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Partners Getting Direct Billing Option for Microsoft Azure

Starting this summer, partners will be able to resell Microsoft's Azure cloud services to customers in a way that still allows partners to control their own margins while adjusting for monthly changes in demand.

"Microsoft Azure will be available for partners to resell in the Open Licensing programs on Aug. 1 of this year," said Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, in a video message Wednesday.

For as long as Microsoft has offered cloud services, many partners have lobbied for the ability to bill their customers directly, rather than selling the customer on the service and having them turn to Microsoft to order and renew them. After several years, Microsoft relented and made Office 365 available to partners to resell through the Microsoft Open Licensing program in the spring of 2013. In April of this year, Microsoft added Open Licensing as an option for the Windows Intune and Power BI for Office 365 cloud services.

Microsoft channel chief Phil Sorgen discusses the Microsoft Azure opportunity during a video message announcing that direct billing is coming for partners reselling the cloud service.

"Open allows you to purchase a Microsoft product or service from your preferred distributor and resell it to your customer. You control the direct relationship," Sorgen said.

With those other cloud services, partners can buy seats on behalf of customers, then bill the customers themselves. Azure's infrastructure-on-demand model requires a different approach. Microsoft's response is a token-based process, where partners buy Azure services in $100 increments and add those tokens of credit to the customer's Azure Portal.

"The credits can be used for any consumption-based service available in Azure," wrote Josh Waldo, Microsoft senior director of Cloud Partner Strategy, in a blog post. "This gives you the opportunity to manage your customer's portal, set up services and monitor consumption, all while maintaining a direct relationship."

The Open Licensing option adds to the previous options of purchasing Microsoft Azure directly on azure.microsoft.com or as part of an Enterprise Agreement.

The token approach with Azure skirts one of the thorniest remaining issues for Microsoft partners in reselling cloud services. Part of the appeal for customers of any cloud service is the ability to pay out of operational expenses on a monthly basis. However, Microsoft initially only made Office 365, Windows Intune and other services available through Open as a service that can be purchased with an upfront payment for the entire year.

That gap between customer expectation and Microsoft Licensing reality makes the initial sale harder or leaves the partner with the cash flow issue of buying the subscription up front but only receiving customer payments over the course of the year.

The ability with Azure to buy in $100 increments should give partners the ability to bill monthly in a way that adjusts for seasonal spikes and troughs in demand.

Expect to hear a lot more about Open Licensing for Microsoft Azure at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in July. Ahead of that, Microsoft also plans a virtual summit covering Open Licensing for Azure on June 4.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 21, 2014 at 12:12 PM0 comments


Partner: Tool Targets 3 Problems with Large Migrations to Office 365

A year after launching an Office 365 migration project automation tool for Microsoft partners, SkyKick this week released an enterprise version to help the channel move larger customers to Microsoft's cloud productivity suite.

The two-time Microsoft Partner of the Year Award-winning startup, launched by former Microsoft employees, released its SkyKick Application Suite in April 2013 with the idea of automating most of the tasks involved in migrating smaller customers from on-premises or other cloud e-mail systems onto Office 365. The original product design focused on the SMB customers that represent the sweet spot of Office 365 adoption, with SkyKick's business case scenarios centering on deployments with about 25 users.

During a year of use, however, co-CEOs Evan Richman and Todd Schwartz say SkyKick partners who move larger organizations to Microsoft's cloud provided feedback about some of the specialized requirements for those larger projects.

On Tuesday, SkyKick unveiled an Enterprise Migration Suite to meet some of those needs. In spite of the enterprise name, Richman and Schwartz say SkyKick remains committed to 100 percent channel sales of its suite. The name strictly refers to the user counts the suite is designed to support, which is in the range of 250 to 10,000 users.

We spoke with one partner who was an early adopter of the SkyKick Application Suite and beta tested the Enterprise Migration Suite. Chris Hertz, CEO of New Signature in Washington, D.C., used SkyKick for SMB customers but wasn't able to make the suite work for larger customers.

