Microsoft Gives Azure Lighthouse MSP Tool Some Attention

Azure Lighthouse, Microsoft's most ambitious managed service provider tooling effort in years, is now sporting important new features and integrations with Microsoft's main partner portal.

Microsoft released Azure Lighthouse last July during the Microsoft Inspire partner conference. It represents a way for MSPs to manage Microsoft Azure tenants for many customers using technology that provides visibility and control to both the partner and the customer. Azure Lighthouse is free for partners to use on top of their existing Azure subscriptions.

Microsoft Azure Chief Technology Officer Mark Russinovich provided an update on Azure Lighthouse progress in a blog post in the wake of Build, Microsoft's biggest annual conference for developers.

Without getting into specific numbers, Russinovich hinted at adoption momentum behind Lighthouse and emphasized the scalability of the platform. "Thousands of partners and enterprises use Azure Lighthouse to manage services across Azure tenants, representing tens of thousands of subscriptions and more than one million Azure resources from Azure Resource Manager -- a unified control plane," Russinovich said.

Early adopters of Azure Lighthouse from the July 2019 launch included DXC Technology, Nordcloud, Rackspace, Sentia, Dynatrace, Ingram Micro and Veeam. In his post, Russinovich highlighted new partners, including ClearDATA, Yorktel and Vandis.

Azure Lighthouse is primarily about Azure delegated resource management. It's designed to overcome many of the challenges from one of the Azure management methods MSPs have needed to use in the past -- having the customer create accounts on their Azure tenant for the partner to use to manage that tenant. With Azure Lighthouse, the partner uses their own Azure account to manage the customers' Azure tenants. With the system designed for multi-tenant management by partners from the start, both customers and their partners have more visibility and control over what the other can see and do.

Other than management at scale, benefits for Microsoft partners include being able to view and manage all their customers' tenants from one interface, the ability to support multiple licensing models and the protection of their intellectual property. That last point results from the way Azure Lighthouse allows the partner to run their proprietary automation scripts from their own tenant. With other management methods, partners would have to run their proprietary scripts from within the customers' tenants, putting that IP out of partners' control and making it harder to safeguard.

Russinovich summarized a series of updates to Azure Lighthouse that Microsoft has been rolling out over the last few months.

Among the most significant is the ability for partners to monitor the status of backup jobs across their customer base. One element is Backup Explorer, an Azure Monitor Workbook for single pane-of-glass monitoring of an entire Azure backup estate. Backup Explorer went into preview in February, and one of the key use cases is for MSPs running Azure Lighthouse to monitor multiple tenants. Similarly, new Azure Backup reports also support Azure Lighthouse. These additions add backup monitoring to the compliance and security monitoring that partners can already perform for customers from within Azure Lighthouse.

Another recent capability allows service providers with Azure Lighthouse to use Azure Monitor Logs across their customer tenants to trigger notification and onboarding workflows for their teams.

As part of Microsoft's broad effort to transition more of its partner functionality to the central portal of Microsoft Partner Center, certain Azure Lighthouse functionality is being swept up in that migration. For MSPs who want to use the Azure Marketplace to create either public or private Azure Lighthouse offers for customers, they now draft and publish those from within Partner Center. Previously they needed to create the offers from the separate Cloud Partner Portal.

Among other changes and improvements, Azure Lighthouse is now a FEDRAMP High certified service, the help and support experiences have been improved and customers have more self-service options.

Recognizing that few customers are entirely in the cloud, Microsoft is also starting to explore ways to help MSPs extend Azure Lighthouse for hybrid management.

"Many MSP partners rely on Azure Lighthouse, and now Azure Arc, to achieve a unified management solution in these advanced scenarios. MSPs can extend their service offerings to manage their customers' on-premises environments through Azure Resource Manager, managing resources at scale and governing compliance using Azure policy," Russinovich said.

Russinovich promised more Azure Lighthouse-related detail would come out of Inspire 2020 in July.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 27, 2020 at 8:58 PM0 comments


Microsoft Build: 10 Interesting Technologies Hitting GA

The Microsoft Build conference was virtual this year, but many of the product and platform revelations coming out of the show were concrete.

Let's look at 10 interesting technologies that hit general availability (or at least got GA timeframes) at the developer-centric event that kicked off on Tuesday.

