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Microsoft Clamps Down on Certification Requirements for Partners

No more double-dipping. That's what's at stake when the new Microsoft Partner Network certification program kicks in October 1. What that means is partners who want to be designated Advanced Competent will no longer be permitted to have individual engineers with multiple certifications.

For example, if a Dynamics Partner wants to also deploy Exchange, the partner will be required to have at least two engineers certified in each specialty in order to be qualified as an Advanced Competent Partner. Those who do have just one engineer certified in both can still be Competent Partners, but for existing Microsoft Gold Certified Partners, that may look like a demotion of sorts, some critics fear.

"We decided to really prioritize making the top level more exclusive," explained Allison Watson, in a recent interview, prior to yesterday's announcement that she is transitioning to the new position of corporate VP of Microsoft's Business and Marketing Organization and being replaced Jon Roskill.

The concern is, however, that the new certification requirements under MPN will force smaller partners out of business because they will either have to hire additional engineers or pare back on their areas of coverage, according to critics of the new program, which Microsoft reiterated today in a blog post. Watson said that she is sympathetic to that concern but also worries that some partners are spread too  thin.

While that may be the case in some situations, the changes could be more disruptive than Microsoft is anticipating, said Howard Cohen, northeast regional chair of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners. "I think they are cutting into some of the bone and taking out some loyal partners who just don't have the wherewithal to find any recourse," Cohen said.

"Here's what I don't understand," Watson said. "A smaller partner may want to have six advanced competencies, and as a small guy I say, 'Should you really have six or should you really be good at what you're good at?' I think the difference is, if you are big, you may have the knowledge, but you run out of capacity. The thing we can uniquely do now with MPN that we couldn't do before is that a very small partner can be uniquely very good in a competency like BI or virtualization, and they can compete fairly against a very big partner who carries the same designation."

However, some of the smaller partners contend that there needs to be some exceptions to the rule. For example, an Exchange Partner should be able to have someone certified in Active Directory and Windows infrastructure including Hyper-V, since all three fall under a common architecture, said Kerry Gerontianos, president and CEO of  Incremax Technologies Corp. and the IAMCP's national president.

Both Cohen and Gerontianos said that they understand Microsoft's desire to get partners to step up and stress their unique capabilities, but they are asking Microsoft to make exceptions such as the Exchange-AD-infrastructure scenario.

"We are asking them to align the solutions with how we work with our customers and how customers want the work done," Gerontianos said.

With the reorganization at the top, it remains unclear whether that will have an impact on the fate of this issue. Microsoft isn't commenting on any further changes.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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