It's time to let the security machine learning (ML) models punch it out.
Microsoft on Monday unveiled an ML contest to run later this summer that will pit security defenders against attackers. With the "Machine Learning Security Evasion Competition," Microsoft is hoping to engage both ML researchers and security professionals to develop cutting edge machine learning models related to security.
The idea builds on a contest held last summer at DEF CON 27, where contestants attacked a white box containing static malware ML models.
For its part, Microsoft, along with partners CUJO AI, VMRay and MRG Effitas, will run a two-stage contest with ML playing a part in each stage. First comes a Defender Challenge running from June 15 through July 23. Participants must provide novel countermeasures that will be judged based on their ability to detect real-world malware without triggering too many false positives.
A few weeks later is an Attacker Challenge. Unlike the DEF CON competition, the Attacker Challenge will be a black-box model. Attackers will have API access to hosted antimalware models, including models developed in the Defender Challenge. That part of the competition will go from Aug. 6 to Sept. 18.
Winners of each challenge will get $2,500 in Azure credits with a runner up earning $500 in Azure credits.
By combining defense and attack and bringing together different groups of experts, Microsoft hopes to improve the maturity of machine learning in security and make security professionals more aware of the potential, and threat, of machine learning.
"One desired outcome of this competition is to encourage ML researchers who have experience in evading image recognition systems, for example, to be introduced to a threat model common to information security," Hyrum Anderson, principal architect for Enterprise Protection and Detection wrote in an entry on the Microsoft Security Research Center blog. "Concurrently, security practitioners can gain deeper insights into what it means to secure ML systems in the context of a domain they are already know."
Posted by Scott Bekker on June 01, 2020 at 3:49 PM0 comments
Successful Microsoft products tend to follow a certain path. There's the splashy introduction, followed by a rapid adoption gold rush, where Microsoft and its partners work flat out to enable deployments at unparalleled scale.
In the middle stages of that gold rush, even as most of the focus is on onboarding new seats, second-order problems start to emerge. One of the biggest of those second-order problems is that some early adopter customers need to migrate their deployment for various reasons, such as mergers and acquisition.
That's where we are with Microsoft Teams -- Microsoft's three-year-old collaboration platform. With a huge assist from the global shift with coronavirus to working from home, Teams daily active users (DAU) has soared to 75 million, as of April, and Microsoft claimed more than 200 million meeting participants in a single day in April.
ShareGate, a Montreal-based company with a decade of experience in SharePoint migrations and other Microsoft cloud tools, jumped into the mix this week.
Benjamin Niaulin, who runs strategy and roadmap for all ShareGate products as head of product, this week announced the addition of a Microsoft Teams migration feature to ShareGate Desktop in the 13.0 version of the company's migration tool.
The tool allows organizations to migrate teams to a new tenant in a process that includes retaining conversation history, channels, team settings and files.
The problem was getting significant attention from vendors well before the current remote work surge.
In May 2018, Teams was about a year old and many companies were uncertain where the tool would fit with Microsoft's many collaboration technologies, including SharePoint, Yammer and Office 365 Groups. AvePoint Inc. took the new tool seriously enough to add support for migrating Teams from one tenant to another in its FLY tool for cloud and SharePoint migrations.
In July 2019, as Teams was getting some traction with around 13 million DAU, BitTitan introduced Teams migration capabilities by folding the functionality into its MigrationWiz product for broader Office 365 migrations.
As demand for Teams was building last November, a time when Microsoft claimed about 20 million DAU, Quest Software was also addressing the issue of Teams migrations. The company updated its Quest On Demand Migration tool that added Microsoft Teams migration support to tenant migration support for Exchange, OneDrive and SharePoint.
Following the usual Microsoft product rollout playbook, there is plenty that Microsoft still needs to do to make migration a more seamless transition, even with third-party tools and community-created PowerShell scripts. In a November post, Mike Campbell, a senior solutions architect with Perficient, discussed some of the common gaps in the Teams migration experience, mostly due to underlying limitations in Microsoft's APIs.
"Teams provides the integration glue that holds together so much collaborative goodness, but the result is a complex Teams Tenant migration story," Campbell wrote. "The nature of Teams integrations and extension means that there are likely to be gaps in the migration experience for the foreseeable future, especially for extensively used Teams that take advantage of a full range of Teams capabilities. That's understandable, but we should also collectively encourage Microsoft to provide better tenant portability for the core Teams workloads."
(Editor's Note: This article was updated on June 3 to include AvePoint Inc.'s support for Teams migrations.)
Posted by Scott Bekker on May 29, 2020 at 6:36 PM0 comments
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
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
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 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
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 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
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:
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
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
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
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