1. Project Cortex
While Build was filled with mostly small bore announcements, one of the larger ones was Project Cortex. Billed as the first new service in Microsoft 365 since the launch of Microsoft Teams, Project Cortex involves applying artificial intelligence to the Microsoft Graph. The new service is intended to surface knowledge and information from within the apps that workers use daily. While still in private preview, Project Cortex makes this GA list because general availability has now been promised for "early summer."

2. Azure Spatial Anchors
Graduating from preview to GA are Azure Spatial Anchors. Developers can use the anchors for mixed-reality apps that "map, persist and share 3D content," according to a Microsoft description. Intended for gaming, social networking, networking, manufacturing and retail, Azure Spatial Anchors are designed to share persisting 3-D content for HoloLens, iOS and Android devices.

3. IoT Hub Support for Virtual Networks
IoT Hub is Microsoft's cloud gateway for collecting telemetry data from IoT devices. What's becoming generally available is virtual network (VNET) support. That way customers can set up a more secure connection through Azure VNETs that they own.

4. Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) Support
Microsoft's capabilities for orchestrating and managing containers matured considerably at Build with a handful of announcements involving GA of support around AKS. For one, AKS now supports Windows Server containers, allowing Windows and Linux applications to run within a single AKS cluster. AKS also newly supports private clusters and best-practice recommendations on performance, availability and security.

5. Responsible ML Workflow Documentation Capabilities
Not exactly a technology, but heavily intertwined with and informed by one, is some documentation capability for developers. A major theme out of Microsoft the last few years has been socially responsible use of emerging technologies. In line with that effort are new workflow documentation capabilities being made available to customers shortly after Build. The capabilities to enforce accountability cover Azure Machine Learning.

6. Azure Peering Service
This enterprise-focused networking service involving Microsoft partnerships with telecoms and carriers allows companies that are heavy users of Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure to ensure more reliable and higher-performance public connectivity and optimal routing.

7. Bookings App in Teams
The Bookings app allows scheduling, managing and conducting business-to-consumer meetings. Microsoft announced the integration of the app into Teams in March, and Build marks its general availability. Microsoft says the Bookings app in Teams allows organizations to consolidate management of meetings for multiple departments in one scheduling tool.

8. Azure Secure Score API
An API for the Azure Secure Score service is generally available for those who might want to incorporate the security benchmarking/snapshot tool into other applications. The API covers the enhanced version of Secure Score, which is still in preview. The new version is designed to be more meaningful to users and to group the scores and recommendations by their associated attack surfaces.

9. Windows Terminal
I guess this Microsoft statement qualifies as general availability: "The Windows Terminal is now out of preview and stable for enterprise use." Windows Terminal is an open source project available from the Microsoft Store and designed for command-line tool users. Power users can run things like Command Prompt, PowerShell and WSL from an interface with tabs, panes, custom themes and a GPU-accelerated text rendering engine.

10. Azure Cosmos DB Autoscale Provisioned Throughput
Like Project Cortex, this is another one that's not quite ready, but that makes the list because Microsoft is now talking about a GA date, in this case summer. Azure Cosmos DB autoscale provisioned throughput, a mouthful that Microsoft used to call "autopilot," handles planning and management of throughput capacity. Microsoft says it's suited for large, unpredictable workloads.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 19, 2020 at 3:30 PM0 comments


Phil Sorgen Heads to RingCentral

Longtime senior Microsoft partner and sales executive Phil Sorgen has moved to RingCentral Inc.

Sorgen took on the role of Chief Revenue Officer at Belmont, Calif.-based RingCentral earlier this month.

The publicly traded company specializes in cloud-based communications and collaboration solutions with an emphasis on the voice end of the space. The company's flagship product, RingCentral Office, is a cloud-based PBX system. The company also offers products for meetings and webinars. Integrations with Microsoft Office products and collaboration services have made Microsoft a key longtime technology partner for RingCentral.

That partnership was somewhat complicated in April when RingCentral launched RingCentral Video, a voice, video, screen sharing and team messaging platform that coincides with the COVID-19-related global surge in remote work. However, with launch integrations with Microsoft Teams and Office 365, the move was more of a direct shot across the bow of Zoom, which had previously provided the video technology for RingCentral Meetings.

In roughly two decades at Microsoft, Sorgen's highest-profile role was as global channel chief -- formally the corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group -- between 2013 and 2016. He shifted laterally to the U.S. subsidiary, where he was most recently CVP for the Microsoft Enterprise Commercial Group, a key sales management role encompassing both internal teams and partner engagement. Previous roles at Microsoft included CVP for the U.S. Small and Mid-market Solutions and Partner (SMS&P), President for Microsoft Canada and General Manager of Enterprise Partner Group National Sales.

