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Best Buy Sells MSP mindSHIFT to Ricoh

One of the largest managed services providers in the United States, mindSHIFT Technologies Inc., has passed hands again.

Ricoh, the Tokyo-based office equipment, printer and document management giant, on Tuesday announced an agreement to purchase mindSHIFT from Best Buy Co Inc. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed; Best Buy paid $167 million to buy mindSHIFT exactly two years ago. 

For Ricoh, the move marks an expansion of the company's services efforts. MindSHIFT brings 650 employees and 6,900 SMB clients to Ricoh.

"With the addition of these highly skilled engineering and customer-facing resources to our existing services organization, Ricoh can now offer a greatly enhanced range of services for its customers," said Martin Brodigan, chairman and CEO of Ricoh Americas Corporation, in a statement.

For Best Buy, the move represents a divestiture of efforts to provide services in addition to equipment to small businesses. The company retains Geek Squad, which it acquired in 2002, but has scaled back on a Best Buy for Business effort from the mid-2000s that was originally an aggressive move into the SMB market.

During Best Buy's period of ownership, mindSHIFT increased its client base by about 28 percent and its headcount by about 30 percent.

Meanwhile, as Best Buy did, Ricoh plans to leave mindSHIFT to operate with its current name, management team and offices. Those locations include Austin; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Long Island; Minneapolis; Morrisville, N.C.; New York City; Philadelphia; San Antonio; and Washington, D.C.

The deal is expected to close in February.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 21, 2014 at 5:17 PM0 comments


HP Pushes Windows 7 for Home PCs, Microsoft's Buttons

One of Microsoft's biggest OEM partners has gone off the reservation when it comes to marketing Windows PCs to end users.

At least since this weekend, Hewlett-Packard has been pitching Windows 7, rather than Microsoft's officially encouraged Windows 8, to end users. 

HP's main U.S. homepage features a promotion of Windows 7-based PCs with the headline, "Back by popular demand."

"Customize a new HP PC with Windows 7 and save up to $150 instantly," the HP promotion continues. Clicking the "Tell me more" button brings up an HP Home & Home Office Store site with five systems listed. The systems and their starting prices are an HP Pavilion 500-205t Desktop PC for $480, an HP ENVY 700-215xt Desktop PC for $700, an HP Pavilion 15t-n200 Notebook PC for $600, an HP ENVY 15t-j100 Quad Edition Notebook PC for $780 and an HP ENVY Phoenix 810-135qe Desktop PC for $1,000.

For corporate customers, Microsoft and PC manufacturers for years have offered the option of "downgrade rights" -- loading the previous operating system on new systems years after the current OS has come out. The move is a nod to corporate IT's need for control, consistency and extra security. (And partners RCP talks to report that a vanishingly small proportion of enterprise customers migrating desktops from Windows XP are going to Windows 8, with the vast majority moving to Windows 7.)

However, this downgrade trick is less known by consumers. Microsoft regularly creates momentum for new versions of Windows by forcing all end users who buy systems on their own to take the newest code.

Yet lately, drops in PC sales are leaving Microsoft with much less power to dictate terms to OEMs. Meanwhile, home users, especially those trying to use Windows 8 on non-touch systems, have demonstrated a lukewarm reaction to Windows 8's tile-based interface.

The phrasing of HP's promotion alone is something of an insult to Windows 8, implying that the public wants Windows 7 back. Rather than being offended, Microsoft will presumably be grateful if HP's promotion drives any new Windows-based sales.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 21, 2014 at 11:54 AM0 comments


What the Windows Phone Subsidies Flap Tells Us

Back when Microsoft bought Nokia's device business in September, Steve Ballmer suggested that he thought other device manufacturers would come out with more, rather than fewer, Windows Phones in the future.

At the time, it struck me as delusional. Nokia was already producing between 80 percent and 90 percent of Windows Phones and the figure seemed likely to run up to 100 percent now that Microsoft had brought that manufacturing in-house. After all, who would want to compete with the Microsoft/Nokia integration on a platform that's struggled to get to the No. 3 position, anyway? 

A new report suggests a mechanism for bringing Ballmer's wish to fruition -- big payments to other device manufacturers.

Russian wireless industry blogger Eldar Murtazin on Wednesday reported in Twitter posts that Microsoft had several support payments going out this year to major manufacturers to produce at least one Windows Phone device each. According to Murtazin's Tweet, the payments were $1.2 billion for Samsung, $500 million to Sony, $600 million to Huawei and $300 million to others -- for a total of $2.6 billion.

