With Azure Lighthouse, Microsoft Provides a Scalable MSP Tool for the Cloud

Microsoft is taking a big step in the direction of making Azure a friendlier platform for managed service providers (MSPs).

The theoretical appeal of Azure for MSPs has always been clear. Customers could move or create infrastructure on Microsoft's public cloud, and Microsoft partners, with far more cloud expertise than the average customer, could provision and manage that infrastructure on their behalf.

In reality, that has been difficult with native Microsoft tools. A number of third-party solutions have sprung up to help partners manage multiple customer clouds.

At the Microsoft Inspire conference for partners this week in Las Vegas, however, Microsoft is highlighting a new native toolset called Azure Lighthouse that addresses those challenges for partners in a scalable way.

"We...want to make Azure your best platform for delivering managed services to your customers. And so, we're investing in you with a new service that we call Azure Lighthouse," said Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft corporate vice president for One Commercial Partner, in her Monday Inspire keynote address. "Azure Lighthouse builds partners in by design into Azure by enabling multi-customer, multi-tenant management at scale in a secure environment with automation so that Azure becomes your best platform to deliver those managed services to your customers. And we're going to continue to invest in that service for you."

The announcement comes as Microsoft is strongly encouraging partners to lead with Azure as a replacement for aging Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 systems. SQL Server 2008 reached the end of support last week and the 2008 versions of Windows Server lose support in January.

"We estimate about 60 percent of our server install base is still on Windows Server and SQL Server 2008. That's 24 million instances. That is a $50 billion market opportunity that you should be going after right now, this year, because those customers are vulnerable and exposed," Schuster said. "You know you could easily migrate those VMs into Azure and remove that vulnerability for them."

While the migration may or may not be easy, the general availability this month of Azure Lighthouse could make management of multiple customers much more efficient for partners.

Microsoft Azure Chief Technology Officer Mark Russinovich described Azure Lighthouse in a blog post as a single control plane for service providers to view and manage Azure across all their customers. A new delegated resource concept within Lighthouse simplifies cross-tenant governance and operations, Russinovich said.

Russinovich claimed substantial scalability and automation for Lighthouse: "Partners can now manage tens of thousands of resources from thousands of distinct customers from their own Azure portal or CLI context. Because customer resources are visible to service providers as Azure resources in their own tenant, service providers can easily automate status monitoring, and applying create, update, change, delete (CRUD) changes across the resources of many customers from a single location."

Microsoft officials credited the Azure Expert MSP community and other Azure-specialist partners with helping in the development and iteration of Azure Lighthouse.

In a Microsoft video describing Azure Lighthouse, Jason Rinehart, platform architect for managed services at 10th Magnitude, said the tool, with its hooks into the marketplace, is helping his company get customers live on Azure faster. "Some of the key benefits that we're seeing are greater operational efficiency because of the single view [and] faster time to onboard because of the new automated process and because of this new marketplace," Rinehart said.

Another partner in the video, Reed Wiedower, CTO of New Signature, pointed to the role-based access control as a key feature that protects a customer's security and control while giving a partner a way to manage multiple customers and subscriptions. "By being able to apply the same policy to the same sets of resources, all at the same time, it reduces the chance of human error creeping into the equation," Wiedower said.

Other early adopters of Azure Lighthouse include DXC Technology, Nordcloud, Rackspace, Sentia, Dynatrace, Ingram Micro and Veeam.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 16, 2019 at 12:28 PM0 comments

Microsoft Is Back to Talking About Channel Scale Numbers Again

It's been a few years since Microsoft wanted to talk about how many partners it had.

In the old days, the company would regularly boast of 600,000 or even as high as 800,000 partners in broad terms. When it came to registered members of the old Microsoft Partner Program or the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), the figures regularly landed north of 400,000 organizations.

Lately Microsoft has kept those totals close to the vest. Two years ago, I committed a little algebra on some figures Microsoft revealed to conclude that the company had about 264,000 partners. But Microsoft did not come out and claim that number.

This year, Microsoft is shouting out the figures from the rooftops.

We're told Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's keynote speech at Microsoft Inspire on Wednesday will focus on the numbers 100 to 17 to seven. One hundred refers to the 100,000 Microsoft employees, 17 refers to 17 million partner employees worldwide, and seven for the 7 billion people in the world Microsoft hopes to reach.

In a pre-conference media briefing, Gavriella Schuster, the corporate vice president running the Microsoft One Commercial Partner organization, said, "The way I think about our partner program is that we service 300,000 organizations around the world. We're seeing about 7,000 new organizations join our network every single month."

Why the change of heart on talking numbers? I'm not sure, but it always seemed weird for the company not to highlight the huge advantage it has over competitors in the unmatched scale of its channel program.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 15, 2019 at 11:32 AM0 comments

Partner Backlash Leads Microsoft To Reverse Course on IUR Retirement

Microsoft is reversing course on a plan to revoke partners' ability to use internal use rights (IURs) to run their businesses after a substantial partner backlash.

