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WPC: With 1 Million Servers, Microsoft Claims Second-Biggest Datacenter

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest news from WPC here.

Steve Ballmer paused in Microsoft's flurry of datacenter construction to assess Microsoft's position in the race among the megavendors investing in scaled public cloud infrastructure.

Speaking at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference Monday in Houston, Ballmer provided some rare context on the size of Microsoft's server farms and how big he thinks the company's main competitors have gotten.

"We have something over a million servers in our datacenter infrastructure," said Ballmer, noting that the build-out started in support of the Bing and Office 365 services, which provided institutional knowledge that is being built into Azure server farms.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at Monday's WPC keynote. (Source: Microsoft)

Ballmer only lays claim to second place from those billions of dollars in capital expenditures that funded datacenters all over the world. "Google is bigger than we are. Amazon is a little bit smaller," he said.

The rest of the field is pretty limited -- at least at the Google-Microsoft-Amazon order of magnitude, Ballmer suggested. "You get Yahoo and Facebook, and then everybody else is 100,000 units probably or less," he said.

Like any good businessman, Ballmer then rephrased the issue to make the case that Microsoft is still No. 1 even if it's No. 2.

"The number of companies that are at the same time seriously investing in the private cloud, which is not going away, and in these hybrid clouds is really just one and that's us," he said.

More News and Analysis from WPC 2013:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 09, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

RCP/Rocket Excellence in Growth Award Winners

Earlier this year, Redmond Channel Partner magazine teamed with Revenue Rocket Consulting Group to create an award for IT services companies with unique business strategies that are resulting in sustained growth.

Today we're pleased to announce the three winners of our inaugural award: Axis Group, LLC, a business intelligence (BI) solutions provider for mid-market and Global 1000 companies; Envision LLC, a provider of custom applications development, integration services, software product and staffing services; and Intellinet Corporation, an IT Management as a Service (MaaS) company, specializing in network management, cloud innovation and information technology services.

The award recognizes the companies for their innovative business strategies that resulted in sustained growth over a three-year period, from 2010 through 2012.

The award sought applications from U.S.-based IT services firms with annual revenues between $5 and $75 million.

Stay tuned for the October issue of RCP when we'll profile the winners and tell their inspiring growth stories.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 09, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

WPC: MPN To Add Design Competency

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest news from WPC here.

In yet another sign of Microsoft's newfound commitment to aesthetics, the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) will add a competency in User Experience Design in January.

MPN competencies are badges that partners can earn to demonstrate their expertise in a given practice area. Microsoft currently has 25 competencies, each with either a silver or gold level. Achieving a competency requires a partner to employ professionals with relevant certifications, pay a joining fee, complete other training and, in some cases, make revenue commitments.

Tami Reller, Microsoft's chief marketing officer and chief financial officer for Windows, announced the User Experience Design competency during her keynote Monday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston.

Microsoft's Tami Reller speaking at Monday's WPC keynote. (Source: Microsoft)

"Apps that are better designed, they absolutely achieve better ratings in the Windows Store, and even equally as important, they are more engaging for customers, and they deliver greater monetization opportunities," Reller said. "The whole idea behind this competency is to give you the best way to train your designers and to get recognized for your expertise with the Microsoft design language and user experience for app building."

Microsoft first began gaining notice for its design work with the Windows Phone launch several years ago, and many of the design principles behind the Windows Phone UI and that platform's apps influenced the design of Windows 8.

In a blog posting about the new competency, Orlando O'Neill, product marketing manager for Windows Apps, reinforced Microsoft's current attitude toward design.

"In the past few years, we've focused on improving the user experience and design of our platforms, making them more intuitive, familiar and enjoyable to engage with. Our point of view is embodied in the Microsoft design language: we sweat the details of every pixel, we let the OS fade into the background while your ideas and content come to the fore, and we believe in presenting content and controls in a way that is authentically digital," O'Neill wrote. "We firmly believe that user experience and design are going to be the next big differentiators for Microsoft and, more importantly, for the apps and experiences that you build for your customers."

While Reller didn't say so, Microsoft has been increasingly steering incentive money through Gold Competency partners in recent years, and Microsoft's ongoing efforts to expand the number of Windows Store apps are likely to mean more MDF funds and other incentives for partners with the competency than those without.

More News and Analysis from WPC 2013:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 09, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

WPC Day 1 Twitter Highlights: Ballmer Touts Microsoft Cloud, Power BI Impresses, More

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest news from WPC here.