In an interview, Hertz detailed three things New Signature is now able to do with the SkyKick Enterprise Migration Suite:

1. Skip some hybrid infrastructures. To move an enterprise organization to Exchange Online, New Signature and many other partners commonly set up temporary hybrid Exchange environments. In those cases, the hybrid server is built as a bridge that helps maintain user information like free/busy calendar data and acts as a staging area for the three months to a year that larger organizations typically take to move completely from the old environment to the new.

"SkyKick is really a tool that allows you to do a cutover migration or a staged migration without doing a hybrid server," Hertz said. The SkyKick tool won't be able to replace the need for a hybrid environment in every case, but it will eliminate many of them, Hertz said. He contended that's the new tool's biggest value.

"If you thought about the complexity of an Exchange Online migration, the hybrid is one of the more complex pieces," he said, and added that it will reduce one of the biggest obstacles to Office 365 sales in midsize to enterprise organizations. "There are some instances where we walk into a customer and they say, 'I can't go through the hybrid environment that you're describing.'"

2. Improve migration planning. The original SkyKick toolset involved migration planning, but the new enterprise version offers much more detailed information gathering and more options, as befits larger environments. "For midmarket customers, it's super important to do planning," Hertz said. "The SkyKick tools can provide some intelligence around that."

Planning tools in the new SkyKick Enterprise Migration Suite include support for pilot deployments, mailbox and source information discovery, and e-mail architecture planning. A fair amount of planning information also emerges earlier in the "Sell" phase of SkyKick's end-to-end migration process for partners.

New elements of the enterprise tool include the ability to log in to a Microsoft Licensing account to assign Open or Enterprise Agreement licenses to Office 365 users, the ability to pull data from multiple Exchange servers in the case of an acquisition, and the ability to normalize e-mail addresses (for example, change all e-mail addresses in a company to first initial, last name during the migration).

3. Training is baked in. The white-labeled SkyKick e-mails at various stages of the process provide instructions for users on setting up accounts and using their new Office 365 functionality. "A lot of midmarket customers don't necessarily have a large training function," Hertz said. The canned e-mail messages from SkyKick do a good job of helping users along, he said. For a partner, Hertz noted, showing 30 users in one office how to use a new system is possible, but trying to teach the system to 1,000 users in five offices and two countries is very difficult.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 20, 2014 at 3:46 PM0 comments


Microsoft Surface: Third Time's the Charm?

Microsoft will hold a press event in New York City on Tuesday for a Surface announcement that is rumored to include the unveiling of a "Surface Mini" and a new Intel-based Surface Pro.

The limited-seating event begins at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, and those who want to follow along will be able to join a live webcast at the Microsoft News Center.

Microsoft's News Center preview shows an image of impassioned Surface advocate Panos Panay, who demonstrated the Surface features when former top Windows executive Steven Sinofsky rolled out the first Surface, and who also presided over the Surface 2 launches last year after Sinofsky's departure. At that second event, Panay said he had plans for several generations of future Surface releases.

Rumor has it, in the form of a Mary Jo Foley report, that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will be on hand to unveil the Surface news Tuesday. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer never actively took part in a Surface launch. For the initial Surface, Ballmer was in the venue for the formal launch earlier in the day of Windows 8, but Ballmer left the Surface duties to Sinofsky.

How big a deal is this launch? Pre-launch reports are calling for Microsoft to launch a 7- to 8-inch "Surface Mini" with a digital pen and a chipset switch from Nvidia Corp. to Qualcomm Inc. and a new Surface Pro based on new Intel chips.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 19, 2014 at 12:24 PM0 comments


Lync App Arrives for Android Tablets

Microsoft this week released a Lync app that supports Android tablets, closing the one large remaining hole in the unified communications platform's mobile device coverage.

Lync apps were already available for Android phones, as well as for iPads, iPhones, Windows 8.1 devices and Windows Phones.

The new app works for both Android tablets and Android phones. The mid-May delivery beats Microsoft's self-imposed deadline of late June. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Derek Burney floated that late June deadline while demonstrating a pre-release version of the Android app on stage at Microsoft's Lync Conference in February.

