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A Short Manual for Channel Chiefs from a Former Microsoft Exec

Being a channel chief at an IT company is a tough job with a lot of moving parts, but now there's a manual.

Ross Brown, a former senior Microsoft channel executive, wrote a blog entry this week called "The 6 Roles of a Channel Chief," which presents a nice breakdown of the many varied duties of a channel chief.

Brown is a senior principle at the Spur Group. Previously, he was vice president of worldwide partner strategy at Microsoft, and held senior channel roles during both Allison Watson's and Jon Roskill's tenures as channel chief at Microsoft. Brown has also held senior management roles at Citrix, IBM and eEye Digital Security.

"The scope of the channel chief is more akin to being the CEO of Partners than a divisional leader. Your domain crosses into many of your peers' realms and the role requires skills that may be beyond the capability of any one leader," Brown wrote.

Brown's definition of the six roles are a sales leader, a marketing leader, an operational leader, a leader in product strategy, a risk minimizer and an advocate for partners.

He makes especially salient points in the product strategy section: "Good technology is the ante for the channel business to start and being an active voice on product direction and strategy is a core role for a channel chief. The reason behind this is that you represent a critical voice into the product equation -- features that customers may not value may be valued highly by partners, and you represent that partner perspective."

I'm less persuaded by his view that a partner program should be run like a P&L -- with internal use rights and other benefits balanced against program fees. It seems like that approach takes too narrow a view of the channel as part of a program rather than as a sales multiplier. But this is a minor complaint about a great overview.

By collecting all these threads of the channel chief's job, Brown also illustrates, without directly saying so, how critical it is that a channel chief have regular access to and the complete confidence of a vendor's CEO.

It's well worth a read for anyone who likes to know how tech management thinks, or should be thinking, about the channel. I hope Brown keeps up his blog. Read previous coverage of Brown's channel insights here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 10, 2014 at 10:28 AM0 comments

Get Back Up to Speed on MPN Prices

A quick heads up that we've refreshed one of the most popular reader resources on RCPmag.com -- the MPN cost breakdown.

We've maintained this outline of the Microsoft Partner Network's basic cost levels since 2011, updating it occasionally when there are major changes.

The idea is to help you stay abreast of how the return on investment you're getting from your Microsoft partnership compares what you might get at another level of the program.

This latest update includes the new (higher) prices for the Microsoft Action Pack and the end of the promotional pricing on the Small Business silver competency. The update also takes away the entries for Cloud Essentials and Cloud Accelerate. The free Cloud Essentials program is being discontinued as Microsoft integrates cloud licenses into the Action Pack and competencies. Cloud Accelerate, meanwhile, has morphed into more of a sales incentive program, with IUR cloud seats and core benefits now coming exclusively from the Action Pack or competencies.

Get back up to speed at "Microsoft Partner Network Cost: How Much To Join the MPN?"

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 09, 2014 at 12:29 PM0 comments

HP, Microsoft Roll Out Joint Flex Bundles for SMB

HP and Microsoft are circling their Frontline Partnership back to the SMB.

The 30-year partnership between the companies ebbs and flows in focus among SMB customers, enterprise customers and technology alliance work.

Last week at the HP Global Partner Conference, a minor announcement about something called "HP SMB Flex-Bundles engineered for Microsoft workloads" signaled that VARs and resellers focused on SMBs are getting some attention again.

"This is the first attempt in many years to go to the SMB market together. We've been focused, as an alliance, in upper midmarket and enterprise," said Stuart Kalman, director of the Microsoft Alliance for the HP Enterprise Group, in an interview this week.

Peter Davidson, senior director of worldwide distribution at Microsoft, said in the same interview that both companies view SMB as a big opportunity right now. "There is a tremendous amount of growth in SMB, and we want to capture it," Davidson said. "In the past, vendors have just looked at SMBs as buying ad hoc products. Now, they need solutions; they need to be global; they need to be able to enter markets more agilely. They're looking at mobile; they're looking at cloud. They're increasingly more tech-savvy. We're acknowledging that."