RCP Editor in Chief Scott Bekker is in Houston this week for Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference. He live-Tweeted all through Monday's opening keynote -- the high points are below. Stay up-to-date on all WPC-related news and impressions by following Scott at @scottbekker and bookmarking our WPC 2013 page here.

More News and Analysis from WPC 2013:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 08, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

WPC: Microsoft Rolls Out Cloud, Big Data Tech Previews

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest news from WPC here.

Microsoft's Server and Tools Business on Monday rolled out a series of technology previews and incentives aimed at making Microsoft's cloud and big data offerings more robust and easy for businesses to use.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft STB president, announced the cloud offerings during a keynote Monday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston and in a blog post.

"The technology to help our partners realize the opportunities in cloud computing and big data is here and the time to collectively help our customers embrace these mega trends is now," Nadella wrote in his blog entry.

Nadella provided details on five programs:

Power BI for Office 365 got the biggest crowd reaction at WPC, especially after an entertaining demo by Microsoft Technical Fellow Amir Netz, who pulled visual data on the comparative popularity of different music stars over the decades and breathlessly narrated the results as if it were a horse race.

Nadella described Power BI as "our new self-service business intelligence (BI) solution that combines the data analysis and visualization capabilities of Excel with the power of collaboration, scale and trusted cloud environment of Office 365."

Power BI requires an IT department or partner to prepare data sets, such as company financial data or CRM data, and place them in a Data Catalog, which is hosted in SharePoint Online. IT can configure how frequently the data is updated. Users can then import that internal data and combine it with public data prepared by Microsoft from sources such as Wikipedia.

Once they've found data from the catalog, end users can use Excel to connect data from different sources and analyze it.

Power BI also allows the creation of BI Sites, where companies can set up dedicated workspaces for business intelligence projects. Mobile apps will allow for access to those BI sites from iPads or Windows 8 devices. Another feature, called Q&A, includes a natural language query experience in which users ask questions of the data in a search box and get back answers in a table, graph or map, depending on how Power BI interprets the question.

[Click on image for larger view.] Q&A in Power BI. (Source: Microsoft)

Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group, highlighted Power BI as a huge partner opportunity. "With the launch of Power BI for Office 365, partners will be able to bring powerful BI solutions to SMBs," Roskill said.

A public preview of Power BI for Office 365 will be available later this summer. Microsoft has not released pricing for the production version, but officials say it will be a per-user, per-month model.

A Premium offer for Windows Azure SQL Database will offer dedicated capacity "for more powerful and predictable performance from Azure databases," Nadella said.

"One of the challenges with [Windows Azure] SQL is what I'll call noisy neighbors," said Eron Kelly, general manager of SQL Server Product Marketing, in an interview. "With the new premium version, we're locking down and dedicating a certain amount of capacity -- bandwidth and CPU."

The premium Platform as a Service database will debut as a preview toward the end of July. Once in production, customers will pay an additional fee per core along with the standard per-gigabyte price of SQL Azure. The per-core price will be disclosed later.

New Windows Azure Active Directory capabilities will extend AD management to third-party cloud services, making it possible for organizations to control employee accounts for cloud services used as part of their job. While Microsoft is working with some of the biggest Software as a Service vendors to integrate their services with Azure AD, the system is also extensible so ISVs and other third parties can create their own integrations.

Cloud OS Accelerate is an incentive program to encourage new private and hybrid cloud solutions for customers. A $100 million combined investment in incentives for Cloud OS Accelerate will be made by Microsoft, Cisco, NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, HP and Dell.

A Windows Intune offer will go into effect Oct. 1 for discounting Microsoft's cloud management suite. Customers who buy Windows Intune as part of the Office 365 or CAL suite will get a 30 percent discount, Microsoft officials said.

More News and Analysis from WPC 2013:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 08, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

Mattrick Throwing Microsoft Reorg into Disarray?

Don Mattrick's departure for Zynga could be delaying CEO Steve Ballmer's rumored reorganization plan for Microsoft.

All Things D's Kara Swisher in early June reported, based on anonymous sources, that Ballmer was in the midst of a major "devices and services"-themed reorganization. According to Swisher's original report and a late June update, Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, seemed slated for a major role in the executive shuffle, which Swisher reported might come as soon as July 1.

On July 1, however, Microsoft released a company memo from Ballmer about Mattrick's planned departure to become CEO of the social gaming company, which is best known for FarmVille.

Swisher's reporting had emphasized that the suspected winners in the reorganization would be Satya Nadella, president of the Microsoft Servers and Tools division; Tony Bates, president of Skype; and Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Division.