"Given your feedback, we have made the decision to roll back all planned changes related to internal use rights and competency timelines that were announced earlier this month. This means you will experience no material changes this coming fiscal year, and you will not be subject to reduced IUR licenses or increased costs related to those licenses next July as previously announced," said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of Microsoft One Commercial Partner, in a statement posted on Microsoft's partner portal on Friday.

Since the mid-1990s, Microsoft has encouraged partners to use IURs to run their business on Microsoft software, further familiarizing partners with the software and services from Microsoft that they sell or recommend to customers. The IURs were available as part of the program membership fees, and the licenses for Windows desktops, servers and other elements of the stack were often worth much more than the cost of the membership.

In recent years, IURs were extended to include cloud services, and Schuster said in interviews this week that the cost of providing the cloud services was consuming a disproportionate share of Microsoft's partner budget and necessitating cuts to other partner benefits.

The now-canceled plan would have changed the mix of IURs starting in October and retired IURs entirely on July 1, 2020. Product licenses still would have been available for business development scenarios. Those changes, plus a plan to cut off partners' on-premises support incidents, prompted a contentious Change.org petition titled "Disapprove Microsoft Partner Network Changes," which had more than 6,000 signatures as of Friday.

The decision to roll back all the planned competency changes also means that on-premises support incidents will continue to be available to competency and Action Pack partners.

In her statement, Schuster apologized for the confusion and noted that a key determining factor in rescinding the changes was partners' trust in Microsoft.

"As we move forward, we commit to providing even more advance notice and consultation with our partner community to mitigate concerns and address issues up front," Schuster wrote.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 12, 2019 at 9:18 AM0 comments

What To Expect at Microsoft Inspire

Like other media and analysts, I'm not invited to Microsoft Inspire, the annual partner confab in Las Vegas. The media lockout policy started last year due to Microsoft's decision to combine the partner conference with the company's internal sales conference, Microsoft Ready. (That broke a streak of 12 Worldwide Partner Conferences and Inspires for me.)

For those of you who are going, here's what to expect next Sunday through Thursday in America's gambling capital in the desert.

Microsoft is currently planning to hold four major addresses to the entire audience this year. These will also be live-streamed if you're not attending the show or if you want to monitor from your hotel room after a late night of networking.

Monday morning features the annual parade of Microsoft Partner of the Year award winners across the main stage. The first main Corenote comes from Judson Althoff, executive vice president of the Worldwide Commercial Business at Microsoft, on the theme of democratizing digital. Althoff is followed Monday morning by Microsoft channel chief Gavriella Schuster's annual talk about opportunities, program changes and new incentives for Microsoft partners.

The next batch of Corenotes is on Wednesday and is a joint session with the Microsoft Inspire and Microsoft Ready audiences. First, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella provides his annual partner and business update. Then comes Microsoft President Brad Smith, who often uses his partner conference time to discuss Microsoft and technology in a larger context of global security, legal and business issues and trends.

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

The most important element of any Microsoft partner conference is connections, and there will be plenty of those available. The official word is that there will be 10,000 Microsoft partners in attendance from more than 130 countries during the week.

There are no Corenotes scheduled for Tuesday in order to allow more time for networking. Microsoft tends to be cyclical on this question, going through phases of tons of keynotes from various product groups with lots of demos in some years to fewer keynotes hitting mostly higher-level points in other years. We're in the latter phase of the cycle in 2019.

In a pre-Inspire session for media, Schuster said partners are telling her: "We come here to connect with people, we come here to connect with Microsoft, we come here to connect with each other. We do more business in this one week, then we do in probably six months." Microsoft is trying to maximize networking time this year, and she anticipates that the company will facilitate hundreds of thousands of meetings next week.

The whole show floor is configured to encourage impromptu meetings, with coffee bars and food areas and other places to sit and talk. The session count has been reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent, as well, Schuster said, in order to leave more time for partners to connect.

In that vein of lots of networking time and fewer product group Corenotes, the product demos will be few and far between. Those that do happen are supposed to have a high impact.

Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw promised the media that a database demo in Nadella's Corenote will be impressive. "A wow database demo will show you how SQL runs from the edge to the cloud at an unprecedented scale. You will not see pigs flying. But there will be pigs on stage. And you'll have to tune in to see why. You'll also see an unprecedented demo the full power of Microsoft Teams plus PowerApps plus AI plus more shown through the lens of education," Shaw said.

What's Microsoft hoping partners will come away from Inspire with? We put that question to Schuster, and she gave us a six-point answer on partner business opportunities in Microsoft FY 2020:

  1. Microsoft Teams is the biggest opportunity "bar none."
  2. Security around Modern Workplace.
  3. PowerApps.
  4. Dynamics 365, especially migrations from on-premises, where the majority of customers remain.
  5. End-of-support migrations to Microsoft Azure from Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008.
  6. Data and artificial intelligence.

