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Microsoft Expanding In-House Cloud Deployments

Microsoft is expanding the scope of the FastTrack program and the Onboarding Center in a few ways that will further overlap with some partners' current cloud business models.

FastTrack is a benefit for new Office 365 customers with more than 150 seats who can get free e-mail migration as part of the deal. The Microsoft Onboarding Center is an internal business unit that Microsoft spun up to handle the migrations, with the larger goal of increasing customers' consumption of Office 365 licenses. Microsoft was reportedly hiring hundreds of people worldwide to staff the Onboarding Center last year.

Both programs raised concerns from partners when they were unveiled last July, although many partners became more comfortable with the changes as they learned the details of a related set of adoption offers that included substantial partner subsidy funding.

With the start of a new fiscal year this month, Microsoft on Thursday unveiled a raft of updates to FastTrack and to other partner incentives. A few of the updates fundamentally change, or at least clarify, the relationship between partners, the Onboarding Center and Microsoft Consulting Services.

First, Microsoft is renaming the official name of "Office 365 FastTrack" to the broader title of "Microsoft FastTrack." Initially, the change means Microsoft will add Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) migrations to the existing Office 365 migrations. Logically, the new name would also clear the way for Microsoft to bring other types of cloud workloads into the FastTrack program.

Next, Microsoft is adding e-mail data migration to the e-mail migration services it offered for free to Office 365 customers. With the inauguration of the program last year, Microsoft officials told partners that FastTrack would only cover low-margin e-mail migration services, and even then only for customers with relatively simple migration scenarios. Higher-margin services like e-mail data migration, identity integration, user adoption and management would be reserved for partners. Like the other FastTrack services, the e-mail data migration is only for customers with 150 or more seats.

In an interesting clarification, Microsoft notes that customer funding through a new EMS adoption offer for fiscal year 2016 will be available not only for engagements involving Microsoft cloud competency partners but also for engagements fulfilled by Microsoft's own consulting services.

Microsoft seems very aware that the new changes will be controversial. In an e-mail to RCP listing the changes, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "With a partner base as broad as ours, we recognize that not every change we make will be well-received by all partners. However, we believe that the updates we make to FastTrack and our incentives portfolio today will not only ensure success for both Microsoft and our partners, but our mutual customers as well, in today's mobile-first, cloud-first world."

One lesson Microsoft seems to have learned from the controversy last year is to communicate the changes before the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC). With details released a little more than a week before the conference begins this year, Microsoft's partners can use WPC to get more detail about the programs rather than trying to piece together what is changing based on rumors and snippets of information.

Here is the full text provided by Microsoft to list and explain the changes:

FastTrack Updates:
Throughout this first year of delivery, Microsoft has continued to evolve FastTrack to ensure we can deliver the best possible customer onboarding experience and help partners build profitable practices. We quickly realized the best possible experience is one where both the partner and the Onboarding Center are working together with the customer to deliver first class services. 

FastTrack is designed to minimize the time a partner needs to spend doing the time-intensive, administrative tasks, so they can accelerate time spent selling and deploying high-value added services that can be more profitable and drive usage.

Based on feedback around how customers are adopting the Microsoft Cloud services and where they need help to more fully realize the value of their investment, today we are announcing several updates to FastTrack and our Adoption Offers.

  • Office 365 FastTrack is evolving to become Microsoft FastTrack and will include services benefits for both Office 365 and Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) customers.

  • Email data migration is now included as part of the core benefit of Office 365 FastTrack for Office 365 customers with deployments over 150 seats

  • We are expanding the Office 365 SKUs and workloads available through Office 365 FastTrack to include onboarding and migration for K [SKU]s and Non-profit SKUs as well as enterprise voice

  • For the FY16 Office 365 Adoption Offer, we are focusing on partners driving adoption of workloads which include SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Skype for Business, Yammer, Office ProPlus, Project Online and Visio. The Adoption Offer is in addition to the onboarding and mail migration benefit, so it no longer requires customers to choose. Both are available as a customer benefit.

  • With the FY16 EMS Adoption Offer, customers earn funds on a per-seat basis to pay for qualified adoption activities by eligible Microsoft competency partners (Cloud Productivity, or Devices & Deployment) or Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS).