Bloomberg reporter Dina Bass moved the story forward Wednesday morning with an anonymously sourced story of her own suggesting that Ballmer was considering Mattrick to run hardware engineering, an important post in a devices and services reorganization. Now, according to Bass, that job may go to Windows engineering head Julie Larson-Green, currently a corporate vice president.

The Bloomberg report also has:

  • Tony Bates, president of the Skype division, running acquisitions and relationships with software developers and OEM partners.

  • Satya Nadella, president of the Server & Tools Business, running cloud computing and products for corporate customers.

  • Qi Lu, president of the Online Services Division, running an applications and services engineering unit covering Bing, Office and Skype engineering.

  • Tami Reller, chief marketing officer and chief financial officer for Windows, running an overall Microsoft marketing unit.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 03, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

Ballmer at Build: 'Rapid Release, Rapid Release'

Windows 8.1 is coming fast on the heels of Windows 8 -- for a Microsoft update, at least.

Microsoft released a preview of Windows 8.1 yesterday, a scant seven months after the release of Windows 8, with a final version of Windows 8.1 coming as a free upgrade from Windows 8 later this year.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, for one, wanted to make sure the 6,000 developers at Microsoft's Build show, and the 60,000 people watching Build online, took note of that speed.

"If there's not one other message that I reach you with in my opening remarks, it's about the transformation that we are going through as a company to move to an absolutely rapid-release cycle -- rapid release, rapid release," Ballmer said.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on stage at Wednesday's opening Build keynote. (Source: Microsoft)

To be sure, Windows 8.1 is not a Windows-7-to-Windows-8-scale transition, or even a Windows-Vista-to-Windows-7-class update. Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president of Windows Engineering, defined Windows 8.1 as a refinement that brings about 800 changes to the operating system. The changes, Larson-Green said, "address everything from performance, efficiency, to the look and feel and new features in the product. We designed 8.1 to feel natural [on] everything from the new mini small tablets up to large, powerful work stations." (Click here for more details on the changes in Windows 8.1.)

Even though it's not a lot of feature change on a Microsoft OS scale, it's a lot of updates for Microsoft to jam through an OS release process that used to last about three years.

It's another example of the way Apple, and then Google, have shocked Microsoft into action. Just as the iPad's near-instant-on finally scared Microsoft and its OEM partners into really prioritizing that capability, the fast cycle of iterative feature releases Apple adopted with iOS is finding its way into the Windows release cycle.

Ballmer promised attendees that the release cycle was not a one-time thing, and used the opportunity to make sure Microsoft partners understood their role in the new cycle. "We're certainly going to show you Windows 8.1 today. But you can think of that, in a sense, as the new norm for everything we do," he said. "For Windows releases, in addition to what we're doing with devices through our partners, what we're doing with Azure and Office 365, rapid-release cadence is absolutely fundamental to what we're doing and, frankly, to the way we need to mobilize our ecosystem of hardware and software development partners."

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 27, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

Microsoft Reorg Details To Come July 1?

Internal rumblings from Microsoft make it sound as if the executive shakeup that CEO Steve Ballmer is rumored to be working on will be more than the usual late-June game of musical chairs.

AllThingsD's Kara Swisher, who broke the story of the pending executive shakeup in early June, wrote an update Sunday night suggesting that the "level of worry" is growing among Microsoft executives.

"Ballmer has been making these significant plans with limited consultation with the wider leadership group at the software giant. Instead, he has been working with only a small group of his direct reports and also some Microsoft board members, numerous sources said," Swisher wrote.

She quoted one anonymous source "close to the situation" as saying the reorg has the feel of a "legacy" project for Ballmer: "It's the first time in a long time that it feels like that there will be some major shifts, including some departures."

According to Swisher, Ballmer is likely to unveil the reorg plans to top executives on July 1. In the past, Microsoft has often revealed executive changes in the last few weeks of June as the end of the company's fiscal year approached.

Ballmer reportedly is reorganizing the company around the "devices and services" meme that he broached in a shareholder letter in October. The nuance of that letter's text left Microsoft's position as a software company that produces a few hardware devices unchanged, but emphasized that the software is mostly aimed now at powering devices and increasingly enabling cloud services.

Along those lines, Swisher's reporting has emphasized that the suspected winners in the reorganization will be Satya Nadella, president of the Microsoft Servers and Tools division; Tony Bates, president of Skype; and Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Division.

A big open question since the departure of Windows President Steven Sinofsky in November is where the core Windows business would fall within a devices-and-services structure. Ballmer did little to clarify Windows' direction when he let Sinofsky's departure pass without handing the bureaucratic authority of a presidential title to another executive. Instead he split the job between Tami Reller and Julie Larson-Green.