Top Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw ridiculed Murtazin's unsourced report with a Tweet of his own that is a study in non-denial denial. Shaw wrote:

While Shaw is throwing cold water on the specific numbers, he sort of confirms the co-marketing and it's as possible that the numbers are off on the low side as that they are off on the high side. (It's even plausible that Shaw's Tweet is simply designed to sow doubt among the handset partners about how much Microsoft is paying each of them.)

In any event, it would have been less delusional for Ballmer to think partners would develop phones for his platform if he knew he was going to be throwing a lot of money at them after the Nokia buy.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's devices bet gets more entrenched as the CEO succession saga drags on.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 16, 2014 at 1:29 PM0 comments


StorageCraft Releases New Exchange Backup Tools

Draper, Utah-based StorageCraft Technology Corp. this week released a pair of recovery tools for managed service providers (MSPs) who have responsibility for Microsoft Exchange Servers.

One of the tools, StorageCraft Granular Recovery for Exchange, is a new product for StorageCraft. The tool allows for quick recovery, search and migration of Exchange Server files, including mailboxes, e-mails, appointments, contacts, tasks and notes. While that function set isn't new for StorageCraft, the tool's differentiator in the product line is that it works with non-StorageCraft backup and recovery software. 

The other new tool is an upgrade of StorageCraft ShadowProtect Granular Recovery for Exchange to version 8. That tool does require other ShadowProtect-based backup and recovery products to allow for file recovery.

Both of the new products include support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2013.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 16, 2014 at 12:47 PM0 comments


Gartner: Android Shipments To Hit 1 Billion in 2014; Still Room for Windows?

In the year 2014, according to analysts at Gartner, the tech world can look forward to Android devices passing 1 billion units shipped in a year -- the first time any platform has reached that kind of volume.

Yet despite Android bounding by 74 percent in unit shipments from 2012 to 2013 and Apple climbing 25 percent in that same period as Windows fell by 5 percent, Gartner seems to see reasons for optimism about Microsoft's future. 

Gartner released its overall shipment projections for different device types and operating system platforms on Tuesday. The release marked a change in the way Gartner has reported the figures, or at least in the way it reveals them broadly. In the past, Gartner discussed PC shipments, smartphone shipments and tablet shipments separately. This year, the market research firm tallied total shipments for an OS brand as one value. For example, Windows PC, Windows tablet and Windows Phone shipments all count together in one lump sum for Windows shipments.*

Android shipped an estimated 878 million units in 2013, and Gartner expects the platform to hit 1.1 billion units in 2014.

Windows was second in total shipments for 2013 at 328 million units, with a 10 percent increase forecast for 2014 to 360 million units. The numbers for Apple's iOS and Mac OS platforms are 267 million units in 2013 and 344 million units in 2014.

By Gartner's calculations, most of the headroom in the mobile phone market, where Android has been wildly successful, appears to be occupied. Gartner projects growth of only 5 percent and 4 percent for that market overall in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

While traditional desktop PCs and notebook PCs fell by 12 percent in 2013 and will keep falling in 2014 and 2015, although somewhat more slowly, Gartner expects the fastest growth of any category over the next two years to come from tablets, hybrids and clamshells.

The Gartner estimates seem to be building on an assumption that the hybrid and clamshell category, with their productivity focus, will be an area of special strength for Microsoft.

* Unlike for Windows and iOS/Mac OS, Gartner reported figures for Google Chrome separately from Google's Android environment. That's a good thing since the progress of the Chrome platform is a hot topic and the new numbers show a fast-growing category, although from a long way back that would have disappeared as less than a rounding error in Android's overall volume. Chrome devices exploded by 895 percent from 185,000 units in 2012 to 1.8 million units in 2013. Gartner anticipates 160 percent growth in 2014 to nearly 4.8 million units and 67 percent growth in 2015 to 8 million units.

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 08, 2014 at 4:44 PM0 comments


MSP Vendor Continuum 'Leans Forward' with Datacenter Investment

Continuum this week unveiled a multimillion-dollar investment in upgrading its datacenter capacity to position the company for unspecified future offerings for its managed service provider (MSP) partners, according to the company's CEO.

"This was a pretty substantial investment that has to do with the underlying infrastructure of our fundamental platform," said Michael George, CEO of Continuum, in a telephone interview. Continuum's core products for its 3,300 MSPs are the Continuum RMM and Continuum Vault, which are backup and disaster recovery services built around an appliance manufactured by Datto.