To meet SMB needs, HP and Microsoft created flexible bundles organized around a few themes. The first three bundles actually rolled out in late January:

  • Virtualization, which includes HP servers and storage with Windows Server software.
  • A "My First Server" bundle, with lower-end server hardware and Windows Server 2012 software.
  • A Microsoft Exchange bundle that comes in three different flavors based on the number of users (generally, HP and Microsoft are defining SMB as up to 1,000 users).

Kalman said HP and Microsoft will roll out two more bundles, one based on SQL Server and one built around Microsoft Lync, in the next quarter. He also characterizes the Flex-Bundles program as an ongoing, iterative process with more bundles to come.

One twist in this latest bundle approach is flexibility, Kalman said. "There's really an opportunity for the customer to be able to purchase a set of hardware solutions as part of this bundle that is not as rigid as [some previous bundles were]," he said. "Today we're saying, here's the bundle as we recommend it, but if your customer needs something unique, and almost all customers do, they can do that within some parameters."

No particular membership will be required for VARs or resellers in the HP PartnerOne program or the Microsoft Partner Network to use the architecture. "We are using our distributors as the aggregators. I would say there's probably an 80-90 percent overlap between the distributors Microsoft and HP have," Davidson said. "The distributors also play a very important role in activating and engaging the resellers."

In addition to materials that distributors are developing on the HP SMB Flex-Bundles, Kalman said HP and Microsoft jointly invested in marketing battlecards and presentations, with some computer-based partner training still on the way. "This is more than just a set of SKUs being put out to distributors," Kalman said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 03, 2014 at 10:59 AM0 comments

Windows XP Users 'Sleep Walking' into Minefield

With about a week to go until Microsoft kicks Windows XP off of extended support, one of the major OS share tracking firms says users are "sleep walking" toward the April 8 deadline and its associated security problems.

"Despite the stark warnings and publicity surrounding the end of support in six days' time, it appears that significant numbers of people are still using XP and sleep walking into a potential minefield of security and virus risks," said Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter, in a statement Wednesday.

[Click on image for larger view.] Source: StatCounter

According to StatCounter, Windows XP is still being used on the Internet by 18.6 percent of computers as of the end of March. That puts it second behind Windows 7 (54.7 percent) and ahead of Mac OS X (8.6 percent).

The situation is only slightly better in the United States, where Windows XP is in third place at 15 percent share, and the U.K., where it's also in third place with 8.4 percent share.

Source: NetApplications.com

Another share tracking outfit, NetApplications.com, finally showed some movement away from Windows XP throughout March. After a three-month plateau in which Windows XP lingered at around 29 percent share worldwide, the OS shed about a point-and-a-half of share to end March at 27.69 percent.

Windows 7, rather than Windows 8/8.1 or Mac OS, appeared to be the beneficiary of the Windows XP drop, according to the NetApplications.com data.


Posted by Scott Bekker on April 02, 2014 at 11:26 AM0 comments

Microsoft Partners See Opportunity in Office for iPad

Several Microsoft partners with substantial Office 365 practices greeted the long-rumored arrival of Office for iPad with enthusiasm.

"We're definitely very excited about Office for iPad," said Pete Zarras, president of Cloud Strategies. "It should be pretty good for Microsoft and Apple and even better for customers."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and other Microsoft executives rolled out Office for iPad in a news conference late last week that also included a new offering called the Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS). Office for iPad consists of three different apps for download from Apple's iPad marketplace -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint. All three are free to download for document viewing and presentations, but file creation and other features require an Office 365 subscription to unlock.

Those three apps, plus Microsoft OneNote, quickly commanded the first four positions in the "top free app" chart in the Apple store, and Word and Excel also held high positions among the top-grossing apps, suggesting many customers were converting to subscriptions from within the Apple store.

For Zarras, the iPad availability improves the story behind the Office 365 subscriptions that he already sells to customers.

"I think it really ensures the value proposition of five copies of Office per Office 365 user. When you say one of those can be on your iPad, too, that's the instant translation," he said.

As for the arguments from Apple proponents that Cupertino and third parties have apps that offer sufficient productivity, making Microsoft's offering too little too late, Zarras doesn't find them compelling. "Given the alternative to go to the source or go to a wannabe, now that the source is available to them, I think they're going to be excited to have it."