  • FastTrack Getting Started is a new program that helps customers get started with EMS by setting up a production ready trial, including a 90 day/250 seat trial subscription, Deployment lab environment, pre-populated end user training resources and business scenarios as well as templates. 

Incentives Portfolio:
Partner Incentives are designed to support partner profitability and growth whether partners are doing business on-premises, in the cloud, or somewhere in between. Over the past three years, incentives have increasingly focused on rewarding strategic cloud outcomes -- in FY16 nearly half of incentives spend will be directed toward cloud.

We're keeping the Enterprise, Managed Reseller, and Commercial Distributor incentives largely stable YoY.

LSP partners will see incremental investment in the Enterprise program directed at rewarding upsell revenue at time of anniversary on EAS licenses beginning October 1.

Within the Managed Reseller and Commercial Distributor incentives, we have combined the Growth and Incubation product categories into a single Strategic product category.

We've improved our Coop offering with a single Partner Incentives Coop Guidebook, which spans our SMB, Cloud, and Devices incentives programs.

Our goal is to continue advancing usage and consumption, and with new capabilities now available such as increased telemetry and Digital Partner of Record, we can reward partners driving customer success across workloads.

The Azure consumption incentive, rewarding partners for driving consumption of Microsoft Azure Services, will be available to all Silver or Gold Cloud Platform competency partners. Any partner who earns this competency will be eligible for this incentive.

The Online Services Usage incentive, previously paid on assigned seats based on the data available, will be paid on the rate card value of a customer's active entitlements. Microsoft's strategy in FY16 emphasizes the usage opportunity, so the incentives will reward increased usage across eligible Online Services workloads.

We're making adjustments to the incentives portfolio in FY16 to prioritize through-partner sales motions.

We want to maintain the Advisor Sell incentive in parity with our through-partner sales motions, but it will be reduced in years 1-3 as part of a broader shift to prioritize through-partner sales motions.

Microsoft will not renew the Channel Developer Incentives in Q2 in order to drive more cloud revenue through partners via CSP/Open than around partners via Web-Direct.

We're adding new, limited-time incentives for the CSP 1-Tier and 2-Tier Resellers designed to drive adoption of CSP.

Editor's Note: One of the bullet points originally included in the Fast Track Updates section above has been removed. The original information provided by Microsoft read: "Office 365 active usage requirements have also been adjusted from 15 percent to 30 percent to better align with cloud adoption and usage goals." Microsoft later corrected that section to indicate that it hasn't changed: "The active usage requirement for the offer is still 15 percent on a single workload."

Related:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 02, 2015 at 8:29 AM0 comments


Survey: How Well Does Microsoft Meet Partners' Needs?

As Microsoft rolls into fiscal year 2016 starting July 1, we surveyed readers to find out how happy they are with their Microsoft partnership.

At a high level, partners are pretty satisfied, and report that Microsoft products are actually becoming more central to their businesses. Yet many partners report that Microsoft is not the most important company in their vendor stable.

For this survey, we received responses from 240 partners from late May through early June. About a quarter had at least one gold competency, making the respondents a gold-heavy group. Microsoft often says partners with gold competencies represent only the top 1 percent of its community.

A little more than 15 percent of the partners had at least one silver competency, and 23 percent were subscribers to the Action Pack. Of the rest, 19 percent were community members and another 19 percent were informal partners who did not participate in the MPN.

Readers gave Microsoft fairly high ratings among their vendor partners. Asked to rate Microsoft as a partner compared to other vendors, 63 percent rated Microsoft as either "Excellent" or "Above Average" (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Compared to other vendors, how do you rate Microsoft as a partner?

Microsoft has moved quickly on products in the last two years, with cloud products updated on a quarterly-or-faster basis, and even on-premises products getting refreshed at a good clip. At the same time, Microsoft also moved to embrace open source technologies in many areas. With all that change, we asked readers how important Microsoft technology is in the solutions they sell compared to two years ago. By a ratio of about 10-to-1, readers who reported that Microsoft technology is more important outnumbered those for whom it is less important (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. How important is Microsoft technology generally in solutions you sell now compared to two years ago?