The Software as a Service (SaaS) nature of Continuum's offerings is a key product differentiator, making its datacenter infrastructure mission-critical. 

George stressed that the move from a West Coast service provider to new facilities at the Markley Group datacenter near Continuum's headquarters in downtown Boston was driven by aggressive growth plans, not by dissatisfaction with previous facilities.

Continuum had kept the previous facility up to date with equipment refreshes and always maintained capacity at 15 percent to 20 percent beyond current demand, George said. The previous facility, he added, "was substantial and significant enough to run our business today, but it wasn't where we're leaning for the future. This is really about the next level."

When Rob Autor joined Continuum a year ago as senior vice president of Global Services Delivery, a major part of his charter was to arrange the company's next-generation datacenter, George said.

Markley Group describes its 920,000 square-foot facility at 1 Summer Street as the largest datacenter and mission-critical telecommunications facility in New England, and calls itself the only "carrier hotel" in the region with connectivity to more than 75 domestic and international network providers and a robust power grid. Among its tenants, Markley counts AT&T, NTT, British Telecom, Tata Communications, the Boston Red Sox, Harvard, MIT, the Boston Internet Peering Exchange (BOSIX) and The New York Times.

"This is one of maybe eight or 10, at most, facilities of its kind in the country," George said. Continuum's move to such high-quality facilities was made possible by its backing from Summit Partners, the investment partnership that funded the company's creation in September 2011 as an RMM spinoff from Zenith Infotech.

"This is by great magnitude considerably more significant than anything any of our competitors have," George said. "They just don't have the wherewithal to lean ahead three years and make an investment on behalf of their customers."

In 2011, Continuum's backing by a growth equity firm that now has raised more than $15 billion in assets gave it an unusual position in the MSP market. As the company prepares to expand its services for MSPs with the new datacenter capacity and a previously announced revamped network operations center in Mumbai, India, the company is facing a competitive field with more formidable financial resources than the founder-led competitors of the time. N-Able Technologies, Level Platforms Inc. and Kaseya all sport new owners or financial backing in 2013. With funding from Insight Venture Partners, Kaseya has expanded into three new business areas through rapid-fire acquisitions. N-Able was bought for $120 million by Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds in May and Level Platforms went to Czech Republic-based AVG Technologies in June.

George suggested that the "propwash" that every company, his included, goes through with a change in ownership, and Continuum's ongoing investments make his company a strong bet for MSPs in 2014.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 19, 2013 at 11:10 AM0 comments


Kaseya Launches BYOD Solution

Five months after acquiring Rover Apps, Kaseya has released a rebranded version of Rover's bring-your-own-device (BYOD) management technology for Kaseya's managed service provider and enterprise IT customers.

Kaseya bought Rover Apps in a burst of acquisition activity this summer. Insight Venture Partners announced a significant investment in Kaseya on June 24, bringing in new CEO Yogesh Gupta. A few weeks later on July 9, Kaseya acquired cloud and network monitoring solution vendor Zyrion Inc., with the Rover Apps acquisition coming July 16. 

In an interview, Kaseya Chief Marketing Officer Loren Jarrett said those acquisitions, along with the Oct. 24 purchase of Office 365 Command, all fit with Gupta's vision for Kaseya. "What Kaseya does is we manage across everything that an IT department may be grappling with," Jarrett said.

The conversion of the Rover Apps BYOD solution addresses a relatively recent major requirement -- handling personal devices that employees need to use with corporate data.

"It's a challenge because employees don't want heavy-handed corporate management over their device. They don't want the corporation to be able to see what they're doing, read their data or control their device at all," she said. "At the same time, IT needs very strict controls over corporate data. They need to have the highest levels of security around corporate data and assets."

Kaseya rebranded and integrated the licensing of the Rover Apps technology as the Kaseya BYOD Suite. Unlike many mobile device management solutions, which require corporate control of an entire smartphone or tablet, the Kaseya BYOD solution relies on what are called "containerized" apps.

End users download three apps -- Browser, Docs and Mail -- on their iOS or Android devices and connect to a Kaseya BYOD Gateway. Users only need to follow corporate authentication requirements when accessing those apps, not when accessing the device.

"We're essentially moving the locus of endpoint control," said Jonathan Foulkes, vice president of Mobile Product Management for Kaseya and the former CEO and co-founder of Rover Apps. "We're moving the endpoint to be the secure containers for those applications."

