Q&A with Microsoft's John Case: All About the CSP

Microsoft's top Office executive and a key player in the development of the Cloud Solution Provider program talks to us about what the CSP means for partners.

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There are few executives at Microsoft better positioned to explain the company's vision for how it wants to work with partners in the cloud than John Case. As a corporate vice president in the Microsoft Office Division, Case has been the face of major announcements around the Cloud Solution Program (CSP) at each of the last two Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conferences (WPCs). Case helped conceive and design the CSP, and he announced major updates to that program this last July that included a significant ramp-up of the program with more products, distribution partners and broader participation.

RCP Editor in Chief Scott Bekker caught up with Case at the WPC to get more detail about the program changes.

SB: How much is CSP scaled up this year compared to last year?
JC: Last year it was Office 365-only in a focused set of countries. We also knew we would be taking partners on slowly. We knew we didn't have capacity. We knew some of the APIs were going to be manual. Even as recently as [May], Azure wasn't included, CRM Online wasn't included, we were only in a couple dozen countries, we had a small set of partners involved. Getting the Commerce APIs done for automated billing and transactions and integration was a huge step. Getting a few partners like Odin, like AppDirect, TechData and Ingram Micro, where they can help other partners be the console for billing and provisioning -- that was a big step.

I think CSP a year from now will look nothing like where we are now. I think it will be orders of magnitude larger in terms of the number of partners participating and the amount of business transacting through it. This year for us, while we did get some nice traction with some of the partners, I would say it was much more of an extended pilot. Next year, I view it as, it will be one of our primary drivers of growth in small business to midmarket.

Where is CSP targeted?
We want to sell where customers are buying. If they're buying small business IT services or midmarket IT services from a third-party, rather than make that customer also go to one of our other channels to buy Office 365, I want to sell there. If you look at what we've done with the GoDaddys, or the big telcos on syndication or what we're doing with CSP, all that's about saying, "If there's someone buying IT services and Office 365 as a logical bundle with those things, we'd like to sell there and we'd like the partner to manage the provisioning, the billing, the whole support experience across a number of services."

The best CSP partners aren't just using Office 365. They're selling things from their own family of services, third parties, multiple Microsoft products. There can be a huge market for that if done well.

I see that less at the top of the enterprise, where those folks are going to make very specific decisions on apps themselves. But from 3,000 seats and below, I think that's a very ripe market for good partners that can do end-to-end service integration and really manage the customer lifecycle.

What are the major differences between CSP and the Open model for selling Microsoft cloud services?
[With Open] the support is still Microsoft. The provisioning is still Microsoft, and it goes through our Open reseller network. It's structured by the Open contract. Duration, incentives, all of that is structured by the Open contract. With CSP we were able to build a cloud reseller program that's independent from that, which we think takes all the advantages of cloud, and that's exactly why we did it.

We don't dislike Open at all. For customers who want to buy that way, that's great. But if I'm a CSP customer, not a partner, I'm buying from that third party. That third party sends me a bill with multiple services on it. That's who I call if I have a question with support. That's the model for CSP. It's very different from Open. Equally valuable, but very different.

"I think CSP a year from now will look nothing like where we are now. I think it will be orders of magnitude larger in terms of the number of partners participating and the amount of business transacting through it."

John Case, Corporate VP, Microsoft Office Division

Is the CSP something that's going to be attractive at all to current Open partners, or do they have a different business model?
Many. I would say all the major distributors want to be in on part of the CSP and they're selling that to their resellers as we speak. Then it becomes a customer choice. Customers want to buy a single one-off thing from Microsoft? Open Office 365. Or do they want to buy a bundle of services from a CSP provider, which could be one of our Open resellers?

There's high partner overlap today with those that are interested in CSP and those that are not. That's especially true in the small business space. CSP will span higher. Most of our Open programs are capped around 250 seats. CSP will go up much higher than that, because we see also a big opportunity in the thousands of seats, so you start to see there's some difference there.

Do you see the Advisor model, if not phasing out, then just becoming less popular?
We debate that a lot. We still value the Advisor model deeply. We certainly are not going to turn it off. I think the growth has shifted to open and is now shifting to CSP. We don't see a lot of new Advisor partners. We don't see a lot of business growth in Advisor. Our seats year-over-year were roughly flat in Advisor. It's not declining. It's still a very large part of our base, but it's not growing. The growth is coming from Open and CSP.


About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.