Starting July 12, Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference kicks off in Washington, DC. The company's loudest messaging at the four-day event will be that Microsoft partners need to be "All In" with the cloud, just like Redmond itself.
Microsoft will be highlighting many of its partners that have managed to transition their businesses so as to be more cloud-centric. But company officials also will attempt to convince the rest of the nearly 10,000 expected attendees that it's time for them to be leading with cloud services like Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), the forthcoming Windows InTune systems management software/service and the Azure cloud platform.
(I'm especially interested in how Microsoft plans to get partners involved in selling Azure. So far, the Softies have published a number of case studies highlighting developers who've built new applications on Azure, but I've heard/seen very little about how Microsoft's reseller community is supposed to get invovled/paid for pushing Azure to the masses.)
Getting partners on board with Microsoft's cloud push is critical for the Redmondians, as Microsoft relies heavily on integrators, resellers, independent software vendors and OEMs to act as its primary salesforce. While the Microsoft brass warned the company's partners a few years ago that Microsoft was planning to get into selling hosted services (and they needed to "move up the stack" and get out of the way or risk being run down), Microsoft partners still have a lot of questions about the cloud and their place in it.
From what I've heard, Microsoft is looking to roll out the first public beta of Windows 7 Service Pack (SP) 1/Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 during next week's conference. I've also heard betas of Windows Home Server "Vail" and its SMB-focused complement, codenamed "Aurora" are likely to hit next week, as well.
On the cloud side of the house, Microsoft is expected by many to talk about a new, SMB-focused release of its BPOS Suite, which is known as "BPOS Lite" during the conference. I've also heard the Softies are ready to share more specifics at the show regarding "Project Sydney," a secure networking offering designed to connect on-premises and cloud offerings from Microsoft. Earlier this year, there were hints that we might also hear more about Microsoft's evolving OData Open Data Protocol and "Dallas" public data-set offerings at the partner show. HP and Microsoft are holding a session outlining a new Exchange Messaging System that HP will be launching in 2010 (but it's an NDA-required thing, which I stumbled onto accidentally.)
Partners with whom I've been speaking in advance of next week's conference want to know more about how their compensation will change in light of the cloud. They want to more about planned development and deployment tools they can use to help move their customers to the cloud. And they are very interested in how Microsoft intends to make cloud offerings more appealing to mid-market and small-business customers, not just enterprises with deep pockets.
Tom Chew, National Solutions Managing Director with Slalom Consulting, said his systems-integration firm has been working with BPOS for more than a year, and has secured some "sizeable" (28,000-plus seat) implementations for the suite, which encompasses Microsoft-hosted Exchange, SharePoint, Communications and Live Meeting services.
Chew said he's hoping to hear more next week about Microsoft's plans for achieving feature parity between its on-premises and hosted products. Right now, there's a gap of six to twelve months between when a feature appears in a product like Exchange 2010 or SharePoint 2010, and when it makes it into the hosted Exchange Online or SharePoint Online offerings. Chew said he's also wanting to hear more about the changing partner business model.
"Microsoft's partner model is changing a bit. Today, it's about the field driving an EA (Enterprise Agreement). They need to adjust that" to accommodate cloud products, Chew said.
Mark Crall, Vice President of Business Development with Autotask, a provider of web-based software designed to help partners sell, deploy and bill for their services, said he's interested in hearing more from Microsoft about the company's plans to make its cloud programming interfaces available to companies like Autotask.
"We need them to be open with their APIs so we can manage, monetize and build what the partners are selling," Crall said.
Crall also said he is hoping Microsoft has more to say about its plans regarding the SBSC (Small Business Specialist Community) program. Microsoft needs to make plain how it plans to include partners who specialize in selling to SMBs in its cloud strategy, he said. If they have a plan that takes into account the fact that small business resellers don't go through distribution, "Microsoft could actually get some ROI (return on investment) in this part of the market," Crall said.
Microsoft also is on tap to talk about a number of changes it has been making to its partner network, including changes in how partners qualify for different tier levels. WPC10 also will mark the official debut of Microsoft's new channel chief, Corporate Vice President Jon Roskill, who is taking the reins from Corporate Vice President Allison Watson after her 12-year stint leading Microsoft's partner organization.
I'll be covering the partner conference all week, so expect lots of posts from DC. And if you're going to the show and will still be around on Thursday July 15, I'll be doing a talk -- thanks to the urgings/interest of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) -- my "Predictions for Partners," from 1:30 to 2:30. Hope to see you there!