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Microsoft Gets Its Mojo Back

Redmond's new cloud focus is a next-gen approach. And the food at WPC was great. (For how these two items are related -- read on.)

At a party during the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) last month, a savvy, longtime Microsoft partner summed up his personal gauge of the company's focus. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist was this: "When Microsoft knows what it's doing in the market, the food at its parties is really good."

Covering Microsoft over the last few years has been a little bit depressing from a technology perspective. Business opportunities for Microsoft partners have been good: Microsoft remains one of the great profit-generating engines in the history of business, and partners are both a key reason for -- and a major beneficiary of -- that. But watching Microsoft take it on the chin from Apple over Windows Vista, watching Redmond's phone efforts fail with monotonous regularity while Google and Apple soared, watching the lack of an answer to the iPad and watching search efforts repeatedly fail (although Bing has recently held its own), has made me wonder on occasion if this magazine is tethered to covering a company that's slowly drifting out of relevance.

To put it another way, when a company has to tell you as often as Microsoft has told us over the last few years that it's innovating ... well, you know what that means.

But this year, the food at the parties was really good. There was an energy level this year at WPC that was powered by the electrical discharges from the newfound Microsoft focus in the cloud.

Microsoft didn't come across as beleaguered, reluctant and reactive about the cloud -- which has been its default stance in the past. This time Microsoft projected confidence about the company's role in cloud computing. And I'm not sure most of the Microsofties even completely understand what they should be excited about. They were mostly talking about the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), Hosted Exchange and the other Microsoft transitional platforms that largely cannibalize the company's current business.

The Microsoft cloud story is actually better than the one the company's currently telling. The place where Microsoft has been innovating, quietly but in plain sight, is in the mega-datacenters the company has been building out over the last several years. Looking around, it's not clear that anyone has as strong a vision (with the bankroll and experience to make it a reality) for turning the cloud into a general-purpose infrastructure that's truly looking forward to next generation-approaches as Microsoft does.

It's going to take a lot of work for Microsoft partners to fit in -- a lot of work. This isn't about tweaking your business model for BPOS margins. It's about figuring out what an ISV does in a Windows Azure-based cloud. It's figuring out what the role of a systems integrator is when computing scale goes completely into the wire.

On behalf of the committed partners of Microsoft, I'd like to welcome the company back to the head of the pack.

About the Author

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

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