But Microsoft isn't necessarily the most important vendor partner for most of the readers we surveyed. For one-quarter of them, Microsoft is the most important partner. But 70 percent only rate Microsoft as among their top vendor partners. And for 5 percent, some other vendor is the most important (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Is Microsoft your most important vendor partner?

Related:

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 01, 2015 at 8:00 AM0 comments


Hard Data on Windows XP Support Costs from the Navy

A recent U.S. government contract extension sheds a lot of light on the price of big contracts to extend custom support for Windows XP.

The U.S. Navy is entering Year 2 of a Custom Support Agreement (CSA) with Microsoft for 100,000 workstations running Windows XP, the Office 2003 suite and Exchange 2003. Eagle-eyed editors at Ars Technica spotted the contract notes amid U.S. Defense Department notices and wrote about them this week.

Extended support for Windows XP ended a little over a year ago on April 8, 2014. The U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) signed a one-year agreement with Microsoft for custom support that expired June 8, 2015.

The Navy has better excuses than many organizations for lagging on the Windows XP upgrade. Cited in Navy documents are the fact that shipboard administration networks are not available for long periods of maintenance. In other words, the ships are out at sea. Some of the systems are ashore, and those upgrades have been postponed by cascade effects of delays in the Next Generation Network (NGEN) contract.

As for the numbers, an official notice awarding the contract to Microsoft earlier this month put the cost of the CSA for this year through July 12, 2016 at $9.1 million. Should the Navy be unable to complete the migration of systems to Windows 7 and need the support for a third year, the costs will roughly double. If the Navy exercises options in the contract to continue the contract through June 8, 2017, the total cost of the contract could come to $30.8 million.

Related:

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 24, 2015 at 11:55 AM0 comments


Asigra Unveils MSP-Focused Backup Appliance

Asigra plans to start shipping a backup appliance in August designed with the goal of keeping things simple for managed service providers (MSPs).

"It's coming in this pre-optimized, pre-configured, pre-tested, turnkey solution, which is comprised of software, hardware, the file system, the operating system, compute, storage, everything. The solution providers need only plug it in and be up and running with an enterprise-class backup and recovery service," said William Kulju, senior product marketing manager at Asigra.

Asigra unveiled the Asigra Converged Data Protection Appliance for Managed Service Providers on Tuesday during the second day of its Asigra Global Partner Summit in Toronto.

"We've packaged and priced this in such a way that this allows service providers to be cash-flow positive in as little time as possible," Kulju said.

[Click on image for larger view.] The 4U version of the Asigra Converged Data Protection Appliance for Managed Service Providers. (Image source: Asigra)

The appliance will come in three sizes. A 1U has up to 9.6TB of what Asigra calls "billable capacity," which refers to data that's stored on the device after already having been compressed, deduped and encrypted. A 2U has 32TB of billable capacity, and the 4U has 96TB.

The entry price is less than $5,000, and has 1TB of the 1U's billable capacity turned on. MSPs can add capacity within the unit in increments of as little as 10GB.

The Avnet Embedded business unit of Avnet Inc. is assembling the appliances for Asigra from Supermicro servers running FreeBSD and ZFS and shipping them to customers. MSPs won't require any familiarity with the underlying software, according to Asigra. Instead the MSPs will manage the multitenant storage environment from a Web-based management console and can control agentless backups of Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS systems and devices.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 16, 2015 at 9:08 AM0 comments


How Trustworthy Is Microsoft BitLocker Disk Encryption?

Journalists at The Intercept, the site founded by Glenn Greenwald and others as a home for Edward Snowden-style disclosures and national security coverage, published a deep dive on Thursday into the security of Microsoft's BitLocker full-disk encryption technology.

In "Microsoft Gives Details About Its Controversial Disk Encryption," The Intercept's Micah Lee followed up on an earlier how-to he'd written about using BitLocker, among other full-disk encryption technologies for various platforms. Lee serves as a combination journalist and resident technologist who helps the site handle the operational security, including source protection and cryptography, for The Intercept. Based on security concerns raised in the feedback to the how-to article, Lee approached Microsoft about specific issues and got some interesting replies from an unnamed Microsoft spokesperson.

According to Lee's piece, the main concerns of the security community about Microsoft's BitLocker technology, which first shipped in versions of Windows Vista, include:

  1. That it's closed-source Microsoft code that no one but Microsoft and those it invites, be they technology partners or government agencies, may inspect -- a common security community concern about nearly all of Microsoft's proprietary code.