In an interview with RCP this month, Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, declined to comment on the reorganization rumors. Roskill has been Microsoft's channel chief for three years -- a short tenure compared to his immediate predecessor Allison Watson's eight-year term, but a respectable amount of time compared to Watson's predecessors.

Meanwhile, the speaker lineup for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference keynotes July 8-10 sheds some possible light on the situation, but could obviously be changed in the wake of a reorg. Current keynoters include Ballmer, Roskill, Nadella, Reller, COO Kevin Turner and Worldwide Public Sector Corporate Vice President Laura Ipsen.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 24, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

Microsoft Offering $100 Surface RTs, $400 Surface Pros at WPC (UPDATED)

Microsoft partners attending the Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston next month will have a crack at the same cut-rate deal on Microsoft Surface that TechEd attendees got a few weeks ago -- $100 for a Surface RT and $400 for a Surface Pro.

Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, unveiled the offer Thursday on his Channel Chief blog.

"We want to make the Surface easily available to our WPC partners, who tend to be some of the most invested and innovative partners Microsoft has the pleasure of working with. In deep appreciation of our WPC partners and with much excitement for the opportunities we share in devices and services, we are excited to announce a special offer for WPC partner participants," Roskill wrote.

Roskill said that from July 7 through July 11, WPC attendees will be able to buy the Surface RT 64 GB with touch cover for $100 and the Surface Pro 128 GB standalone for $400. By comparison, the Surface RT 64 GB is currently listed in the online Microsoft Store for $500 with a free Touch Cover or Type Cover, while the Surface Pro 128 GB without a cover is currently going for $1,000.

In a nod to the OEM partners who have been unnerved by Microsoft's entry into PC hardware and who will be on hand at WPC, Roskill called their devices "incredible" and said, "In addition to this offer, attendees will be able to see and touch the latest Windows 8 devices and software at our expansive device showcase, customer immersion experience area and device sessions throughout the week."

The similar deals at TechEd in early June led to lines of up to three hours as attendees waited to buy Surfaces.

Aside from the reasons Roskill stated for offering deals on the Surfaces, including getting the devices into the hands of market influencers, Microsoft also reportedly has a new generation of Surfaces nearing launch.

UPDATE (6/24/13): In response to some questions from RCP, Microsoft provided a few additional details about the Surface offer at WPC. For one thing, we confirmed that partners who buy Surfaces at WPC won't be pre-ordering -- they'll be taking possession of them right then and there. Asked about keeping enough Surfaces in stock for a show that drew 16,000 attendees last year, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "We have enough inventory to cover all attendees at the show. Point of sales details will be available close to the conference." TechEd attendees we've talked to said that despite the three-hour lines early on, inventory for both the Pro and RT models stayed strong even as the show wound down.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 20, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

PRISM and Microsoft: What We Know So Far

It's way too early to draw conclusions about PRISM, the supposed, wide-ranging U.S. National Security Agency data collection program revealed by Edward Snowden that allegedly operates with the cooperation of major technology companies, including Microsoft. (The companies, including Microsoft, publicly and vigorously deny having voluntary or knowingly participated.)

With secret government programs, the details, and even the major structural elements, often don't come to light for decades. No matter what Microsoft partners feel about the legitimacy of the program or the reliability of the facts so far, it's hard to see the existence of the rumors about a secret U.S. government backdoor to customers' data as anything other than a stumbling block for trust in public cloud computing. The idea that the big public cloud vendors might have standing agreements with the U.S. government to share customer data runs counter to the spirit, if not the legalistic language, of any privacy policy.

Here's a brief primer on PRISM elements of interest to Microsoft partners:

PRISM is a wide-ranging U.S. National Security Agency data collection program aimed at tracking terrorists and revealed earlier this month by former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Edward Snowden via the Washington Post and the Guardian. Unveiled simultaneously with revelations about NSA access to information about call logs through the major telecoms, PRISM more directly affects the public cloud. According to the Post's article:

"The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post."

The Guardian, meanwhile, reported that Britain's equivalent of NSA, called GCHQ, is also able to tap into the servers of the nine organizations.

Special Source Operations
In one of the most explosive elements of the story for the IT industry, NSA has a special seal, or logo, for the companies whose servers are accessed. It's called "Special Source Operations," and the Post's annotation of the leaked four-slide NSA deck defines SSO as, "The NSA term for alliances with trusted U.S. companies."