"Phil's leadership is defined by his deep customer and partner relationships, a customer-first mindset and a track record of building sustainable growth businesses at [global] scale," said Anand Eswaran, president and COO at RingCentral, in a statement. "As we continue to enable our customers to thrive during these unprecedented times, Phil will lead the way in driving a powerful partner and customer ecosystem and take us through our next growth phase."

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 13, 2020 at 8:06 AM0 comments


Microsoft Releases New Badges for Teams Partners

Microsoft on Wednesday launched two new advanced specializations that allow partners to highlight their capabilities around remote work with Microsoft Teams and related teamwork platforms.

A specialization focused on using the Office 365 platform for distributed collaborative work is called Teamwork Deployment. The other specialization, Calling for Microsoft Teams, is for partners who can deploy and support voice calling capabilities within Teams.

Both advanced specializations are for partners who already have a gold competency in Cloud Productivity.

The move reinforces Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's comment last week that COVID-19 had driven "two years' worth of digital transformation in two months" through a massive, global push to remote work. Microsoft last week also revealed that Teams usage had soared to 75 million daily active users, a jump of 70 percent in a little over a month.

In announcing the new designations for partners, Dan Truax, general manager for Microsoft One Commercial Partner, positioned the specializations and move to remote-enabled work as a long-term shift rather than a short-term opportunity to meet a unique set of historical circumstances.

"For some, it may feel like the nudge they needed to fast-track existing plans; for others, a necessary but difficult transition into uncharted territory. But one thing is clear: the cost of failing to adapt to this new way of working and the technologies required to power it will be far greater than the investment of time and resources of implementation. As referenced in so much of the news coverage on this topic, the change has happened and there's no going back," Truax said in a blog post.

Both advanced specializations are available immediately.

Teamwork Deployment covers various Office 365 technologies dubbed the Teamwork services. They include Teams, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Yammer. Requirements across those Teamwork services for a 12-month period include a minimum threshold for growth in Active Entitlements, an average of 20 percent active usage and a minimum number of new customer tenants. Partners must also provide three customer references and have four individuals pass Teamwork-related exams.

Calling for Microsoft Teams is designed for partners implementing calling solutions for customers. It has a growth threshold for active entitlement of Teams, requires four individuals to pass certain technical exams and calls for three customer references.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 06, 2020 at 1:27 PM0 comments


Virtual Microsoft Inspire To Last 2 Days; Registration Opens in June

Microsoft's annual partner conference, Microsoft Inspire, will be packed into two online-only days this July with registration opening next month.

Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster provided a video and blog update on Friday about Inspire, which Microsoft had already announced in late March would be changed to a virtual event due to COVID-19.

The official dates for Inspire are Tuesday, July 21, and Wednesday, July 22. The schedule of events has not yet been released.

Normally the conference consists of senior executive keynotes, networking events, parties, award ceremonies and hundreds of individual sessions covering technologies, partner programs and business practices. Originally, Inspire had been set for five days from July 19 to 23. Regularly held in Las Vegas for the last few years, the event routinely draws more than 10,000 attendees.

Schuster, whose official title is corporate vice president of One Commercial Partner, emphasized that as a free and virtual event, many more people at individual Microsoft partner companies could attend. Normally, Microsoft partners would only be able to send one or two employees, if any, to the event.

"That means you can invite as many people from your organization as you'd like so they can be a part of this very special experience," Schuster said in a video recorded at her house in Washington state.

Meanwhile, companies hoping to be recognized at Inspire with a Microsoft Partner of the Year award got an extension recently to submit their applications. The deadline moved from April 21 to May 12, and Microsoft also introduced a new Community Response award.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 01, 2020 at 11:14 AM0 comments


Microsoft Teams Usage Rips Higher to 75 Million Daily Active Users

Microsoft Teams usage has surged more than 70 percent in a little over a month as the massive shift to remote work makes online collaboration and video conferencing platforms essential.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed an updated figure for daily active users (DAU) on Wednesday of 75 million. Nadella announced the daily active users number during a call on Microsoft's quarterly earnings, which grew double digits in revenues and earnings per share even as business activity worldwide has plummeted.