Expect to hear a lot on each of those subjects next week.

Pro Tip
If you want to get some unscheduled face time with Microsoft's channel chief, hang out on the show floor. Schuster set up her official conference meeting room down there this year to avoid the usual situation where her meeting room is a 20-minute walk away. "Every time I'm in a break, I can just walk the floor and see everybody," Schuster said.

Dress for the Heat
Right now the forecast is calling for heat, heat, heat in Las Vegas. Highs of 109 degrees are expected for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, sliding down to 108 degrees Tuesday, 107 degrees on Wednesday and 106 degrees on Thursday.

Of course, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center will probably be near-freezing, so pack that sweater or sports coat.

If you see or hear anything interesting, let me know at [email protected].

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 11, 2019 at 2:40 PM0 comments

Microsoft Channel Chief: Cloud Makes IURs Unsustainably Expensive

Editor's Note: Due to partners' negative reaction to these changes, Microsoft on July 12 announced that it was rescinding the plan to end the internal use rights benefit. See RCP's coverage here.

Gavriella Schuster has come full circle on internal use rights (IURs).

In media briefings this week in advance of the Microsoft Inspire partner conference, Schuster, Microsoft's channel chief, addressed a major brewing controversy in the Microsoft partner community. Earlier this month, Microsoft quietly disclosed that it was ending IURs, the partner program benefit that allows partner companies to run their entire business on Microsoft software and services.

For the price of a Microsoft Action Pack Subscription, a Silver Competency fee or a Gold Competency fee, Microsoft partners have historically been able to get enough not-for-resale licenses and subscriptions to run their entire business on the Microsoft stack. The benefit supported a 10-person partner company with the Action Pack, a 25-person company with the Silver Competency and a 100-person company with the Gold Competency, saving partners thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per year or more in operating expenses. Additionally, the programs encouraged channel familiarity with advanced features and elements of the Microsoft stack that only light up when multiple premium Microsoft products are used in combination.

The reaction among Microsoft partners has been angry, swift and surprisingly broad. Like most vendors' channel communities, Microsoft partners rarely complain publicly due to the perceived need to stay in the company's good graces for perks, referrals and other discretionary benefits. Yet in this case, a highly critical Change.org petition emerged quickly and had garnered about 5,400 digital signatures as of Thursday.

The petition, titled "Disapprove Microsoft Partner Network Changes," declares, "In announcing these changes it's clear Microsoft is going to war with its Partners. [For the] Partners who have been so loyal to the Microsoft Business and to help it achieve the status of being the most valuable business in the world to be now treated like this is just not fair."

Specifically, the petition opposes three changes:

  • The July 1, 2020 retirement of IUR in the Action Pack and in competencies. "Product license use rights will be updated to be used for business development scenarios such as demonstration purposes, solution/services development purposes, and internal training," Microsoft's statement says.
  • An Oct. 1, 2019 change to make product licenses included with competencies specific to the competency the partner attains.
  • Microsoft is shutting down the on-premises support incidents for partners in August 2019. Previously, the Action Pack included 10 incidents, a Silver Competency covered 15 incidents and a Gold Competency allowed 20 incidents. Partners with renewal dates before August will retain their incidents until their next anniversary date. Details are here.

Although Schuster has only been in her current role as corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group (now called One Commercial Partner) for three years, her connection to IURs goes way back to the beginning of the benefit.

"My first job at Microsoft in 1995 was to make a global solution provider program," Schuster said this week in a pre-Inspire briefing for media. "When I, when I did that, I was like, 'OK, so what do you deliver to partners in that?' And it was, 'Well, we want them to use our products.' So we created these use rights, and we said, 'We want you to use our products.' And at that time, nobody even knew what our stuff did. So we needed them to learn how to use it. And, and delivering product use rights for software is pretty much free."

That has changed dramatically with the cloud, Schuster contends. Although cloud services like Office 365 or allowances in the Azure platform seem ephemeral, Schuster argues that the costs of delivering cloud services as IURs to partners were starting to eat into all of the other benefits of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).

"As we moved into cloud services, we really didn't think it through that much until recently, when the bills were getting very big," Schuster said. "We can't actually afford to run every single partner's organization all around the world anymore, because it's not free."

According to Schuster, the speed of growth in the MPN (with about 7,000 partners joining per month), the internal cost in datacenter capacity and the lack of spending discipline that the IUR program encourages are all combining to make IURs unsustainable.

"Because we have so many more partners joining the network, and our partners are getting so much more of their businesses running on cloud services, there's a real cost associated with us giving you IURs on cloud services. There's a high, high cost of sale for us. And yet, we're not making any money on it," Schuster said. "When partners aren't paying for something, they're also not as cautious as if they were paying for it. And so the example would be if you were living in a house where you didn't have to pay for utilities, you may not really pay attention to whether you're turning down the heat and turning off the lights. And the bill goes way up, and you don't really care. That was really what was happening with a lot of partners in terms of the dev test environments and the devops that they were doing in terms of scalability in their solutions. It was costing us a lot."