[Click on image for larger view.] Users of Kaseya BYOD Suite see three apps on their devices -- Mail, Docs and Browser. Signing in with corporate credentials is only required when launching the apps, not when using the device itself.

According to Kaseya, security for the containerized apps includes AES 256 encryption atop SSL encryption and complies with privacy standards including FINRA and FIPS 140-2.

To access either corporate mail or documents or to browse corporate Web sites securely, users authenticate against the Active Directory with a username and password. Foulkes said the frequency of that password authentication is set by policy -- for example, once every 24 hours. After briefer periods of inactivity, users can re-enter the app with a PIN.

Kaseya's Docs app connects with back-end data sources, such as Microsoft SharePoint, and the app includes a third-party Office and PDF editor. "We wanted to make sure that we had a full built-in Office editor suite in this secure container. This allows organizations to be guaranteed that if their employee is viewing or editing a document, it's all within the context of a secure, managed application. That it's not, 'Boy, I hope they don't put it in that crazy new editor they just downloaded from the Google Play Store,'" Foulkes said.

The back-end of the Kaseya BYOD Suite consists of a cloud-based relayer and a BYOD Gateway that is installed as a service on a PC or server in the customers' network. In this first version as a Kaseya-branded product, the BYOD Suite is integrated with Kaseya licensing, but management of the technology is through the rebranded gateway software -- not through regular Kaseya dashboards.

"Our very next deliverable in 2014 will be a single pane of glass where you'll be able to see and manage all of the mobility needs of an organization," Foulkes said.

The need to administer the solution from the gateway also means MSPs will need to monitor and manage their customers individually, rather than from a multi-customer dashboard. Foulkes noted that very little subsequent management is usually required after initial setup. For an administrator, he said, "Most of the work is the initial configuration of what things am I going to publish and what's my configuration. Once you complete these, you can have 100 new users join the system and there's no activity that needs to happen with the MSP."

Stephen Lawson, principal consultant with Bulletproof InfoTech, a Calgary, Alberta-based MSP and Kaseya customer, is very interested in Kaseya's new BYOD approach, although he hasn't tried it yet.

"Right now, with a lot of our BYODs, if they are uncompliant, they're getting their phones purged by us. This would save us from those messy moments where you just nuke the corporate data," Lawson said.

Of Bulletproof InfoTech's small and medium business customers, Lawson said he expects the larger organizations to be more interested. "The small businesses, they almost don't care. If they're only a 10-seat company, they have a pretty close relationship between the owner and the person who has the phone. Bigger customers are more concerned with unique processes and what happens if they have to terminate an employee or if the phone gets lost," Lawson said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 16, 2013 at 2:59 PM0 comments


Microsoft Taps Service Providers for New Cloud OS Program

In a move to build a channel presence behind its emerging "Cloud OS" strategy, Microsoft on Thursday launched a consortium of about two dozen cloud service providers worldwide that can provide and support hybrid clouds for customers.

Cloud OS is Microsoft's attempt to build a unified platform for customers that allows them to move workloads and services among on-premise facilities, Microsoft public cloud services and service provider-hosted clouds. Microsoft formally launched what senior Microsoft executive Satya Nadella called its "cloud operating system era" in September 2012 with the availability of Windows Server 2012

The initial focus was on ensuring the ability to move virtualized servers within on-premise servers and private clouds, as well as with Microsoft's own cloud services, such as Windows Azure.

The new program, the Cloud OS Network, marks a maturity of Microsoft's Cloud OS platform to include service providers, as well, said Eugene Saburi, general manager of Cloud OS Marketing in Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise Division, which is driving the new partner program.

Microsoft is working closely with about 25 service providers who will now be able to provide a "single-pane-of-glass" management experience using Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 and the Windows Azure Pack. The idea, Saburi said, is to "enable boundary-less datacenters."

Partners named to the Cloud OS Network on Thursday include Alog, Aruba S.p.A., Capgemini, Capita IT Services, CGI, CSC, Dimension Data, DorukNet, Fujitsu Finland Oy., Fujitsu Ltd., iWeb, Lenovo, NTTX, Outsourcery, OVH.com, Revera, SingTel, Sogeti, TeleComputing, Tieto, Triple C Cloud Computing, T-Systems, VTC Digilink and Wortmann AG. According to Microsoft documentation, those service providers run more than 425 datacenters, manage more than 2.4 million servers and serve more than 3 million customers worldwide.