Because the Android app now combines phone and tablet form factors, Microsoft added the ability to adjust icon sizes, as well as image and video settings. Two new features for all Android users in the app are the ability to start ad hoc group conversations and to add participants to ongoing conversations.

The Lync app requires Android 4.0 or later, a 1.2GHz dual core or higher processor and at least a VGA camera.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 15, 2014 at 11:45 AM0 comments


Kaseya Upgrades Partner Program

Kaseya on Thursday rolled out a major update to its partner program.

The midmarket-focused systems management company counts managed service providers as a major part of its customer base, but the enhancements to the Kaseya Partner Program apply to a different group of partners.

Affected partners include authorized resellers, authorized distributors, implementation partners, education partners, referral partners and technology alliance partners.

Roger Hodskins, head of global channels and alliances at Kaseya for the last four months, said in an interview that about 150 of Kaseya's 300 worldwide partners in those categories have been piloting the new program.

Resources of the program include tiered rewards and incentives, sales training, marketing materials, technical documentation and API integration for Web programming and access. A new Partner Portal also delivers deal registration, lead management capabilities and community discussion groups. Partners will also get access to tools for on-boarding new customers, provisioning end-users, offering demos, proof-of-concept assistance, pipeline management and forecasting.

Hodskins says Kaseya has doubled the number of worldwide employees working with this group of channel partners. While Kaseya is looking to increase its number of partners, the focus will be more on quality than quantity, he said.

"As we brought on new partners just in the last several months, we're really getting people coming to us who are looking to add value as Kaseya's offerings move to the cloud. We're getting people joining us who are familiar with the cloud, familiar with adding value to cloud-based applications," Hodskins said.

The cloud focus fits with a rebranding of Kaseya as the "IT Management Cloud Company" at Kaseya Connect last month.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 08, 2014 at 1:24 PM0 comments


Competencies, Bigger Incentives for Symantec Partners

At its Vision conference this week, Symantec unveiled updates to the Symantec Partner Program, including more than a dozen new solution competencies and incentives tied to those competencies.

The changes deliver on a previously announced overhaul to the Symantec Partner Program, which focuses on a two-tier competency structure -- a lower-level Principal Competency and a higher-level Expert Competency. The competencies will replace the solution specializations Symantec previously had in place.

"These new Competencies give partners the choice to deepen their expertise in a particular solution area, or to extend their capabilities across multiple solutions for broader market traction. By achieving a Symantec Competency, partners demonstrate their insight, experience and solutions-expertise -- crucial when solving their customers' unique business challenges," wrote John Eldh, vice president of channel and commercial sales for Symantec, in a blog post.

Competency availability will vary by region, but the initial set of 14 includes Archiving, Cloud Services, Data Security, Dynamic Storage and Continuity, eDiscovery, Endpoint Management, Endpoint Security, Enterprise Backup and Recovery, Gateway Security, Managed Services, Mid-Market Backup and Recovery, Mobility, Security Monitoring and Management, and Web Site Security Solutions.

Starting in October, achieving a competency will open access to financial benefits, such as:

  • Opportunity registration with up to a 20 percent earnings increase for Principal or Expert Competency partners;
  • Growth Accelerator rebate of up to 8 percent for Expert Competency partners hitting new business revenue targets;
  • Renewals Performance Incentive for Expert Competency partners meeting renewal opportunity targets; and
  • Development funds for certain Expert Competency partners.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 07, 2014 at 9:46 AM0 comments


CEO Offers Full-Throated Defense of the Channel

Continuum CEO Michael George is offering a full-throated argument for the channel in the cloud era.

George posted a video message this week on the Continuum Web site to promote its new Continuum Cloud Console, or C3, service for managing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) on behalf of customers (see previous RCP coverage here).

Here's how George started:

The cloud poses a wildly disruptive dimension to the traditional IT services industry. Cloud providers are pitching directly to the enterprise, negating the channel. Many are touting the channel as irrelevant, and some are even predicting its demise.

Continuum sees the new cloud economy very differently. Continuum loves the channel, supports the channel and believes MSPs will be even more relevant in this new economy.