Schuster acknowledged that ending the IURs was a hard choice. "I had these cost overruns this last year where I had to reshuffle a bunch of things and take services away from the partners to pay for that. But I factored out that if we continue the level of growth, and our partners continue to grow like they have been, then I would basically not be able to provide the partners any other service other than IURs," she said.

Schuster downplayed the importance of IURs to the partners that she talks to regularly. "When you talk to a partner, that's not even what they talk about as being valuable. What they talk about as being valuable is [Microsoft connecting] them to customers, when we can generate business for them, when we invest in helping them build new services and practices," Schuster said. "I would rather spend the money to provide them all those other things than to help them run their business on  IURs."

The 175 comments left behind so far by signatories to the Change.org petition, however, suggest that the IURs remain a headline benefit to many partners, especially smaller ones.

By removing the core of the benefit that she once helped create, Schuster is facing one of the biggest controversies in the Microsoft channel since Microsoft's decision to shut down Windows Small Business Server.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 11, 2019 at 9:21 AM0 comments

ServiceNow Dubs Microsoft Azure a 'Preferred' Cloud

In a bid to win over governments and enterprises in highly regulated industries looking to move digital workflows to the cloud, Microsoft and ServiceNow on Tuesday announced an extension of their existing partnership.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based ServiceNow provides cloud-based platforms and solutions for delivering digital workflows. Its new agreement with Microsoft builds on an alliance from October that allowed Microsoft's U.S. federal government customers to deploy ServiceNow technology from the Microsoft Azure Marketplace to the Azure Government Cloud.

The main component of the expanded arrangement is that ServiceNow will use Azure as a preferred, but not exclusive, cloud platform. The Azure version will include ServiceNow's "full SaaS experience," according to the announcement. Initial availability will be in Australia and Azure Government in the United States, with additional Azure regions coming later.

ServiceNow will still provide its SaaS offering on its own private cloud. The company also announced a deal in May with Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and has integrations with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

According to the announcement, ServiceNow will benefit from Azure's broad regulatory and compliance coverage, while ServiceNow's inroads with the U.S. federal government's digital transformation efforts could bring new workloads to Azure.

Microsoft and ServiceNow will also continue to partner on development of technology integration and user experience improvements for their joint customers.

In a separate transaction announced at the same time, Microsoft will use ServiceNow's IT & Employment Experience workflow products internally.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 09, 2019 at 11:35 AM0 comments

Q&A with the CEO of RCP Rocket Award Winner Quisitive

The results of the sixth annual RCP Rocket Awards are in, and the winner is 3-year-old Microsoft technology giant Quisitive Technology Solutions Inc.

The award, sponsored by Redmond Channel Partner and Revenue Rocket Consulting Group, is open to all U.S.-based Microsoft partners with annual revenues between $5 million and $100 million, and whose innovative business strategies resulted in sustained growth over three years. While metrics of growth are a key factor, an equally important factor is innovative and sustainable business strategies.

Quisitive, with offices in Dallas, Denver, Ottawa and Toronto, meets the growth metrics, but is also trying to fill what it sees as a market need for a scale partner with a 100 percent focus on Microsoft technologies. We caught up with founder, CEO and Board Director Mike Reinhart, a longtime Microsoft channel veteran, for an interview last month about the company's strategy and positioning. The transcript is lightly edited for clarity.

RCP: What was the idea behind Quisitive and how was the company formed?
Reinhart: Microsoft has moved to leading with the cloud. What that means to the enterprise is there is a need for a different kind of partner team. We have this philosophy of start, right, finish, right. The whole purpose of the company is to create this mechanism to really help our customers and, as an agent with Microsoft, go drive and help organizations understand the journey to the cloud. What does that look like to move to the cloud?

But then, more importantly, the baseline is then how to operate in the cloud, and how that changes everything from skills to how they manage and operate. Then the next phase is really about innovating in the cloud to create a new business model. So we're really this expert on the Microsoft cloud platform that helps them through that whole cloud journey.

What's your current strategy for delivering business value around the Microsoft technology stack?
Our strategy is multifaceted. One is we see this need, and really have been led by Microsoft to see this need around [enterprises requiring] a different type of partner to emerge. [Microsoft needs] a scale partner to emerge in their ecosystem. They have this highly fragmented community that have point solution capabilities, where they might be able to cover one aspect of the platform or provide certain services around the cloud. What we're really trying to do is create a scale partner across North America. We're doing that through our organic motion to take our expertise around the Microsoft cloud and modern workplace and Azure and expand that into Dynamics and the three cloud pillars from Microsoft.

But in addition to the organic growth and things that we've been doing with Microsoft is an aggressive M&A strategy. So we've gone public on the Toronto Venture Exchange late last year and we executed our first acquisition [June 5] with Corporate Renaissance Group Inc. [CRG], based out of Canada. That was a complement to that strategy, both in terms of geographic reach, but also their specialization in the Microsoft Dynamics cloud platform, really giving us the foundation of all three clouds and our ability to take that to market.