Saburi said Microsoft will likely add more partners later.

Piers Linney, co-CEO of U.K.-based Outsourcery, said his cloud service provider company expects to benefit from participation in Microsoft's new Cloud OS Network immediately. While Outsourcery has been providing Cloud OS-based solutions to customers that included Outsourcery-hosted components, Microsoft's recent technological improvements will remove sales barriers.

"The more friction you've got in terms of moving these workloads makes it a harder sell. The friction has been reduced. The ability to drag and drop, effectively, across the three [platforms], makes it easier," Linney said.

Outsourcery executives are not expecting leads or implementation business from Microsoft through the program. Rather, they're expecting Microsoft's validation of Outsourcery's expertise will help the cloud service provider's own sales efforts.

"It's very important to us to be part of this group of Microsoft partners in the network," Linney said. "It's very important that we are seen as experts in the Cloud OS."

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 12, 2013 at 5:20 AM0 comments


How Much Is Yahoo's Microsoft Partnership Worth?

Nearly a third. That's how much of Yahoo Inc.'s revenue comes from its Microsoft partnership.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has been pestering Yahoo with inquiries on the matter dating back several months and finally got an answer, the Reuters news service reported Tuesday. 

According to Reuters, Yahoo had previously stated that its 2009 search agreement with Microsoft comprised more than 10 percent of sales. The new filing indicates that the company received 31 percent of its revenue from the deal in the latest quarter, Reuters reported. Going by Yahoo's $1.1 billion in reported revenues for the quarter ended Sept. 30, that would amount to about $350 million from Microsoft.

Yahoo's earnings have missed Wall Street expectations for several quarters. The stock has rebounded substantially since Marissa Mayer came in as CEO in July 2012, though -- a result frequently attributed to the company's pre-existing large investment holdings in the Chinese company Alibaba and in Yahoo Japan, rather than to the strength of Yahoo's core business.

For more on the state of Microsoft's highest-profile dance partner (now that Nokia's relevant businesses are being brought in house), Vanity Fair recently posted a thoroughly reported Bethany McLean profile of Mayer.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 11, 2013 at 10:19 AM0 comments


Tech Giants Call on President, Congress To Reform Surveillance

In the final weeks of a year in which the inability of major U.S.-based technology companies to protect their customers' data from U.S. government snooping became apparent, those companies are making a public stand.

Microsoft and its peers launched an aggressive public relations campaign on Monday with an open letter to President Barack Obama and to the U.S. Congress. 

The short letter, signed by AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo, reads:

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual -- rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It's time for a change.

For our part, we are focused on keeping users' data secure -- deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope.

We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight. To see the full set of principles we support, visit ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com.

The group recommends reforms through five principles:

  1. Limiting governments' authority to collect users' information.
  2. Oversight and accountability.
  3. Transparency about government demands.
  4. Respecting the free flow of information.
  5. Avoiding conflict among governments.

Revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began emerging over the summer and continue to trickle out (including an article Monday in The New York Times about U.S. government infiltration of online gaming communities, especially World of Warcraft and Second Life, but also including Xbox Live.)

U.S.-based tech companies have been doing the math and have become increasingly vocal about concerns that any appearance of collusion (coerced or voluntary) with the NSA will hurt their competitiveness in other countries. Already, some countries are imposing restrictions on the use of U.S.-based cloud providers.

For Microsoft, the open letter represents a second salvo in a week. Late last week, Microsoft announced plans to beef up and expand encryption across all of its services, to reinforce legal protections for customer data and to create new centers for governments to evaluate Microsoft's source code.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 09, 2013 at 11:52 AM0 comments


PC Picture Keeps Getting Worse, According to IDC Data

Microsoft partners who haven't yet started retooling their businesses for a future with fewer new PC deployments are getting more warnings from industry analysts that it may be time.

Witness this week's recalibration by IDC of its PC sales estimate for all of 2013. The Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm downgraded its previous estimate of a 9.7 percent decline in worldwide PC shipments to a forecast of a 10.1 percent drop, now that more data is in. 

While the change amounts to little more than a rounding error, it does take the estimate into solid double-digit-drop territory. For the record, IDC is slightly, but only slightly, more downbeat about 2013 than fellow researchers at Gartner, who recently forecast an 8 percent drop in the worldwide PC market.

There's a long-term pessimism coming out of IDC, as well. The firm is calling for a further 3.8 percent drop in 2014, followed by "slightly positive" growth that keeps shipments in the neighborhood of 300 million units per year for the foreseeable future. According to IDC, by the time the slide is over, the PC market will be just ahead of 2008 levels.