Matt Scherocman, president of Interlink Cloud Advisors, is enthusiastic about the message iPad support sends about Microsoft's cross-platform commitment.

"You're taking the cross-platform veto away. Some CEOs don't want to buy Office 365 because they've already got iPads," Scherocman said. While he's been showing naysayers that they can run Office through different iPad workarounds for a while, he expects the native touch client to make a difference. "Today, it's more efficient than it was."

Having Word, Excel and PowerPoint in the mix also bolsters the case Scherocman has been making to clients about Microsoft's impressive roster of cross-platform mobile apps, including OneNote, OWA, Office Mobile, OneDrive for Business, OneDrive for Consumer, Lync, an Office 365 admin console, RDP, Xbox SmartGlass, Bing and Yammer.

To Ric Opal, vice president at Peters & Associates, the Office for iPad announcement wasn't even the biggest news of the day, as far as his company is concerned: "Office for iPad is whip cream on the sundae."

What really grabbed Opal's attention was EMS, which includes Windows Intune, Azure Active Directory Premium and Azure Rights Management Services. Azure AD Premium provides cloud-based identity and access management with single sign-on to many third-party tools and services, while Intune was expanded to support the Samsung KNOX platform and Remote to My PC capability for Android and iOS devices. (While Office for iPad was available immediately, EMS won't be available through Microsoft volume licensing channels until May 1.)

"The bundling and the pricing is going to be attractive to the enterprise" in a way that will be strategic for Microsoft and its partners, Opal said.

Opal views EMS through the lens of the big battle right now over where enterprise customers park their cloud assets. "If I'm a corporate account, I'm making a decision to keep infrastructure local, to do some hybrid implementation or to throw it all up in the cloud. Microsoft wants that to be in Azure. Customer choices are also co-lo, Rackspace, Amazon, [etc.]," Opal said. "If I were going to use Azure AD Premium, that basically says my directories are married to Azure. If I'm going to trust my directory to Azure, then why wouldn't I take that next step and put some databases up in SQL Azure? If I can get the customer to buy EMS, that puts customers on the bridge to the Microsoft cloud."

Opal expects EMS to help "pretty significantly" with a number of current head-to-head opportunities that Peters & Associates has against Google.

Meanwhile, with the iPad announcements ending up both being broader than expected and having immediate, rather than future, deliverables, Opal finds himself excited about Microsoft's upcoming slate of industry conferences.

"Based on the cadence that we've experienced, I'm looking forward to Build, Tech-Ed and [the Worldwide Partner Conference]," he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 31, 2014 at 1:48 PM0 comments

With Intercloud, Cisco Ends Role as 'Arms Dealer'

When it comes to cloud, Cisco just shifted from acting as an "arms dealer" to becoming a cloud services provider in its own right, according to analysts at Technology Business Research (TBR).

My colleague Jeffrey Schwartz covered Cisco's announcement earlier this week at the networking giant's Las Vegas partner conference. Here's how Jeff described the news:

The company [Monday] said it will invest $1 billion over the next two years to offer what it argues will be the world's largest cloud. But rather than trying to beat Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Rackspace, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Salesforce.com, VMware and other major providers that offer public cloud services, Cisco said it will "join" them together, figuratively.

Cisco said it will endeavor to build its so-called "Intercloud" --  or cloud of clouds -- aimed at letting enterprise customers move workloads between private, hybrid and public cloud services.

Cisco's expanded cloud strategy, revealed at this week's Cisco Partner Summit. (Source: Cisco)

In an analysis Thursday, TBR's Michael Sullivan-Trainor and Scott Dennehy characterized the announcement as a notable change for Cisco:

The move is a significant departure from the company's previous strategy of being just a cloud "arms dealer" (i.e., providing the infrastructure elements to service providers and enterprises that enable public and private clouds).

Changing positions in the cloud world holds some significant risks for Cisco, according to the TBR analysts:

TBR believes the new cloud strategy will negatively impact Cisco's hardware sales, particularly in the service provider segment, as customers will be able to leverage Cisco's application-centric, network-aware services without buying routing and switching infrastructure for their cloud environments. ... the move will place Cisco into competition with other key partners, such as IBM, as well as customers like Verizon that sell public cloud services using their own infrastructure. ... TBR believes Cisco will face challenges executing its new cloud strategy, as the focus on applications and services does not play to the company's core strengths in hardware.

