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Partners Scramble as Microsoft Expands FastTrack, Again

Six months after telling partners that Microsoft FastTrack would only offer free cloud migration services to customers with more than 150 seats, Microsoft this week announced that the threshold is now dropping to 50 seats.

Partners contacted by RCP were scrambling to adjust their business models, after having already adapted to a major expansion of the FastTrack program to cover additional products and data migration workloads that was disclosed around the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in July.

"Starting today, customers with 50 to 149 seats of Office 365 enterprise and small business plans can take advantage of our customer success service Microsoft FastTrack. Previously available only to customers with 150 seats or more, FastTrack provides resources and dedicated engineers who can assist you, or the Microsoft Partner you work with, to implement Office 365, onboard users and get the most business value from your investment," Microsoft said earlier this week in a blog post attributed to the Microsoft Office Team.

Said one partner, who asked not to be identified, "It would be nice if they would tell us what they're going to do, and then just do that for a while. They've never really done that fully. I get it -- it's the constant state of change and the speed of that change. But if it's hard for them, imagine how hard it must be for the partner ecosystem to keep up with it."

Another partner contended that the value of partners to Microsoft appeared to be "very much under fire." Of Microsoft's ongoing push into free services, the partner, requesting anonymity, said, "I expect this to continue across all fronts as they drive to the cloud."

There was a silver lining in Microsoft's simultaneous expansion of the Fiscal Year 2016 Adoption Offer to include Office 365 small business plans. Under the offer expansion, partners are now eligible for a payout of $25 per seat for 50 to 149 seats, alongside the existing payouts for 150 seats and above. The amount pales in comparison to the usual value of migration services, but, on the other hand, Microsoft's terms for the free migrations are quite limited. Outside of a narrow set of conditions, partners must frequently be called in to handle migrations anyway.

"We're choosing to look at it as a positive thing," said Pete Zarras, founder and president of CloudStrategies Inc. in Cedar Knolls, N.J. "We're looking to surround Microsoft services with our own additional services."

In fact, CloudStrategies is charging ahead of Microsoft. For customers with fewer seats than Microsoft's new 50-seat threshold, CloudStrategies is now offering free migrations itself on terms similar to Microsoft's if the customer signs up with CloudStrategies as their Cloud Solution Provider (CSP).

"We've already been selling free mailbox migrations modeled after Microsoft's services even if you have 20 seats. That's something we've been softly doing, and we're ready to go big with that," Zarras said.

Another partner looking to leverage the new seat minimums is Christopher Hertz, president of New Signature, the Washington, D.C.-based, two-time Microsoft U.S. Partner of the Year.

"As to the expansion of FastTrack to customers with 50 to 149 seats, we see this as an opportunity where the FastTrack service supports the customers' challenges. FastTrack has a fairly narrow and rigid service description, so it isn't a good fit for every customer, but where we can take advantage of it, we certainly do. That frees up our customers' budgets to focus on delivering higher-value activities -- like those related to governance, compliance and security," Hertz said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on February 04, 2016 at 3:05 PM