The 75 million DAU follows a 44 million figure for the same metric as of March 18. The pandemic has been a driver of Teams, which saw 120 percent growth from November 2019 (20 million DAU) to March 18. As recently as last July, Teams DAU was lingering in the 13 million range.

"As work norms evolve, organizations are realizing they need a comprehensive solution that brings together communications, collaboration and business process -- built on a foundation of security and privacy," Nadella said.

The new metrics look even stronger for Microsoft and Teams on Thursday than they did on Wednesday evening relative to the competition. On April 22, Zoom had claimed a daily user count of 300 million, an eye-popping number. Eagle-eyed reporters at The Verge noted that the blog had been edited a few days later to change that metric to "300 million meeting participants." Zoom acknowledged the significant change in a statement to the news site Wednesday and Zoom shares fell sharply on Thursday.

When it comes to meeting participants, which can be the same person in multiple meetings over the course of a day, Microsoft is getting much closer to Zoom's scale with Teams. Nadella said Wednesday that Teams had more than 200 million meeting participants in a single day in April. He also said those same participants racked up more than 4.1 billion meeting minutes.

Microsoft is competing on multiple fronts with Teams. In addition to Zoom, other high-profile competitors include Slack and Google. Nadella positioned Teams' breadth as a strength.

"Microsoft Teams supports multiple communications modalities in a shared workspace. It is the only solution with meetings, calls, chat, collaboration with the power of Office, and business process workflows -- in a single, integrated user experience -- with the highest security, as well as compliance. Teams keeps all your work and communication -- conversations, documents, whiteboards, and meeting notes -- in context. It helps people collaborate inside and outside meetings, making them more efficient and effective while reducing fatigue," he said.

Nadella told investors that adding capabilities to Teams each week remains a strategic priority for the company.

On the enterprise side, Microsoft is also continuing to make progress with massive deployments of Teams in recent months. "Twenty organizations with more than 100,000 employees are now using Teams, including Continental AG, Ernst & Young, Pfizer and SAP. Just last week, Accenture became the first organization to surpass half a million users," Nadella said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 30, 2020 at 1:04 PM0 comments


Teams, Azure Absorb Coronavirus Hit to Microsoft Earnings

Before Microsoft reported its quarterly earnings on Wednesday, analysts weren't sure how COVID-19 would affect different parts of its diverse portfolio of businesses.

But as CFO Amy Hood told investors during the Wednesday afternoon earnings call, there was a minimal net impact to the total company. A slide presented during the call broke down the impact of the coronavirus at length for Microsoft's third quarter, which ended March 31:

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

In one of the toughest financial quarters in decades, Microsoft managed once again to beat analyst expectations and post double-digit increases on revenue and earnings. Revenues were $35 billion, an increase of 15% and diluted earnings per share hit $1.40, a 23% jump. Company shares were up by 5% in after-hours trading.

CEO Satya Nadella put the results into the context of the times. "As COVID-19 impacts every aspect of our work and life, we have seen two years' worth of digital transformation in two months," Nadella said during the earnings call in a reference to customers' scramble to set up remote teamwork, sales and customer service, while setting up cloud infrastructure and security for their altered environments.

"Our durable business model, diversified portfolio and differentiated technology stack position us well for what's ahead," Nadella predicted.

One of the biggest COVID-19 positives for Microsoft was a huge jump in usage of the Teams collaboration platform. Microsoft had already teased strong Teams usage in late March, when it announced that daily active users had jumped to 44 million from 20 million in November. On Wednesday, Nadella announced that Teams daily active users had exploded to 75 million.

Other big jumps in cloud usage occurred with Azure, Windows Virtual Desktop, advanced security solutions and Power Platform. Azure revenues increased 59% year-over-year for the quarter, while the broad Commercial Cloud category was up 39%.

A slight surprise was increased demand to support remote work for Windows OEM and the Surface line of hardware, which was helped when China-related supply chain constraints eased late in the quarter. Microsoft also noted increased engagement in its gaming business, due to stay-at-home guidelines.

Drops occurred in transactional licensing, especially for the small and medium-sized business segment, which has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus-related downturn. Similarly, Microsoft saw declines in advertising spending both for search and for the career-related LinkedIn social media network.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 29, 2020 at 3:52 PM0 comments


Microsoft 2020 Partner of the Year Deadline Extended

If you thought you blew the deadline for the Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards amid the chaos of applying with banks for Paycheck Protection Program loans, pivoting the business, setting up your workforce and customers for remote work, et cetera...think again.