Certain services simply cannot afford to rely on distant relationships, not when dealing with the crucial core data of your business. To take a phrase from former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, who said, "All politics are local," well, Continuum says, "All IT is local." Therefore, Continuum sees a big place for IT service providers in the new cloud economy.

It's a great counter message to the idea that the channel can't co-exist long term with mega cloud providers. (The only improvement I'd suggest is having George stride through a modern house and end up unplugging a hybrid Cadillac). Yes, the channel has to change to survive, but when has that not been true?

Check out the video here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 07, 2014 at 9:07 AM0 comments


StorageCraft Updates Partner Portal

StorageCraft Technology Corp. recently overhauled its portal for managed service provider partners.

The new StorageCraft MSP Portal is part of the StorageCraft Profit-Ability Partner Program and includes user interface enhancements, as well as new tools for MSPs to manage StorageCraft licenses through an Apple iPad, Microsoft Surface or other tablet.

Draper, Utah-based StorageCraft makes its Profit-Ability Partner Program available to partners at no charge. The program includes marketing development funds, deal registration, marketing and sales collateral, technical training, not-for-resale software, training, lead sharing and sales incentives, among other benefits.

StorageCraft currently has more than 4,000 current MSP partners and its flagship product for backup, disaster recovery and data protection covers more than 200,000 servers through monthly subscriptions.

The company's OEM partners include the professional services automation companies Autotask Corp. and ConnectWise and the remote monitoring and management companies LabTech Software, N-able by SolarWinds, AVG Managed Workplace, Continuum and Kaseya. Backup and disaster recovery providers using StorageCraft technology include Advanced Backup Solutions, Datto Inc., CharTec and eFolder.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 05, 2014 at 11:27 AM0 comments


Gates Drops Below Ballmer in MSFT Ownership

In last month's issue of Redmond Channel Partner magazine, we looked at the interesting times ahead for the Microsoft Board of Directors.

The upshot was that while Bill Gates kept a firm grip on control of the company for decades, his relinquishment of the chairman's role and the addition of some strong personalities to the board could lead to a rocky future.

One of the data points was Gates' diminishing ownership in the company as he sells off shares to fund his charitable efforts.

It turns out that this month marks a major milestone in Microsoft history. As of an SEC filing on May 2, Gates has sold off so many shares that he is no longer Microsoft's largest individual shareholder. That title now goes to former CEO Steve Ballmer.

According to Todd Bishop at Geekwire, who first wrote about the SEC filing, Gates' sale of 4.6 million shares on April 30 brought him to 330.1 million shares, while Ballmer holds more than 333 million.

At his peak of percentage control, Gates arranged a 64-36 split of the company with co-founder Paul Allen. When Microsoft went public in 1986, Gates owned 49 percent of the company. Gates is on a course to have no financial stake in Microsoft by 2018.

Previous RCP coverage here and here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 05, 2014 at 11:51 AM0 comments


Continuum Adds IaaS Management to RMM Tool

A prominent remote monitoring and management (RMM) provider is taking a first step toward packaging Infrastructure as a Service to make IaaS friendlier for SMB customers and easier for MSPs to deploy and manage.

Continuum this week launched Continuum Cloud Console, or C3. Billed as an IaaS management platform, C3 is delivered as a tab in Boston-based Continuum's SaaS-based RMM system.

CEO Michael George positioned the offering as a way for Continuum's 3,300 MSP partners to remain relevant despite cloud's disruptions to the IT services industry. "With the launch of C3, Continuum is making it possible for MSPs to deliver cloud technology very efficiently to its clients and at the client's pace and readiness, making them relevant in today's cloud economy and solidifying the future of the channel," George said in a statement.

While Continuum recently unveiled a major upgrade to its datacenter capacity, the new offering does not represent an attempt to create a new IaaS offering from scratch for MSPs to offer. Instead, the company is focused on managing existing IaaS offerings, with tools to help MSPs launch virtual machines for customers on those services using only the components SMBs would typically need.

"We're initially launching using Amazon Web Services but we do plan on adding other vendors soon," said Sarah Galler, C3 product manager, in a video demo on the Continuum site.