"Winning or losing with Microsoft is my philosophy after partnering with Microsoft nearly 30 years now. They have a great footprint in the enterprise already and a much longer history than an Amazon or Google or somebody else. They have established relationships. We think they have the best product offer holistically across all the different pillars of the cloud."

Mike Reinhart, Founder and CEO, Quisitive

How far along are you in the acquisition strategy?
We're just getting started. We've really been developing what I call our playbook for acquisitions, both in terms of how we structure our deals, as well as how we build up a profile of the acquisition targets that we're looking at. Again, it goes back to things like geographic expansion and being able to have sales execution regionally distributed across North America with Microsoft to engage with the customer.

We're in phase one, where we built out that playbook. CRG is the first acquisition that we brought into the family, and we're looking to do two to three of those a year to continue to build and scale the business. Part of that strategy in going public on the Toronto Venture Exchange is having a capital market to support the acquisition process and use that as a vehicle to help fund that element of the growth strategy.

One of the things that stood out to us on the selection committee was your cloud assessment programs. Can you tell us a little about the process behind those?
It's always a challenge for customers understanding some basic things, right? What is it? What does that look like? How much is it going to cost me to actually make the move to the cloud? What's it going to do? What's my ROI going to be once I'm operating in the cloud? How do I actually take advantage and not have it just be about this cost and management piece, but rather about how do I really get things into the cloud and start thinking about key applications where I might be able to innovate in the cloud?

So we developed a process where we go out and have a programmatic approach. We assess their current environments but then also do some very specific things around ROI analysis. We understand their current costs, and the cost to move to the cloud. We look at, and do, what we call application rationalization, looking at their portfolio of applications. That's everything. It includes Windows Server end-of-life and SQL Server end-of-life and support, and what implications those have from a security perspective. It includes understanding how they might modernize those applications to take advantage of new capabilities in the cloud.

We do all that and put together a three-year roadmap for customers to help them understand how to establish the right foundation in the cloud. That way a customer will be able to go through their approval processes to understand not just what the first step looks like, but what the entire journey looks like.

On market positioning, you mentioned Microsoft has a need for national-scale organizations like the one you're building. How do you position yourself against some of the big systems integrators like IBM, DXC and Accenture/Avanade?

M&A Panel at Inspire

Going to Microsoft Inspire next week in Las Vegas? Mike Reinhart will be one of the expert panelists at the Revenue Rocket discussion for Microsoft partners, "M&A Done Right," in an event adjacent to the conference. The 2 p.m.-4 p.m. event on Tuesday, July 16, will be at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Islander I, and will include the panel and a cocktail and networking hour.

Panelists include Brent Combest, a general manager within the Microsoft One Commercial Partner organization; Mike Reinhart, CEO, Quisitive Technology Solutions; Axel Schulz, managing partner with EUROCON Consultants; Kyle Reesing, principal, Strattam Capital; and Linda Rose, retired Microsoft partner and author of "Get Acquired for Millions: A Roadmap for Technology Service Providers to Maximize Company Value." Mike Harvath, CEO of Revenue Rocket Consulting Group, will moderate the panel.

Register here.

With those partners, there's no question they have meaningful Microsoft service capabilities. But in most cases, it might only represent 25 percent of their total revenues. And the other mix of revenues that they have are going to be competitive platforms -- Google, Amazon, IBM, Oracle, whatever that might be. It's kind of this interesting relationship they have with Microsoft. So some accounts, they're tightly integrated, and others, they might actually be competing with Microsoft, right? So that's one element.

The second is those much larger integrators are dealing with the much larger enterprises. They're servicing that top 10 percent, or so. But there's that next tier -- the Microsoft enterprise accounts and the small, medium and corporate (SMC) account space -- that is not being served by that community. And from Microsoft, again, this is a key place where they need scale to emerge so that instead of in each region, or each city, they have to deal with tens of partners to try to engage customers, they can deal with a limited number of those to create efficiency on their sales side.

From a customer lens, this is also really important. One of the things that I got feedback from my customers on is they don't like having to have one partner helping them with maybe their Dynamics CRM, a different partner helping them move their datacenter to Infrastructure as a Service, and a third partner that might be helping them modernize their applications in a different way. It puts the burden on them to integrate that experience for bringing value to their transformation that they're trying to create. They want a partner that can do that. So we think there's this high need, and Microsoft has confirmed it for me in many, many conversations, to create that in the enterprise and upper-level SMC space, in particular.

How do you see partnering with Microsoft within that larger market for IT services? Is it a case where if you specialize in Microsoft technology, the whole market is still available to you just because they're such a significant player? Or do you view it as sort of playing within a significant subset with a lot of room for growth?
Winning or losing with Microsoft is my philosophy after partnering with Microsoft nearly 30 years now. They have a great footprint in the enterprise already and a much longer history than an Amazon or Google or somebody else. They have established relationships. We think they have the best product offer holistically across all the different pillars of the cloud. For us, it's a great opportunity for us to go win with them and there's significant growth opportunity.