The original deadline was this week -- April 21, to be exact. But Microsoft earlier this month extended the deadline until May 12.

"In response to COVID-19 and the impact it's having on our global partners, we are extending the nomination submission deadline for all of our awards to 11:59 pm Pacific Time (PT), on Tuesday, May 12, 2020," announced Tracey Pretorius, senior director of Global Partner Business Strategy, in a blog post.

Microsoft partners know the value that winning or being named a finalist for a global Microsoft Partner of the Year award can have. While it's hard to pin a revenue value to an award, partners have told RCP that it's a differentiator that helps command attention from customers, from other ecosystem companies and from within Microsoft.

The coronavirus situation has also prompted Microsoft to introduce a new global award category, announced at the same time as the deadline extension -- the Community Response award. "This new award recognizes a partner organization that has made a great difference, providing innovative and unique services or solutions to help solve problems for our customers and community during these unprecedented times," Pretorius said.

The Community Response award brings to 50 the number of awards categories this year. Those awards broadly fall into the buckets of Azure, business applications, industry verticals, modern workplace and a group of "other" awards. There will also be more than 100 individual winners of country or region Partner of the Year awards.

Traditionally, winners have been announced in June and the partners would be recognized the next month from the main stage at Microsoft's annual Inspire conference, as well as at special events at Inspire for the winners. However, due to COVID-19, Microsoft this year canceled the in-person components of Inspire so any winner gatherings or events will be virtual.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 23, 2020 at 11:14 AM0 comments


Microsoft Shakes Up Partner Priorities for 2021

Partners can expect less blue-sky transformation and more down-to-earth optimization when it comes to the programs and incentives Microsoft presents for fiscal 2021.

When Microsoft unofficially kicks off its 2021 fiscal year in July with the Inspire partner conference, the message will be shaped by COVID-19. On a surface level, that's because the live event in Las Vegas was canceled due to the novel coronavirus and replaced with a virtual event.

On a deeper level, all the programs, products and incentives are re-ordered, re-oriented and re-prioritized by the public health and economic changes forced by COVID-19.

"We're completely adjusting what our fiscal year '21 plans were to focus on what we see [for the] recovery," said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president of the Microsoft One Commercial Partner program, in an interview with RCP.

For anyone who has tracked Microsoft's communication to partners over the last few years, the messaging will be a notable shift. Out, or at least sharply de-emphasized, will be the talk of digital transformation and the charts about nearly $2 trillion in market opportunity. In will be discussions of short-term opportunities around remote work and longer-term focuses on operations optimization.

Schuster provided the detail on 2021 priorities as she was providing her "State of the Channel" update. Normally that discussion about the calendar year ahead is delivered in late January. The significant public health and business disruptions caused by the global pandemic pushed that annual update back by two months.

"Customers are going to be focused on cost savings. They're going to have to tighten up and figure out what's really important and how they drive cost savings and operations optimization in their business."

Gavriella Schuster, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft One Commercial Partner

As Microsoft has monitored the effect of global events on business and the channel and tried to forecast what businesses will need in the aftermath, digital transformation-related initiatives will take a back seat.

"Some of the things like long-term application modernization, which was on our roadmap, is probably not the thing customers are going to be spending their time on," Schuster said.

Spending now and for the first few months of Microsoft's fiscal year are all about getting through the current moment.

"The good news is that, directionally, a lot of the things that we had been investing in with our partners over the last two years around worker productivity, remote work, around security, around business continuity -- a lot of those things have been very helpful right now, and so our partners have been able to jump in with a lot of offers and a lot of things that they'd already been doing and just do more of them," she said.

With worldwide economies facing a severe recession and many questions about how long it will last, Microsoft expects partners to be selling into a very different reality in the second half of calendar 2020 and into next year.

"Customers are going to be focused on cost savings," Schuster said flatly. "They're going to have to tighten up and figure out what's really important and how they drive cost savings and operations optimization in their business. So we're prioritizing for our fiscal year '21 things that we believe will deliver cost optimization for customers."

What that means for specific initiatives will depend in the nuances of markets. While application modernization will get less emphasis, for example, a related initiative around eliminating datacenters may continue.

"We were already working with many customers on getting out of their own datacenters. I actually think that may be something that accelerates, because the cost of real estate is a real drain on their P&L," she said.