For all those challenges, the TBR analysts say they expect Cisco to "quickly establish itself as a key player" by investing in additional partnerships and tuck-in acquisitions.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 27, 2014 at 1:42 PM0 comments

HP PartnerOne Adapting for a 'New Style of IT'

Hewlett-Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman is calling for a change in the way HP and its partners relate.

"The New Style of IT requires a new style of partnering," Whitman said in a statement this week from the HP Global Partner Conference in Las Vegas. "Together HP and our partners have become the go-to technology provider for the New Style of IT with industry-leading technology solutions, programs and incentives that help partners drive growth."

What does the new style of IT mean to Whitman?

During her keynote, Whitman delineated four major trends undergirding the "new style" -- cloud, security, big data and mobility. She also noted the shift in the way technology is consumed, paid for and delivered, and changes in how infrastructure is built, apps are written and data is consumed.

She implied that the sheer volume of content and data being created through social media and ubiquitous cameras puts legacy datacenter approaches on a path that isn't sustainable in terms of space, energy or cost.

Whitman said HP is looking for partners to help customers achieve IT goals, including lower costs, greater agility, simplicity and speed.

"HP, with our partners, is the only company with the breadth and depth of innovative products and services to help customers succeed in this new reality," Whitman said. "With HP as your partner, you will have the broadest array of channel-optimized products and programs suited for technology refreshes, upsell and cross-sell opportunities."

Down where executive strategy meets channel engagements, Whitman's themes translate to several changes coming to the HP PartnerOne program this year. The changes broaden the types of companies who can become part of the formal HP PartnerOne program and bring cloud more formally into the partner program.

The expanded channel company types eligible for PartnerOne will soon include service providers, systems integrators, OEM integrators, ISVs and distributors.

On the cloud side, HP is launching HP PartnerOne for Cloud, aimed at partners who can help customers build hybrid cloud solutions that bring together private, public and managed cloud deployments. HP joins other major vendors, including Microsoft, IBM, Amazon and Google, in trying to build hybrid capacity in the channel. (See this feature from the April issue of RCP for a roundup.)

HP is also adding what it calls the HP PartnerOne Cloud Reseller Specialization. The label will supports partners who resell HP Public Cloud, HP Managed CloudSystem Matrix and cloud services from HP PartnerOne Service Providers.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 27, 2014 at 12:02 PM0 comments

No, Touch Office for iPad Isn't Slapping Surface in the Face

In a week, Microsoft is going to release Office for iPad. Or it won't. It's rumor at this point.

One of the themes for now, however, is the "controversy" that Microsoft would be releasing a touch-first iPad version of Office before releasing a touch-first version of Office for the Surface.

The argument goes that Microsoft is somehow throwing Surface under the bus by prioritizing iPad for Office.

This is a clear case of missing the forest for the trees. One of the core design goals of the Surface RT and Surface 2 was to make them work with Office. With Surface, you got full-featured versions -- better than any touch-optimization workaround for the productivity challenges of a tablet. Office is the whole reason the somewhat kludgey desktop appears at all in the RT version of Windows 8. And the whole Surface device, with its click-in keyboard, was built, basically, to be a tablet that runs Office extremely well.

Could Microsoft make a more touch-optimized version of Office for Surface eventually that improves the experience? Sure, but it's silly to say the company is prioritizing the iPad in any way on that.

Now, what's the long-term differentiator for Surface if iPad has Office, too?

Well, that's a much tougher question. But I'm still not sure that much is changed for Surface if Microsoft finally starts grasping for the Office-on-iPad revenues that it's been leaving on the table all these years. Surface is already decidedly not setting the world afire with sales. The strategy of keeping Office exclusive demonstrably did not work, and that's been clear since long before this iPad decision.

What Microsoft is left with is what it claimed to want for Surface all along: a hybrid tablet that serves as a reference design for OEM partners and a tablet for people for whom productivity is as important as entertainment.