  2. That BitLocker may rely on a pseudorandom number generator (PRNG) called Dual_EC_DRBG, short for Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator, that many experts believe has been compromised by the U.S. National Security Agency.

  3. That an important component of BitLocker security, called the "Elephant diffuser," was removed from Windows 8 to potentially weaken its security.

  4. That Microsoft's real, reported and rumored track record of cooperating with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies makes any security solutions produced by the company automatically suspect, a concern that is closely related to the closed-source-versus-open-source question.

On the PRNG question, Microsoft told Lee that Dual_EC_DRBG is not used by BitLocker or by Windows itself by default. "It has never been the default, and it requires an administrator action to turn it on," Lee quoted the spokesperson as saying. Instead, BitLocker uses the default Windows algorithm, CTR_DRBG.

While the Elephant diffuser was removed, Microsoft cited performance problems caused by the diffuser and a lack of compliance with the U.S. Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS). "[The Elephant diffuser is] not FIPS compliant, so certain companies and government clients can't use it," Lee quoted Microsoft as saying. Lee also pointed out that LUKS, the respected disk encryption technology for Linux, also lacks a diffuser and is vulnerable to the same types of attacks that not having Elephant diffuser exposes in Windows.

An even less reassuring response, from a technical security and privacy standpoint, came on a question about whether Microsoft can provide access to BitLocker disks to comply with a government order. "The spokesperson told me they could not answer that question," Lee wrote.

In the earlier how-to piece, Lee presented BitLocker as "the best of several bad options for Windows users." In the deep dive, Lee also looks at alternatives, including TrueCrypt, VeraCrypt, CipherShed, BestCrypt, Symantec Endpoint Encryption and DiskCryptor, and arrives at roughly the same conclusion.

"Balancing trust, ease of use, transparency, apparent robustness, compatibility and resources for squashing bugs, BitLocker comes out ahead for the average user," Lee concludes. "Whatever you choose, if trusting a proprietary operating system not to be malicious doesn't fit your threat model, maybe it's time to switch to Linux."

Full-disk encryption is a major pillar of any complete security solution these days. The Intercept has done the Microsoft community a service by turning up some hard facts about the security of Microsoft's full-disk encryption technology. Lee's deep dive gives anyone considering Windows disk encryption the information that allows them to approach the myriad challenges and risks with open eyes.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 04, 2015 at 1:07 PM0 comments


LabTech CEO: ScreenConnect a 'Huge Strategic Deal' for Company's RMM

At its three-day Automation Nation conference in Orlando this week, LabTech executives made clear how important ScreenConnect is to the remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool's future.

ConnectWise, which has an equity stake in LabTech, acquired ScreenConnect in February. Within a month, LabTech integrated the standalone remote control technology into version 10 of its eponymous RMM tool.

In a telephone interview from Automation Nation on Wednesday, LabTech CEO Matt Nachtrab described LabTech 10's support for ScreenConnect as a quick integration that placed buttons for the new technology side-by-side with the company's pre-existing remote control technology, VNC.

Nachtrab makes no bones about how much better ScreenConnect works than VNC. "To remote control, historically they would click VNC. But it would be slow to connect and slow while you're connected. With ScreenConnect, in about 2 seconds you're on that remote computer; and while you're on, it's almost like you're working at that computer," he said.

At the time of the acquisition, Nachtrab asserted that ScreenConnect represented a 95 percent improvement in time to connect compared to VNC. During a keynote this week, another LabTech executive showed some of the conference's 700 attendees a tombstone slide featuring VNC and held a moment of silence for the outgoing remoting technology.

"It's a huge strategic deal," Nachtrab said Wednesday of the importance of ScreenConnect to LabTech's future. "The No. 1 feature used in LabTech was VNC -- No. 1, by far. It just wasn't a very good experience. We replaced the No. 1 feature area of our product, at no additional charge to our customer base, with a very elegant and enjoyable remote control. It's huge for the product of LabTech."

Version 10.5, set for release later this year, will be integrated much more completely with ScreenConnect.