One area Microsoft is watching especially closely is the health of its partners focused on small and medium-sized businesses. The SMB customer sector is struggling the most, is near the back of the line for government assistance programs worldwide, and is 100 percent partner-served in the Microsoft channel.

"We're looking at how do we fortify those partners that service our SMB customers," Schuster said. "Co-op funds generally go 70 percent to events, and they're not going to be able to run events. What would they do? And how would you structurally change the programs to support them to do the things that they're going to need to do now? It's things like assessments. Many of our SMB partners had run those assessments on-site. We converted several of those to be virtual assessments, and we're looking at how we convert all customer assessments to virtual."

Across the Microsoft Partner Network, Microsoft is working on several changes to programs and tools in the run-up to FY '21. The company provided a few hints in a blog post, including new options to differentiate skills and expertise through new competencies and advanced specializations, new reward models that emphasize customer results, on-demand support, broader access to the co-selling programs, and continuing enhancements to the new Partner Center.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 14, 2020 at 8:36 AM0 comments


Microsoft Eases MPN Deadlines, Requirements

As partners scramble to meet urgent priorities in the face of the public health and economic crisis of the coronavirus, Microsoft took steps this month to remove its Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) program requirements from their growing to-do lists.

"We've heard from many partners that it's challenging to meet requirements and renew existing competencies in the current climate," Microsoft One Commercial Partner Corporate Vice President Gavriella Schuster said in a blog post.

In her second major post on COVID-19, Schuster outlined new extended deadlines for Microsoft competencies, Azure Expert MSP, Azure advanced specializations, Cloud Business Applications scoring and Microsoft Partner Agreement enforcement. Schuster also announced a Teams-related incentive and a major effort to move training, exams and certifications online.

The earlier blog post focused on resources for partners and their customers related to remote work.

The change that should remove a headache for the largest number of Microsoft partners is the competency extension. "To help you focus on supporting your customers, if your competency anniversary date is between January 1 and June 30, 2020, we are extending your existing competency or competencies through your next anniversary date in 2021," Schuster said. Partners will need to go to the Partner Center to qualify for the extension. Information on what exactly partners will need to do was not immediately available.

Azure Expert MSP, an elite set of partners who must meet a more involved set of requirements than competency partners, will also see a relaxing of requirements that is already extended through the end of the calendar year. A scheduled increase in the Azure Consumed Revenue (ACR) requirement has also been extended.

Similarly, partners with Azure advanced specializations with renewal dates before Dec. 31 of this year will have a program anniversary date extension until June 30, 2021. Those specializations include Windows Server and SQL Server Migration to Microsoft Azure, Linux and Open Source Database Migration to Microsoft Azure, Data Warehouse Migration to Microsoft Azure, Kubernetes on Microsoft Azure, Modernization of Web Applications to Microsoft Azure and SAP on Microsoft Azure.

On one specific competency, the Dynamics 365 solutions-focused Cloud Business Applications, Microsoft is delaying a major new change in the way partners earn the silver or gold badge. With Cloud Business Applications, Microsoft is introducing a comprehensive partner scoring mechanism called the Partner Contribution Indicators (PCI) score. It takes into account things like new customer revenue, new customer additions, new large-scale deployments, growth in monthly active users and employee certifications. Under PCI, partners scoring 60 to 79 meet requirements for silver, and those scoring 80 to 100 earn gold. The PCI score had been scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1. Now, Microsoft has pushed it back six months to April 1, 2021.

Microsoft is also postponing enforcement of the Microsoft Partner Agreement, which had been scheduled to take effect this month. Under the enforcement phase, partners who had not accepted the agreement would no longer be able to transact. Microsoft has not provided a new date for enforcement to begin.

In the midst of an explosion in Teams usage for all the newly remote workers, a Teams incentive is being expanded for partners. From now through Sept. 30, new or expanded incentives are available to non-FastTrack partners and the lowest qualified entitlement level for FastTrack partners.

In an acknowledgment that partners can no longer do in-person training, visit test sites for exams or visit customers online, Schuster detailed a number of expansions of virtual resources. "We're increasing the number of digital testing centers so certification exams can be done at home, waiving rescheduling fees and extending exam voucher expiration dates," Schuster said. "We are moving hundreds of in-person technical training sessions to virtual platforms so that partners can continue to receive specialized training from local subject matter experts and trainers."

