Top 10 Microsoft Products: Partners Rate What's Most Important

Which components of Microsoft's 350-strong product portfolio are the most important to its partners' businesses? To find the answer, we asked the partners themselves -- over 500 of them -- to pick 10 that they and their customers can't go without.

In the past, Microsoft said its portfolio includes as many as 350 products that partners sell. Which ones matter the most to the partners who build their businesses on Microsoft software sales? It's fairly easy to separate the solution providers' business-feeding wheat from some of the gaming and other entirely home and entertainment-focused chaff. But after paring the product list down to about 25 core elements, we turned to Microsoft partners themselves to take it the rest of the way.

When we surveyed Microsoft partners in January for our annual Redmond Channel Partner magazine reader survey, we also asked what Microsoft products were most important to their businesses. In reverse order, here are the 10 products that partners rated as the most important in the solutions they provide to customers.

10. System Center Configuration and Operations Management Tools

System Center

This product family was a bit of a surprise when Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw listed it among Microsoft's billion-dollar products during a radio interview in July 2010, and it's a bit of a surprise here. Partners rated Microsoft's integrated and automated management solutions, which seem aimed primarily at in-house IT departments, above such other products as the Dynamics product family, the cloud products, the Forefront security products and Windows Mobile. Even so, the number of partners calling System Center "very important" to their business was fairly low at 17 percent. (Rating average: 1.23)

9. Hyper-V/Virtualization

Virtualization products have been growing in importance within Microsoft's portfolio in recent years, as market demand has pushed Microsoft toward the technology faster than its licensing-focused bean counters would probably prefer. Partners are helping lead the charge. The most common rating for Microsoft's Hyper-V/virtualization products among partners was "somewhat important" at 27 percent. (Rating average: 1.45)

8. Windows Small Business Server

Small Business Server
Not all partners service small business customers, but those who do find Small Business Server (SBS) vital. That dependence on the product probably accounts for its relatively high ranking in our survey even though only a subset of partners use it. Rankings on SBS were almost evenly split among the four categories of "very important," "important," "somewhat important" and "not important." (Rating average: 1.54)

7. SharePoint Server

SharePoint Server
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SharePoint has been Microsoft's up-and-coming product for years now and the collaboration server is well into Shaw's billion-dollar products club. The most common single response among partners in our survey was the 27 percent calling the product "very important." (Rating average: 1.59)

6. Visual Studio and Other Developer Tools

Visual Studio
Customization is king for Microsoft partners, and nothing is better for crafting a specialized Microsoft solution for a customer than the Visual Studio suite and other tools from a company that got its start writing developer languages. A whopping 38 percent of respondents called this category of Microsoft products "very important" within the solutions they provide to customers. (Rating average: 1.81)

Next page: The Top 5 Products

5. Exchange Server

Exchange Server
Microsoft's flagship e-mail server, which has essentially won its drawn-out war of attrition with Lotus Notes/Domino, is huge for partners. While slightly fewer (35 percent) called it "very important" to their businesses versus Visual Studio, more (30 percent for Exchange versus 24 percent for Visual Studio) called it "important." (Rating average: 1.84)

4. SQL Server

SQL Server
Like SharePoint but more so, SQL Server has been inserted so deeply into the Microsoft stack that it's almost impossible to deploy a Microsoft-based solution without including the database. Some 49 percent of partners called SQL Server "very important" to their businesses and another 26 percent called it "important." (Rating average: 2.17)

3. Windows Client

Windows Client
Just because the Windows client is the foundation of Microsoft's business, doesn't mean it's necessarily the foundation of partners' businesses. Take that as a reflection of the fact that most of the Windows client-based revenues go straight to the OEM giants, such as Dell, HP and Lenovo. The rest of Microsoft's partners still build solutions on Windows clients and see pass-through revenues, and at No. 3 it's obviously extremely significant. Of respondents, 51 percent called Windows "very important" and 31 percent rated it "important." (Rating average: 2.25)

2. Microsoft Office

Even more important to partners' bottom lines than Windows is Microsoft Office, with its customization potential and integration possibilities with various Microsoft servers. Of survey respondents, 53 percent called Office "very important," 31 percent called the suite "important" and only 6 percent said it was "not important." (Rating average: 2.31)

1. Windows Server

Windows Server
And the winner is...Windows Server, the foundation of all the back-office deployment projects that have been partners' bread and butter for more than a decade. A whopping 58 percent called Windows server "very important" to their businesses with another 29 percent calling it "important." (Rating average: 2.40)


Cloud may be a big part of the future, but when partners rate what's important to their business now, it's all about implementation-related products -- especially SQL Server, Windows, Microsoft Office and Windows Server.


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