"They're doing a deeper integration of ScreenConnect within LabTech to make it feel like it's more one system," Nachtrab said. Among the items in the roadmap for the ScreenConnect Plug-in for the LabTech 10.5 timeframe are support for Mac agents and an agent-presence indicator, which lights up green to tell an administrator if a device is available to remote in to. Also planned for the plug-in are enhanced deployment options, which allow a client, location or computer to be excluded from remoting capabilities.

"In LabTech for privacy and HIPAA compliance reasons, we have the ability to configure by customer, and even by computer, very granularly what happens when a technician attempts to take control," Nachtrab said. For example, at a hospital computer, a system could be configured to provide an end user a prompt to allow or deny a remote control attempt, or to deny all attempts when a computer is unattended. VNC supports those types of policies in version 10, but ScreenConnect will support them in 10.5.

LabTech engineers are also working to make ScreenConnect the default remote control feature in the 10.5 timeframe for Web Control Center, a lightweight feature set that allows technicians to manage customers' systems while out of the office. The ScreenConnect remoting capability is also being added to Web Portal, an ad hoc support and mobile workforce tool.

The remote control capabilities aren't the only integrations coming in version 10.5. Another major area of improvement is in LabTech Ignite, which is the RMM's engine for application and service monitoring. In an effort to make it more easily customizable, the company is adding Ignite Management Packs, described in a LabTech public roadmap as, "Comprehensive solution packs for application and/or service monitoring enabled with searches, monitors, thresholds and alert actions necessary for management of devices running Exchange, IIS, SQL, etc. These new Management Packs give you the freedom to choose which LabTech Ignite solutions you want to utilize and which ones you do not." Management Packs for version 10.5 will include Web/proxy, messaging, database and network.

Other features coming in LabTech 10.5 include support for Windows 10 and Hyper-V, new Active Directory integrations, a redesigned StorageCraft plug-in for backup, a new HitmanPro plug-in for whitelisting and an ESET plug-in.

The importance of the ScreenConnect addition goes beyond the features of LabTech's future RMM releases, Nachtrab said. Because ScreenConnect is a standalone remote control tool, he said, "It's a nice, light entry point to the LabTech family. It's also fully multinational and multilingual. So strategically ScreenConnect is massively important to the long-term expansion of all the ConnectWise products."

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 03, 2015 at 2:02 PM0 comments


Microsoft Names 2015 Partners of the Year

Microsoft on Tuesday named its 2015 Partner of the Year award winners. Here are the winners in the 43 worldwide categories:

Alliance Partner of the Year: Accenture/Avanade

Global Commercial ISV Alliance Partner of the Year: GE Healthcare

Application Development Partner of the Year: Lieberman Software

Application Integration Partner of the Year: nVisionIT

Application Lifecycle Management Partner of the Year: Readify

Big Data and Analytics Partner of the Year: Neudesic

Business Intelligence Partner of the Year: BizData

Cloud Customer Relationship Management Partner of the Year: PowerObjects

Cloud Packaged Solutions Partner of the Year: SADA Systems Inc.

Cloud Platform -- Application Innovation Partner of the Year: VMob

Cloud Platform -- Customer Focus Partner of the Year: bluesource

Cloud Productivity Partner of the Year: Kloud

Collaboration and Content Partner of the Year: AvePoint Inc.

Communications Partner of the Year: Enabling Technologies Corp.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Partner of the Year: Accenture/Avanade

Data Platform Partner of the Year: Scalability Experts

Devices and Deployment Partner of the Year: Sogeti

Digital Advertising Partner of the Year: Advance Digital

Distributor Partner of the Year: Tech Data Europe

Enterprise Mobility Partner of the Year: Oxford Computer Group LLC

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Partner of the Year: mcaConnect LLC

Hosting Partner of the Year: Rackspace

Innovative Technology for Good Citizenship Partner of the Year: alligatortek

Intelligent Systems Partner of the Year: Harman

Learning Partner of the Year: QA Limited

Messaging Partner of the Year: Convergent Computing (CCO)

Microsoft Dynamics Industry Partner of the Year: UXC Eclipse

Modern Datacenter -- Customer Focus Partner of the Year (3 winners): Dimension Data, Cisco, NetApp

Modern Datacenter -- Hybrid Partner of the Year: Convergent Computing (CCO)

OEM Device Partner of the Year: TrekStor GmbH

Office and SharePoint Application Development Partner of the Year: Nintex

Open Source on Azure Partner of the Year: Alter Way

Project and Portfolio Management Partner of the Year: Projectum

Public Sector -- CityNext Partner of the Year: LeapThought NZ Ltd.