Additionally, partners with advisory hours through competencies or Action Pack can get remote help closing deals from Partner Technical Services, Schuster noted.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 07, 2020 at 3:34 PM0 comments


Gates Urges 'Tough Medicine' in U.S. Shutdown Debate

Bill Gates has waded into the ongoing discussion over how the United States can curb the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic without sacrificing the health of its citizens.

On one side are those urging a massive public health response to save millions of people from death; on the other are those looking for less extreme measures to soften the unprecedented economic hardship that the shutdowns, self-isolation and social distancing are causing.

Gates occupies a unique vantage point in this debate. At Microsoft, Gates built a fortune that has ranked him as the first or second wealthiest person in the world for decades, and saw him move in the most elite financial circles. And since 2000, he and his wife have operated the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest private charity. Through the foundation, Gates has made himself one of the foremost experts on global health issues and has been raising concerns about pandemics for years.

Thursday marked something of a flashpoint in the debate. The number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States surpassed the total in China, making the United States the country with the most cases of the disease in the world. On the same day, nearly 3.28 million workers sought unemployment benefits, smashing previous weekly records.

Pushing hard to relax even the patchwork shutdowns enacted by various state and local governments so far, President Trump on Wednesday said he hoped to see America "roaring" back to business around Easter, April 12. A Trump letter to governors on Thursday also promised a plan to classify individual counties into three risk levels and set response levels accordingly.

In a lengthy town hall-style interview on CNN Thursday night, Gates came down squarely on the side of the "tough medicine" of a robust public health response to what he termed a "terrible pandemic." Gates called for a national shutdown and argued that it needed to last six to 10 weeks.

"What's going on here is mind-blowing. Never in my lifetime have we had to change our behavior and had this drastic effect on the economy in order to save lives," Gates told CNN town hall hosts Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

"There are people who wish we didn't have to do that. That is fully understandable. This is some very tough medicine. But it's better to take the economic problem, where the economy can come back, than to allow it to spread throughout the country and take millions of deaths as the price that we have to pay here," Gates said.

The math doesn't add up for partial shutdowns, different measures for different counties or ending the shutdown before late May or early June, Gates argued.

"Having states go with different things or thinking you can do it county by county, that will not work. Cases will be exponentially growing anywhere you don't have a serious shutdown," he said. With inconsistent testing, porous county borders and a coronavirus that spreads by 33 percent per day, a seemingly low-risk county can jump quickly from 100 cases to thousands then tens of thousands.

Asked how long he expected to be at home with his family, Gates said, "There is some uncertainty about this, but my view has been that through May, unfortunately, the schools are not likely to come back for this...school year. That's about the range, late May, early June, that we'll probably have to be like this."

One of the challenges of a complete shutdown is that its effectiveness will keep cases down, and create temptation to lift the restrictions. Aside from the lives saved, however, a major upside of a six- to 10-week shutdown is the ability to do it once.

"I do see it coming to an end, and if we do it properly we'll only be shut down, in the U.S., for that one period of time," Gates said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 27, 2020 at 8:18 AM0 comments


Microsoft Cancels In-Person Inspire Partner Conference

Due to concerns over COVID-19, Microsoft canceled the in-person portion of its massive annual partner conference, Microsoft Inspire, which had been scheduled for Las Vegas from July 19-23.

Early registration had been scheduled to open Tuesday.

"The safety of our community is a top priority. In light of health safety recommendations from public health authorities, we will not be holding Microsoft Inspire 2020 as an in-person event. We are exploring alternative ways to bring our partner community together to connect and learn. Stay tuned for more details to come," Microsoft said in a statement posted Monday night. The statement was attached to the top of Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster's Feb. 20 blog post previewing the conference.

Inspire is a massive conference. The show regularly draws 10,000 to 15,000 attendees with roughly half of them traveling from all around the world to be there. Microsoft executives giving keynote speeches in 2019 included CEO Satya Nadella, President Brad Smith, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Commercial Business Judson Althoff and Schuster, whose formal title is corporate vice president for One Commercial Partner.

While Microsoft has canceled live portions of other conferences, such as Microsoft Build, the Inspire move is doubly significant. With a start time in the second half of July, it's one of the later technology conferences to be canceled so far.

Additionally, Inspire's emphasis on helping partners to network with each other, with vendors and with Microsoft, is one of the most valuable aspects of the show. Due to the networking focus, it will be a difficult experience to replicate virtually.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 24, 2020 at 11:13 AM0 comments


RCP Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.