In her demo, Galler walked through the process of creating a new virtual cloud and virtual machine on the Amazon service, complete with configuring the virtual servers and entering credit card information.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 01, 2014 at 12:53 PM0 comments


Deadline Approaching for RCP Rocket Awards

It's getting to be that time of year again -- for RCP Rocket Award submissions.

Have a great growth story? You've got a little over a month until the June 1 submissions deadline to send us the details. We're looking for a one- to two-page description of the innovative business strategies you've used that have resulted in sustained growth over a three-year period.

The 2014 award is open to all U.S.-based IT services companies with annual revenues between $5 million and $75 million. Click here for more contest details or e-mail me with your questions.

For an example of the kind of growth strategies that led to a win in the inaugural contest last year, here's our profile from October 2013 of one of the three winners:

2013 RCP Rocket Award Winner Profile: IntelliNet Corp.
In mid-2010, Atlanta-based IntelliNet Corp. was struggling. A tough recession in the technology services industry and a strategic plan that had not kept up with the changing marketplace had plagued the firm's productivity.

While IntelliNet was a highly regarded firm with over 40 regional, national and worldwide Microsoft awards, revenue had fallen flat and was beginning to decline. Some years were profitable, while other years operated at a loss, resulting in a break-even business. Over the years, employee morale suffered and IntelliNet faced a crisis of identity and performance.

"When the recession hit and IntelliNet experienced operating losses in the first half of 2010, the Board evaluated the company's viability and realized if IntelliNet was going to thrive once again, it needed to reposition its go-to-market strategy, management team and overall operations," said Frank Bell, founder and chairman of the 20-year-old Microsoft-centric technology services firm.

For that task, the company tapped an internal executive to become its new president and senior partner. Mark Seeley had joined IntelliNet in 1996, just a few years after the systems integration firm was founded. In addition to his experience with internal operations and key IntelliNet accounts, Seeley was a proven entrepreneur, trained in strategy and process consulting from Andersen Consulting, who garnered respect from fellow executives as a strategic thinker and business-minded leader.

Seeley and his management team got right to work. The company had strong brand recognition as a result of over 5,000 client engagements in over 40 states with a great reputation for service, and also boasted a world-class profile within the Microsoft ecosystem with multiple Microsoft "Worldwide Solution of the Year" awards.

Mark Seeley took over as president and senior partner of Intellinet Corp. in 2010 and focused the company on a new five-pillar strategy.

Seeley concentrated on the need for a long-term growth strategy beyond the company's core systems integration work. He and his management team laid out a five-year, five-pillar plan to carry the company forward and meet clients' future needs. The pillars were Technology Projects, Management Consulting, Cloud Solutions, Product Integration and the IntelliNet Delivery Center.

Technology Projects and Product Integration grew naturally out of the company's historical business, and Seeley created a new internal review committee to ensure all projects met business requirements and used or created repeatable assets. Crucial, however, to IntelliNet's strategic transformation was its move upstream to "lead with Management Consulting" -- a business alignment philosophy making IntelliNet more strategic and valuable to its huge client base.

IntelliNet also doubled down on its early efforts in Cloud Solutions, mirroring the 2010 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference messaging of "we're all in" from Microsoft, having already brought over 75,000 seats to the early Microsoft cloud. IntelliNet saw the opportunity within the cloud and became an early Microsoft Cloud Accelerate partner. The final piece to Seeley's vision involved creating a new IntelliNet Delivery Center, which would serve as the foundation for large-scale development projects and its managed services offerings.

"These five pillars have proven to be a successful strategy for our firm. The second half of 2010 brought about a new go-to-market strategy, financial stability and a purposeful initiative to become a world-class consultancy," Seeley said. "In 2011, revenue increased 11 percent and operating profit increased 810 percent. In 2012, revenue increased 26 percent and operating profit increased 83 percent. The growth in core services, as well as the additional gross profit provided by product incentives and stronger partnerships, have provided a strong foundation for IntelliNet's further expansion into new regions and targeted acquisitions of other regional service providers."