"Perhaps the chief concern for future PC demand is a lack of reasons to replace an older system," said IDC analyst Jay Chou in a statement. "While IDC research finds that the PC still remains the primary computing device -- for example, PCs are used more hours per day than tablets or phones -- PC usage is nonetheless declining each year as more devices become available. And despite industry efforts, PC usage has not moved significantly beyond consumption and productivity tasks to differentiate PCs from other devices. As a result, PC lifespans continue to increase, thereby limiting market growth."

IDC notes that the commercial market is less bad than the consumer market, and sees hope for a short-term shot in the arm when Windows XP support expires next April and a long-term shot in the arm from two-in-one devices. The firm's analysts have modest expectations for both boosts, though.

Taking up much of the slack is the tablet market. In another forecast released this week, IDC predicted that global tablet shipments would be 221 million this year, slightly less than the firm earlier expected but good for a 53 percent shipment increase over 2012. For now, IDC is predicting Windows tablets could make up 10 percent of that market by 2017, when the firm's analysts suspect tablet shipments will peak.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 05, 2013 at 11:38 AM0 comments


MPN Change Delay Includes Rethink of Cloud Approach

In mid-November, Microsoft's new channel chief Phil Sorgen e-mailed partners with a surprise delay in many of the planned updates to the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN). A host of changes to Microsoft's core partner program had been scheduled to go into effect in January.

Now many of the changes are being delayed until February and more are being held back until an unspecified date in the third calendar quarter of 2014. After Sorgen's e-mail, MPN General Manager Julie Bennani revealed in a blog post that Microsoft had rethought its plans to create cloud tracks for many of the competencies. 

We put some questions to Microsoft about the MPN changes, and received an e-mail response from Bennani. Here's the exchange:

Bekker: Are these moves a timing issue, allowing both Microsoft and partners more time to make necessary adjustments, or is there some rethinking going on about whether or not to do some of the changes that were announced in July? Why delay the integration of cloud into competency tracks?
Bennani: This change is based on partner feedback to allow both adequate time for preparing for the changes and improvements of the Microsoft Partner Network, as well as a modified design approach. We believe partners will benefit greatly from an improved partner portal experience and from more flexible ways to manage benefits. This includes cloud integration into the competencies, which is a simpler way for partners to secure benefits that does not involve creating separate cloud and on-premises tracks, but instead enables all partners to offer hybrid solutions.

On what date will Cloud Essentials sign-ups end? On what date will all Cloud Essentials internal use rights (IUR) benefits expire?
Net new enrollment into Cloud Essentials will stop with the February 2014 release. Cloud IUR rights for existing Cloud Essentials partners will extend until June 30, 2014 -- at that time, all partners must transition into either the new Microsoft Action Pack subscriptions (MAPs) or a competency to continue to use our Cloud IUR.

On hosting, was there pushback to the changes from hosters -- and if so, was it about the nature of the changes or was it about timing?
Retiring the Hosting competency and introducing solution-oriented hosting tracks has been well received by hosting partners. Per hosting partner feedback, the current Hosting competency does not effectively support their needs. In order to better meet their needs -- as well as to give partners more time to get ready -- we will offer unique hosting tracks within the following core competencies: Datacenter, Messaging, Communications and Data Analytics. This allows us to recognize hosters more precisely for the solution/service offered while introducing requirements and benefits that are more relevant and tailored.

Is Microsoft considering doing a Hosting Competency in parallel with hosting tracks in other competencies, or will it be one or the other?
Hosting tracks will replace the Hosting competency in Q3 2014.

Is Microsoft still planning to take the six Resource Center approach with the Microsoft Action Pack Subscription?
Yes.

On the competency renamings and consolidations that are now delayed from January, are they still in the plan or is Microsoft reconsidering those changes?
The plan has not changed. We are delaying the implementation to give partners more time to prepare for the changes.

Was the Small Business Specialist Community formally retired in November as indicated in the July MPN disclosure document?
Yes.

Any updates on the new small business community detailed on p. 7 of the disclosure guide, which read, "Plans are also being finalized to provide a partner-to-partner community for small business focused partners in January 2014"?
The Small & Medium Business Partner Area Leads (SMC PALs) communities are in place and thriving, and we look forward to continued engagement with this important group moving ahead.

Related:

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 02, 2013 at 10:31 AM0 comments