When you're modernizing applications, it doesn't mean -- and this aligns with the [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] vision and how he's changed the business -- you're only modernizing using traditional Microsoft technologies. You might be using open source capability but then running it in Azure. We think Microsoft is the best-quality partner for us. We can be focused and really good at what we do, rather than having people one day working on Microsoft cloud and on a different day on Amazon cloud.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 08, 2019 at 1:28 PM0 comments

Microsoft Killing Its Most Popular Partner Benefit, IURs

Editor's Note: Due to partners' negative reaction to these changes, Microsoft on July 12 announced that it was rescinding the plan to end the internal use rights benefit. See RCP's coverage here.

An announcement on Microsoft's partner Web site indicates that the popular internal use rights (IUR) benefit will be discontinued in less than a year.

IURs allow Microsoft partners to run their business on Microsoft software, from their Windows desktops to all of the back-end servers to the newer cloud services. They were consistently rated one of the best features of Microsoft's partner program in RCP surveys and cited as a key benefit in partner interviews over the years.

"Effective July 1, 2020, we will retire the internal use rights (IUR) association with the product licenses partners receive in the Microsoft Action Pack and included with a competency. Product license use rights will be updated to be used for business development scenarios such as demonstration purposes, solution/services development purposes, and internal training," Microsoft said in the low-profile announcement on the partner Web site.

"Beginning October 1, 2019, the product licenses included with competencies will be specific to the competency you attain. Please review the benefits you will receive with your competency in Partner Center at time of purchase. Additional licenses can be purchased through commercial licensing to run your business," the statement continued.

The licenses, similar to not-for-resale benefits in other vendors' partner programs, were much more valuable than the sticker price of subscribing to the Action Pack or paying the fee to attain a Silver or Gold competency. In general, Action Pack subscription IURs would support a business of about 10 employees. Silver competency IURs could run a business of about 25 employees, and Gold competency IURs would support a business of about 100 employees.

In a Facebook post, former International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) president Kelvin Kirby described himself as "reeling" from the announcement.

"Another example, if any were needed, of the continued erosion of benefits to Microsoft Partners and evidence of complete chaos in the MPN [Microsoft Partner Network] program. This must be the worst move by Microsoft in 30 years and may see the end of the MPN program as we know it today. A very sad day. I hear on the Partner grapevine that there is uproar in the MPN community about this. Not at all unsurprising. Will be interested to see how Microsoft survives Inspire after this rather critical announcement," Kirby wrote in a reference to the Microsoft Inspire partner conference that starts the week after next.

IURs were one of the ultimate symbols of the enlightened self-interest of the MPN. By encouraging its competency partners and Action Pack subscriber partners to run their entire business on Microsoft's stack, Microsoft ensured that those partners knew the software and services inside and out and understood fully how to leverage the benefits of the tools by lighting up all of the features.

Update 5:30 p.m.: A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed the changes Friday afternoon with an e-mailed statement putting the decision on IUR benefits in a broader context:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 05, 2019 at 9:22 AM0 comments

Microsoft Launches Premium Tier for Azure Files

After being in limited preview since last September's Ignite conference and in a broader preview since early May, the premium tier for Microsoft's Azure Files service has hit general availability.

With Wednesday's release, users with higher performance needs now have the ability to access managed file services on solid-state drives in Microsoft's public cloud.

"Premium tier is optimized to deliver consistent performance for IO-intensive workloads that require high-throughput and low latency. Premium file shares store data on the latest SSDs, making them suitable for a wide variety of workloads like databases, persistent volumes for containers, home directories, content and collaboration repositories, media and analytics, high variable and batch workloads, and enterprise applications that are performance sensitive," said Tad Brockway, corporate vice president for Azure Storage, Media and Edge, in a blog post.

Microsoft will continue to offer a standard tier of Azure Files at a lower price, with the standard tier positioned for general-purpose file storage, development, test, backups and applications that are less sensitive to latency.

In the United States, the premium tier is about four times as expensive as the standard tier per month at $0.24 per provisioned GiB rather than $0.06 per used GiB. The delta on snapshot GiB/month is slightly less, with premium going for $0.20 per used GiB, while standard is $0.06 per used GiB. (Editor's Note: The story has been updated to correct pricing. An earlier version was based on old information on Microsoft's pricing page, which was updated after the announcement.)

However, unlike with the standard tier, operations on premium files are free. That difference is reflected in the "per provisioned" (versus "per used"), which Microsoft contends makes it simpler to determine the total cost of ownership.

The premium tier pricing goes into effect on Aug. 1. A public preview discount of 50 percent will stay in force until July 31.

