editor's note: This definition was created in 2013 by Yuval Shavit and later updated for accuracy and readability.