Public Sector -- Education Partner of the Year: IAM Cloud

Public Sector -- Government Partner of the Year: Advanced Digital Systems Inc. (d/b/a "Mi-Co")

Public Sector -- Health Partner of the Year: Rapid Circle

Public Sector -- Public Safety and National Security Partner of the Year: Black Marble

Small & Midmarket Cloud Solutions Partner of the Year: Adactit

Software Asset Management (SAM) Partner of the Year: COMPAREX

Volume Licensing Partner of the Year: COMPAREX

Windows 8 Custom App Developer Partner of the Year: Black Marble

YouthSpark Citizenship Partner of the Year: Global Knowledge

Click here for a full list, including finalists and links to country Partner of the Year Award Winners.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 02, 2015 at 1:15 PM0 comments


UPDATE: Windows 10 Availability Set for July 29

Windows 10 will be available on July 29, Microsoft announced Monday, giving partners a little less than two months to get ready for a massively disruptive change to Microsoft's client operating system business model.

The release is on the early side of industry expectations that the OS would arrive in the second half of calendar year 2015. Unconfirmed reports over the last few weeks had been pointing to a July release. The timing means Microsoft will succeed in having a buzz-heavy OS in the market in time for the critical back-to-school season.

The most significant change in Windows 10 is that the upgrade will be free for most users in the year after release and that they will be able to continue upgrading to the latest version of the OS so long as their device is supported. (For a good overview of the caveats and open questions around what free means, see Kurt Mackie's recent piece.)

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Microsoft Operating System Group, unveiled the availability date on Monday in a blog entry titled, "Hello World: Windows 10 Available on July 29," which was a play on both the traditional "Hello World" phrase common for new computer programs and on the "Windows Hello" features in version 10.

Myerson left the actual announcement to Cortana, the digital assistant who made her debut on Windows Phone 8.1 and will be coming to all devices running Windows in version 10. "Windows 10 will be available on July 29, but you can reserve a copy now. Can't wait to be on your PC," a Cortana recording embedded in Myerson's blog post said. Myerson also invited Windows Phone and Windows 10 PC preview users to ask Cortana themselves, although the experience was still buggy. A test on a Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana brought back a Bing search result, rather than the spoken answer provided in the blog's sound clip.

The July 29 release will only include PCs and tablets. Myerson gave no details on when Windows 10 would be available for Windows Phone or other form factors, such as the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality goggles that Microsoft is preparing to ship.

In addition to free upgrades, Cortana and Windows Hello, Myerson's blog emphasized several areas of improvement coming in Windows 10, such as the full return of the Start menu, quicker startup and resume, Windows Defender, the new Microsoft Edge browser and Office on Windows.

For partners, the radical change in licensing of Windows upgrades is sure to have unpredictable consequences, especially for licensing solution providers, original equipment manufacturers and distributors. (For more, see "10 Ways Windows 10 Will Affect Microsoft Partners" and "Microsoft Throws Hardware Roadmap for Loop with Windows 10 as a Service.")

Microsoft has offered some traditional resources for partners that highlight new selling opportunities tied to the new operating system features. General Manager of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group Gavriella Schuster highlighted a number of marketing decks, training videos and other partner resources in a March blog post.

Given the timing of the release, Windows 10 partner readiness is guaranteed to be a top focus at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) on July 12-16 in Orlando, Fla.

Update (6/2): Later on Monday, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group Phil Sorgen followed up with a partner-specific post about Windows 10, outlining new resources such as expanded training tools, materials for Windows 10 Technical Preview campaigns and a Windows 10 pre-RTM proof of concept module.

Sorgen's post on his Channel Chief blog acknowledged the scope of the business shift represented by Windows 10: "As I've said in previous posts, times of change can spark the best in our progress and creativity. We think Windows 10 holds a vast opportunity to reinvent productivity and inspire new ways to develop and delight customers."