Brockway also said the Azure Storage team is working internally with the Azure SQL and Microsoft Power BI teams to help leverage the premium files for higher-performance solutions. "As a result, Azure Database for PostgreSQL and Azure Database for MySQL recently opened a preview of increased scale of 16 TiB databases with 20,000 IOPS powered by premium files. Microsoft Power BI announced a powerful 20 times faster enhanced dataflows compute engine preview built upon Azure Files premium tier," he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 26, 2019 at 8:49 AM0 comments

Report: Be Consistent, Blog Long and Other Marketing Insights for Microsoft Partners

When it comes to digital marketing for Microsoft partners, few organizations are watching the trends, the space and the success metrics as closely as Fifty Five and Five. Founded five years ago, the firm each year releases a lengthy report recognizing the best in Microsoft partner digital marketing.

As the London-based organization gets ready to release its annual report at the Microsoft Inspire show next month, we caught up with founder Chris Wright for an e-mail Q&A. (The company is taking advance registrations for the free report here.)

RCP: What was the market issue that inspired you to start this series of reports five years ago?
Wright: Fundamentally, we wanted to change the way Microsoft partners thought about marketing. We spent a lot of the time, back then as a young agency, educating clients on "inbound marketing." We'd talk to prospects about the potential of this new way of thinking, of the power of becoming a thought leader, of giving great content away and focusing on inbound leads. We told a great story, but partners sometimes found it difficult to understand. Back then it was too new.

So, we created what was then called "The Microsoft Partner Inbound Marketing Top 50 Report." We devised a means to assess "good inbound marketing" and started ranking partners. It was a way to say, "Look, look over here and see what great inbound marketing looks like right now." Suffice to say it proved very effective, and the report has continued to grow since then.

As you look at the results this year, what are the things that have stayed consistent?
It's actually consistency itself. This year we've seen once again that consistency wins the day. Quality is key, but those partners who remain consistent in their output and their execution rank highly. Put simply, a big part of great content marketing is keeping your message consistently in the places where customers might find it. It is a clear trend in every report we've published.

What were the most surprising results from the survey this time?
We've actually renamed the report this year. We dropped the "Inbound Marketing" wording and called it the "Top 50 Digital Marketing Excellence 2019-2020 Report." This might seem a small thing, but it's actually very significant. The partner community has really matured in recent years, and as the levels of marketing competency have risen, many partners have come to see inbound marketing tactics as the only way to look at digital marketing. Inbound = digital. And the market is very tuned to that now. It's surprised me a little how quickly the market has matured in this way, but it is fantastic to see.

What do the most successful marketing campaigns include?
We are seeing a much greater focus on different content types this year. As partners have started to understand the power of inbound (or content) marketing, they are quite rightly realizing that there's more substance to a well-balanced strategy. Posting a 750-word blog once a week doesn't cover it.

We've seen far more longer-form content this year. Here at Fifty Five and Five we've preached the power of 1,600-word in-depth blogs for a long time, as well as much more visual content. Video and animation are, of course, popular, but even the odd interactive touch to an otherwise static post can make a huge impact.

"A generic blog titled '10 Tips for SharePoint Online' won't cut it anymore. However well-written and engaging your content is, blogs like this will simply get lost in the crowd."

Chris Wright, Founder, Fifty Five and Five

How have marketing strategies developed and improved in the last year?
As well as embracing different content types, we've seen partners apply a lot more creativity. We've seen clear trends appear such as highly specific messaging using clear language, and the adoption of a more "B2C" [business-to-consumer] tone.

A generic blog titled "10 Tips for SharePoint Online" won't cut it anymore. However well-written and engaging your content is, blogs like this will simply get lost in the crowd. The best partners know their customers inside out and can tailor content to meet their target audience's needs. This might mean creating content that focuses on a vertical, a job role or a highly specific problem a customer faces.

When you look at different approaches, what is the comparative success of Web site, blog and social media marketing?
Without giving away exactly how we score partners, blogs have always played a big role in the overall ranking. Good content marketing relies on regular fresh content, and blogs remain the perfect outlet for that. But some very advanced partners have started to look beyond the blog and embrace this sort of content across their site. Quite rightly they think, "Why should that content be siloed in a blog area?"

How would you rate the overall state of Microsoft partner marketing?
Fifty Five and Five have created this report for five years now. Our analysis shows that partner marketing is better than ever. We rank over 39,000 partners every year. Not only have the scores, overall, steadily risen, but the gap between places continues to narrow.

We work closely with Microsoft (in the U.S. from our Seattle office) and in the U.K. and Europe from our London HQ. The focus and sheer effort they put into Go-To-Market activity have really paid off.

If you were to recommend one thing for Microsoft partners to really focus on in their marketing in the coming year, what would it be?
Touching back on an earlier comment, I would say consistency. As an agency, the team here at Fifty Five and Five see it all the time, and it's borne out by the report. Consistency in execution is what earns the best results. Lack of consistency kills marketing efforts.