For Microsoft partners, meanwhile, Office on iPad would be nothing but a win. Being able to extend their Office-based solutions to the growing legions of corporate iPad users is all good for the Microsoft channel.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 20, 2014 at 10:21 AM0 comments

Microsoft Releases Details of Massive Hosting Survey

As part of the Microsoft Hosting Summit, Microsoft released a wealth of detail from a massive customer survey it commissioned about cloud and hosting adoption trends.

The global survey, "Hosting and Cloud Go Mainstream," by 451 Research drew responses from more than 2,000 companies and organizations of all sizes from 11 countries, with more than a third of respondents coming from the United States.

I'm still going through the 75-slide deck, and I'll be talking to Marco Limena, vice president of hosting service providers at Microsoft, on Thursday about the results. But a few data points jumped out already:

  • Cloud is taking off. Asked "Which of the following best describes your organization's adoption of cloud computing models?" only 1 percent said they weren't even looking at cloud. Of the rest, 27 percent were in discovery and evaluation, 27 percent were in running trials/pilot projects, 29 percent were engaged in initial implementations of production apps, and 16 percent reported broad implementation of production apps.

    Tackling the same theme with a different question, 451 Research asked, "What is your organization's goal for the proportion of applications or resources that will be part of a cloud computing environment in two years?" The average of responses was 39 percent.

  • SaaS leads the way in cloud services. Asked which type of cloud and hosting service they were using, a whopping 71 percent said Software as a Service (SaaS), followed closely by hosted infrastructure services at 69 percent. Other types followed at a greater distance -- outsourcing services stood at 43 percent, Platform as a Service (PaaS) was at 37 percent, and colocation services were at 27 percent.

  • Best practices are pretty consistent. The researchers fished for organizations' emerging best practices around cloud computing projects and got remarkably similar answers across regions and organizational sizes. As an example, the top five best practices for North America in descending order were: "Have a well-defined architecture for security," "Understand who the end users are," "Train users to be cautious with access and security," "Have a well-defined architecture for performance" and "Start with projects that are non-disruptive to end-users."

    There were, of course, some differences. Enterprise organizations with more than 500 users rated the performance architecture higher and advocated a phased approach with pilot testing. SMBs of fewer than 100 companies, on the other hand, recommended "Have an 'undo' plan to make it easy to move off the provider."

  • A puzzling result on PRISM. The survey also included a head-scratcher about PRISM, the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance program defined in the survey as giving the U.S. government access to metadata and content from public cloud providers such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo. Overall, 53 percent of respondents were aware of PRISM, with higher awareness in North America and among organizations with more than 500 employees and lower awareness in Asia and South America.

    The puzzler is a question assessing the impact of PRISM revelations on customers' perceptions of cloud computing. The largest group, 39 percent, reported a positive impact on their perception of cloud computing (31 percent had a negative impact and 30 percent were in a "no impact" category). It would be interesting to hear the thinking behind answers by respondents who had a more positive view of cloud computing based on hearing that the NSA is accessing the data of major cloud providers.

Microsoft is sharing a lot of 451 Research data here with a lot of information about customer psychology regarding cloud, hosting and buying decisions. Surveys like this are one of those services for partners that Microsoft, because of its scale, can provide that few smaller partners can match. Dig into the results yourself here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 19, 2014 at 1:00 PM0 comments

OneNote Released for Mac, Free Version Announced for Windows

Microsoft unleashed three major enhancements to OneNote on Monday, most of which are aimed at making the synchronized note-taking platform easier and free to use from more device types.

OneNote for Mac made its debut Monday. While OneNote was originally available as a desktop application for Windows PCs and came with several Office bundles, it never made its way to the Office for Mac side. 

The Mac version brings OneNote to multiple platforms, including Windows desktops, Windows tablets (an RT version), Windows Phones, iPhones, iPads, Android phones and the Web. Data created on any of the devices is stored in a Microsoft account with 7 GB of capacity and can be accessed from any of a user's other supported devices.

Unlike the original full-featured PC version, OneNote for Mac is a free application. Also, Microsoft released a free version of OneNote for Windows desktops. Microsoft is now taking a two-tier approach with free versions available for every supported platform and paid upgrade options available for some platforms.