"Throughout our turnaround and subsequent growth, we have remained committed to building a best-in-class company culture," Seeley stated. IntelliNet has racked up over a dozen awards in the past three years, including having been named a 2013 "Best Small Firms to Work For" by Consulting Magazine. "This recognition validates the hard work in pursuing our vision of being a 'profitable, growing company that delights customers and provides an excellent experience for our employees.'"

With a solid focus on cloud solutions and linking all technology projects to their underlying business objectives, IntelliNet has delivered 32 consecutive months of profitability and counting, and seems poised for strong growth in years four and five of the plan.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 28, 2014 at 11:07 AM0 comments


Apple Earnings: Sizing the Office for iPad Opportunity

A good portion of the Microsoft channel is already involved with management, integration and app development for the Apple iOS ecosystem.

With the rollout of the long-awaited Office for iPad in late March, Microsoft finally created a clear bridge for its partners between the Microsoft world that they know well and the huge customer demand for business apps on the world's most dominant tablet.

On an earnings call last night, Apple executives provided some metrics and context that clarified how potentially huge that iPad opportunity could be for Microsoft partners.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, who Tweeted a welcome when Microsoft brought Office to the App Store, enthused some more in response to a financial analyst's question.

"There [are a lot] of alternatives out there from a productivity point of view, some of which we brought to the market, some of which many, many innovative companies have brought," Cook said first in a nod to Apple's own Keynote, Pages and Numbers and the numerous apps that sprang up to meet demand for Office compatibility as former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer played Hamlet on whether Office should be or not be in the App Store.

"But I do see that Office is still a very key franchise in the enterprise, in particular. And I think having it on iPad is good, and I wholeheartedly welcome Microsoft to the App Store to sell Office. Our customers are clearly responding in a good way that it's available. So I do think it helps us particularly in the enterprise area," Cook said (quotes courtesy of the Seeking Alpha transcript).

As for Microsoft's lengthy wait before bringing Office to the iPad, Cook was critical. "I believe if it would have been done earlier, it would have been even better for Microsoft, frankly."

Timing aside, an opportunity for Microsoft is an opportunity for Microsoft partners. Some of the numbers and anecdotes shared during the Apple earnings call illustrated what a whopper of an opportunity Office on iPad could be.

First, there's the installed base, which presents opportunities for new Office 365 subscription sales and for new conversations to make sure existing customers are using their subscriptions to light up the free Office for iPad apps.

That installed base is huge. Cook said that Apple has sold 210 million units in the four years since launching the iPad. There was some concern about a sales drop in iPad units from the year-ago quarter to this one, but Apple executives explained most of it away as a channel backlog issue with iPad sell-through trending at nearly the same pace as the year before. Meanwhile, Apple had some very strong numbers to report from emerging markets. Apple probably won't be as dominant in tablets in the next few years, but it is likely to remain dominant for a while.

All those iPads, iPad Airs and iPad minis aren't just sitting in people's living rooms, either. Cook claimed 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use iPad in some capacity and said, "According to Good Technology, who looks at activation of tablets, the latest data we have from them is that 91 percent of activation of tablets in enterprise were iPads."

There's more than a breadth opportunity in Office 365 subscriptions. All along, some partners have taken advantage of the general iOS development opportunity. Now that opportunity is greatly expanded by the ability to create custom corporate apps that integrate with Office -- something that's right in many Microsoft partners' wheelhouse.

That depth was evident as Luca Maestri, vice president of finance and corporate controller for Apple, read through a laundry list of huge customers using iPads. The raw numbers deployed were impressive, such as 20,000 iPads at Eli Lilly and 11,000 units at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Eli Lilly example was especially interesting because the company has deployed 50 internal apps as part of a laptop replacement program. (Some enterprises have similarly huge iOS internal app counts primarily for iPhone: 40 at Deutsche Bank and 50 for Siemens.)

The amount of repeatable business that could be available to partners who successfully develop IP and best practices around custom iOS apps leveraging Office for iPad is potentially massive.

Having a clean version of Office available for iPad makes the Microsoft partner opportunities much clearer, and Apple's impressive ability to keep driving huge volumes of tablet sales makes those clear opportunities big.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 24, 2014 at 11:07 AM0 comments