Partners need to think about their USP (unique selling point), what differentiates them and what their customers already like about them. Then they need to turn that into a marketing message. But the most important thing is maintaining consistency with this message. One blog every few months does not build an audience. The odd tweet or LinkedIn status update does not count as social selling.

Consistency is different to volume, that's also important to remember. There's an optimum level of output, of course, but cranking up the volume doesn't always yield better results.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 25, 2019 at 11:16 AM0 comments

Concern Mounts About 'BlueKeep' Windows RDP Flaw

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the lead U.S. government unit on civilian cybersecurity, has joined the chorus of warnings about the "BlueKeep" Windows security vulnerability.

BlueKeep refers to a critical vulnerability in the implementation of the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) used by several older Windows operating systems, including Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. BlueKeep's Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) identifier is CVE-2019-0708.

Microsoft disclosed the vulnerability in mid-May and took the extraordinary step of providing patches for some of the involved operating systems that have fallen out of support -- Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows Server 2003.

Because the vulnerability is pre-authentication and requires no user interaction, Microsoft at the time warned, "The vulnerability is 'wormable', meaning that any future malware that exploits this vulnerability could propagate from vulnerable computer to vulnerable computer in a similar way as the WannaCry malware spread across the globe in 2017."

In an end-of-May blog post, the Microsoft Security Response Center repeated its warnings about the BlueKeep vulnerability in no uncertain terms. "It's been only two weeks since the fix was released and there has been no sign of a worm yet. This does not mean that we're out of the woods ... It is possible that we won't see this vulnerability incorporated into malware. But that's not the way to bet."

Earlier this month, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) issued a public warning of its own urging Windows administrators to apply the patch and update their systems. In the June 4 statement, the NSA wrote, "Although Microsoft has issued a patch, potentially millions of machines are still vulnerable."

Now comes the CISA warning, which also urges users and administrators to review Microsoft's advisory and "apply the appropriate mitigation measures as soon as possible." In addition to enumerating the previous concerns about the vulnerability -- such as a successful attacker's ability to add accounts with full user rights; view, change or delete data; or install programs -- CISA goes further with a discussion of its own tests.

"CISA tested BlueKeep against a Windows 2000 machine and achieved remote code execution. Windows OS versions prior to Windows 8 that are not mentioned in this Activity Alert may also be affected; however, CISA has not tested these systems," the alert states.

Attila Tomaschek, data privacy advocate at ProPrivacy.com, said the CISA warning should not be taken lightly, in part because of the agency's test. "The fact that CISA revealed that it was able to exploit BlueKeep to execute code remotely on a computer running Windows 2000 suggests that it is only a matter of time before malicious attackers are able to do the same," Tomaschek said in an e-mailed statement.

Tomaschek suggested that the CISA's critical warning indicates that authorities believe the threat of a malicious exploit with the capability to infect large numbers of vulnerable devices is imminent. "Organizations and individuals using vulnerable Windows operating systems should take heed and install Microsoft's security updates to patch the vulnerability and insulate themselves from an attack that could potentially take over their systems and compromise hordes of sensitive data," he said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 19, 2019 at 12:47 PM0 comments

Who Are the Worldwide Microsoft Implementation Services Leaders?

Determining the best Microsoft partners in the world is challenging. With a community as large, diverse and global as the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), there are a thousand ways to look at the question.

Market research firm IDC took a crack at it from the standpoint of global implementation giants in a report released last month. The "IDC Marketscape: Worldwide Microsoft Implementation Services 2019 Vendor Assessment" is an analysis of 10 Microsoft systems integrators.

To be included, a firm had to have at least $125 million of revenue from a Microsoft implementation practice at a worldwide level, a minimum of 1,000 professionals related to Microsoft projects, and at least 10 percent of revenue and 10 percent of headcount in each of IDC's three macroregions.

Summarizing its findings in the form of a chart, IDC was careful not to rank the top 10. Instead, citing 34 evaluation criteria, IDC arranged the companies along a two-axis chart with "Capabilities" on the vertical axis and "Strategies" on the horizontal. Five companies are clustered around the lower edge of a "Leaders" category and the other five are clustered near the top of a "Major Players" category.

According to IDC, the leaders include Accenture and Avanade (grouped as one entity), IBM, Infosys, HCL and TCS. The major players are PwC, DXC, EY, Wipro and Cognizant.

IDC noted that although Leidos is one of the top five systems integrators based on worldwide revenue, the firm was excluded due to the concentration of its revenue. According to IDC, Leidos typically receives more than 80 percent of its revenues from the U.S. government.

IDC also cautioned that its evaluation should not be considered a "final judgment" on firms to consider for a project. "It is conceivable, and in fact the case, that specialty firms can compete with multidisciplinary firms on an equal footing," analyst Ali Zaidi wrote in the report.

In short, the IDC research provides a useful snapshot of the biggest and broadest systems integrators in the Microsoft ecosystem.

An excerpt of the report featuring Accenture and Avanade is available here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 17, 2019 at 8:41 AM0 comments