Previously, regular Windows desktop users were the only ones who had to pay to use a OneNote application, but all other users had access to a slightly less functional free app. Now premium features, such as SharePoint support, version history and Outlook integration, will be available to paid customers based on features, not necessarily on platform. The move wipes out a disincentive to Windows PC users for taking advantage of the baseline functionality of the OneNote platform.

[Click on image for larger view.] Image: Microsoft

In the blog post detailing the changes, David Rasmussen, partner group manager for OneNote, also announced the availability of a cloud API for the OneNote service. An initial wave of production-ready examples of new Microsoft products taking advantage of the cloud API include a OneNote Clipper that save Web pages to OneNote, me@onenote.com for e-mailing notes to OneNote and a Windows Phone app called Office Lens that captures documents and whiteboards.

New third-party support for OneNote includes news feeds from Feedly, News360 and Weave; document scanning from Brother, Doxie Go, Epson and Neat; Livescribe for writing notes with pen and paper; mobile document scanning from Genius Scan and JotNot; and Mod Notebooks for scanning physical notebooks.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 17, 2014 at 12:31 PM0 comments

Where We Stand on Windows XP: Market Share Check

With a month to go to the April 8 support deadline, is Windows XP fading away or hanging on? Depends whose data you look at.

Net Applications reported its data this week, and it shows that through February, Windows XP not only stuck around but gained a little share for the second month in a row. According to Net Applications, Windows XP went from 28.98 percent share of desktop operating systems worldwide in December up to 29.3 percent in January and then 29.53 percent in February. The figures show Windows XP dropping in a stair-step pattern from the high 30 percent range through July, then settling around 31 percent in September and October before dropping into the 29 percent range, where it's stayed the last three months. Despite the impending deadline, there's no evidence of a precipitous drop due to late movers.

Another market research firm shows a different trend, with Windows XP steadily falling away. StatCounter has shown Windows XP's global share to be much lower over the course of the last year -- starting out last February at only 25 percent and dropping relatively smoothly to 18.6 percent for February 2014.

Domestically, StatCounter puts Windows XP's usage share even lower. The OS had a weird trough where it dropped from February 2013 to April 2013 then started climbing again. But since reaching nearly 16 percent share in September, StatCounter has shown XP's usage share falling rapidly to 10.93 percent in February 2014.

Both track browser information, although StatCounter uses pageviews while Net Applications uses unique visitors, among other differences in their approaches.

It's hard to say what's accounting for the difference, but one other metric tracked by Net Applications hints at an interesting possibility.

Net Applications also tracks browsing by device type and the last few months have seen a strong gain in the "mobile + tablet" browsing category at the expense of desktop browsing.

Could we be looking at Windows XP users continuing to access the Web at similar rates as in the past, while adopters of newer operating systems are increasingly browsing with tablets and smartphones? Could that give Windows XP an apparent bump in desktop share even as the old OS' share is actually dropping?

Either way, it's a difficult situation for Microsoft. One possibility is that Windows XP share isn't falling, in which case Microsoft faces stark choices about its responsibility for the security of the entire Internet, not just customers who don't upgrade, as the pool of Windows XP machines becomes an unprotected haven for botnets and other malware. The other possibility is that mobile browsing, in which Microsoft is still not a significant player, is really taking off.

For more on Windows XP's support deadline, go here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 06, 2014 at 11:00 AM0 comments

Convergence: Dynamics Customer Breakdown

As part of Microsoft Convergence this week in Atlanta, Anya Ciecierski of the ERP Software Blog asked a Microsoft spokesperson for an update on the number of Dynamics customers worldwide by product.

According to the blog, it's a NAV world when it comes to Microsoft's customer base.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV accounts for 102,000 companies, followed by Dynamics GP at 47,000, Dynamics Retail Management System at 45,000, Dynamics CRM at 40,000, Dynamics AX at 19,000, and Dynamics SL at 13,500.

Of those, Dynamics GP is growing the fastest, followed closely by Dynamics NAV, while Dynamics SL is stagnant. Ciecierski's blog has more detail and analysis here.

For more Convergence coverage, check out Gladys Rama's keynote roundup here.


Posted by Scott Bekker on March 05, 2014 at 11:38 AM0 comments