Microsoft's Special Position
While the SSO badge isn't good for any of the companies' privacy credentials and Google seems the most alarmed about damage to its reputation, Microsoft has more explaining to do than the others. According to a slide in the leaked NSA deck titled, "Dates When PRISM Collection Began For Each Provider," Microsoft was the first partner recruited. According to the slide, Microsoft came aboard Sept. 11, 2007. Yahoo appears next in March 2008, followed by Google in January 2009, Facebook in June 2009, PalTalk in December 2009, YouTube in September 2010, Skype in February 2011 (before the Microsoft acquisition), AOL in March 2011 and Apple in October 2012.

Source: Washington Post

Companies Push Back
Understandably, the Internet companies have been pushing back aggressively. Microsoft was out immediately with a denial:

"We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don't participate in it."

Other companies made similar statements, and Google went further, writing an open letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller on June 11 pressing for permission to make public how many government requests it gets.

In the wake of that letter, Microsoft last week revealed how many requests it has gotten from federal, state and local governments -- between 6,000 and 7,000 requests affecting as many as 32,000 accounts.

Meanwhile, Google continues to push back the hardest of any of the companies on the story. David Drummond, senior vice president and chief legal officer at Google, participated in a Web chat Q&A at the Guardian on Wednesday.

In response to one question, Drummond wrote:

"I'm not sure I can say this more clearly: we're not in cahoots with the NSA and theirs is [sic] no government program that Google participates in that allows the kind of access that the media originally reported. Note that I say 'originally' because you'll see that many of those original sources corrected their articles after it became clear that the PRISM slides were not accurate. Now, what does happen is that we get specific requests from the government for user data. We review each of those requests and push back when the request is overly broad or doesn't follow the correct process. There is no free-for-all, no direct access, no indirect access, no back door, no drop box."

Project Chess
This week, The New York Times added a new code name to the privacy/secrecy stew with some reporting on a Skype program predating the Microsoft acquisition, called "Project Chess." As the Times explains it, based on anonymous sources, Skype began Project Chess as a secret program "to explore the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials."

The Times added: "Microsoft executives are no longer willing to affirm statements, made by Skype several years ago, that Skype calls could not be wiretapped. Frank X. Shaw, a Microsoft spokesman, declined to comment."

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 20, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

Roskill: 'We're Growing a Google Partner Program Every Week Here'

Microsoft's channel chief Jon Roskill has contended for more than two years that Microsoft and its partners are grossly underestimated when it comes to cloud computing.

Roskill's latest version of the argument is that a company with more than $1 billion in annual revenue run rates each for Office 365, Azure and Service Provider License Agreements (SPLAs) is hard to classify as anything but a cloud leader.

In an interview for RCP's July cover story previewing the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, Roskill provided an update on the size of Microsoft's Cloud Essentials program. Partners who sign up for the free Cloud Essentials get access to Internal Use Rights for seats of Office 365 and other Microsoft cloud products, as well as sales and marketing resources.

A change to Microsoft's back-end systems late last year put the sign-up option for Cloud Essentials right in the middle of the partner enrollment and re-enrollment process.

As of mid-June, Roskill said Microsoft currently has 140,000 partners signed up for Cloud Essentials.

"Our ramp rate right now is we're having weeks that are over 5,000 partners a week joining," Roskill said. "Just to put that in perspective, if you look at our competitors' partner programs, we believe that the bigger ones -- Google, Amazon, Salesforce -- their entire program is less than 5,000. We're growing a Google partner program every week here."

We'll have more of Roskill's interview in our July cover story both in print and online. Nevertheless, Roskill's comments indicate that he, CEO Steve Ballmer and COO Kevin Turner will be every bit as pugnacious as ever when their WPC keynotes roll around July 8-10.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 19, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments

Microsoft Offering Free Downloads of Technical Books

Microsoft partners looking for a little beach reading just got access to a treasure chest's worth.

Eric Ligman, formerly the Microsoft Partner Experience Lead and now a sales excellence program manager at Microsoft, this week posted links to the complete text of 64 books about Microsoft technical topics.

Ligman did this last summer, too, and says the posting led to 1 million downloads worldwide.

"As with the past collections, these eBooks are completely FREE, they are not time-bombed, there is no catch, and yes, please let your friends, family, colleagues, or anyone else that you think would benefit from these know that they are available here and to come download the ones they are interested in," Ligman wrote.

The eBook topics include Office and Office 365, SharePoint, SQL Server, System Center, Visual Studio, Web Development, Windows, Windows Azure and Windows Server.

Links to the free eBooks are available here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 18, 2013 at 11:58 AM0 comments