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Top 5 Microsoft Partner Stories of 2019

This year was as eventful for Microsoft partners as any in this decade.

As the year draws to a close, here's a look at some of the biggest stories that happened in 2019.

1. Ransomware Roared Back
At the beginning of this year, it looked like ransomware might have plateaued. Not so. One of the most damaging computer malware incidents to date happened to Baltimore, when a ransomware attack in May took much of the city's infrastructure offline for weeks and other systems down for month. Meanwhile, a trio of attacks on municipal governments in Florida brought record-setting ransom payouts.

The upshot of all this activity is that managed service providers (MSPs) and other types of Microsoft partners spent a lot of time in 2019 educating customers about ransomware, protecting them from attacks and helping them recover from incidents.

2. Microsoft Opens up 'Channel as a Service'
Microsoft launched a significant effort in calendar 2019 to connect its independent software vendor (ISV) partners with its cloud solution provider (CSP) partners through its marketplaces and incentive structures. The results aren't in yet, but the moves have the potential to take the promise of Microsoft's 300,000-partner-strong channel and convert it into more revenues for everyone involved.

One part involves expanding the multibillion-dollar co-sell program beyond Azure to also include Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform. The other part involves allowing partners to resell ISV solutions through Microsoft's CSP program.

3. Scuttled IUR/Competency Changes
Microsoft faced a full-scale partner mutiny around the time of its annual partner conference, Microsoft Inspire, in July. A plan disclosed shortly before the Las Vegas conference would have had Microsoft revoking partners' ability to use internal use rights (IURs) to run their businesses.

But a substantial partner backlash, which included a very public petition, against the planned IUR revocation and some changes to competencies caused Microsoft to reverse course. In the end, Microsoft apologized for the incident and promised to do a better job consulting with partners earlier in the decision process for program changes that would have a major effect on the way partners do business.

4. Azure Lighthouse
Microsoft took a major step to make Azure a friendlier platform for MSPs in 2019. The effort takes the form of a native toolset called Azure Lighthouse.

Using Azure Lighthouse, partners can manage multiple customers in a secure, multitenant environment with automation. Another way to look at it is as a single control plane for service providers to view and manage Azure across their customers. Azure Lighthouse reached general availability in July.

5. Microsoft Hits $1 Trillion
In the race for a $1 trillion market cap, Microsoft seemed like a dark horse, behind Apple, Amazon and Alphabet. Although Apple and Amazon reached the milestone first, Microsoft cleared that hurdle and impressively remained there more consistently than the others. After years of getting kicked around by Wall Street, Microsoft took its place in 2019 as one of investors' most respected companies.

For the Microsoft channel, the market cap provided some positive buzz around the Microsoft brand for much of the year.

As for what to expect in 2020, several big trends are already clear. Azure migration momentum should continue after being spurred by the Windows Server 2008 support deadline next month. The controversy over Microsoft's winning the Department of Defense JEDI contract, and Amazon's contesting of the decision, will continue to roil as the Amazon Web Services (AWS) lawsuit works its way through the courts. And Microsoft will continue to tinker with its partner program levers to urge partners to help make artificial intelligence an everyday technology for customers.

What else will be big next year? We'll find out as it happens.

Posted by Scott Bekker on December 31, 2019