The bulk of his message focused on concrete opportunities. "By taking license costs out of the equation," Sorgen argued, the Windows 10 free upgrade offer should fuel business segment interest in Windows 10. Sorgen then made the familiar case for partners to move up the solution stack.

He said Windows 10 will enable partners to "[deliver] the traditional set of migration-related projects easier and therefore faster," "deliver a variety of ongoing, higher value services," "secure new universal LOB application projects" and "provision Office 365 and Azure cloud services to your customers."

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 01, 2015 at 9:23 AM0 comments


Acquisition Roundup: EMC, HP and Tech Data Make Moves

This week saw a number of high-profile acquisitions, with EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Tech Data Corp. driving the action.

EMC's was the only deal with a dollar figure attached, and it was a big one. The storage giant has a definitive agreement to buy privately-held Virtustream for $1.2 billion in a deal expected to close in the third quarter.

The acquisition is part of EMC's effort to build an end-to-end hybrid cloud infrastructure and services offering. Virtustream will be part of the EMC Federation family with Virtustream's CEO and co-founder Rodney Rogers reporting to EMC Chairman and CEO Joe Tucci.

The Virtustream products -- which migrate, run and manage applications, including SAP, in the cloud -- will be sold direct and through EMC partners.

The HP deal fits into its network functions virtualization (NFV) push, branded the HP OpenNFV Program. The company is acquiring Mountain View, Calif.-based ConteXtream.

Saar Gillai, senior vice president and general manager of NFV for HP, in a blog post described ConteXtream as a provider of OpenDaylight-based, carrier-grade SDN fabric for NFV and a current HP OpenNFV partner. "ConteXtream offers solutions that allow service providers to create a more flexible and programmable network through an SDN/NFV model," he said.

Distributor Tech Data is acquiring parts of Signature Technology Group (STG), a North American datacenter and professional services company, in a deal expected to close next month.

Phoenix-based STG's services will be folded into Tech Data's Advanced Infrastructure Solutions (AIS) division. In a statement on the deal, Joe Quaglia, president of the Americas at Tech Data, said STG will strengthen Tech Data's datacenter offering, diversify the services portfolio and provide an opportunity for the distributor's solution provider partners.

Chuck Bartlett, senior vice president of AIS at Tech Data, signaled that the STG addition would result in packages that could backstop solution providers' other offerings.

"IDC has predicted that over the next two years, more than 60 percent of companies will stop managing their IT infrastructure and rely on qualified service partners to boost efficiency and provide value," Bartlett said in a statement. "STG will complement our AIS offering, giving our solution providers an extension of their business and service levels for their end users. Their specialized, expert skillset in the datacenter will help provide enhanced support for our field organization, better equipping our solution providers to effectively serve complex datacenter environments."

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 28, 2015 at 1:11 PM0 comments


Sound Off! Take RCP's MPN Satisfaction Survey, Get Entered in a Drawing

Here at Redmond Channel Partner, we aim to provide an independent magazine and Web site (RCPmag.com) that serve the needs of the Microsoft partner community. As part of our editorial mission, we regularly check up with our readers on how well Microsoft is meeting your needs. Hence, this "RCP Microsoft Partner Satisfaction Survey."

The information you provide will only be used in aggregate and any verbatim quotes we use in articles based on these results will not include your name or company affiliation. None of your personally identifiable data will be shared with Microsoft or any other vendors.

What's the point? Let's face it -- when you give feedback directly to Microsoft through official channels, you've often got to flatter it because you're simultaneously lobbying for resources that it controls. This survey is your chance to help get real, unvarnished feedback to Microsoft that will help it get you products that better meet your customers' needs and get you the programmatic resources that you need to grow your business.

Take the survey here. It's only 10 questions and will only take a few minutes. As an additional thank you for participating, we'll include your name in drawings for three Amazon.com gift cards worth $50 each. So sound off!

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 27, 2015 at 8:45 AM0 comments


Maker of MDM Tool for Apple Devices Launches Channel Program

Bushel, a SaaS-based mobile device management (MDM) solution for Apple devices, on Wednesday launched an affiliate program that represents the first stage of a channel push.

Bushel grew out of Minneapolis-based JAMF Software LLC, maker of an on-premises Apple device management platform. While Bushel's primary market is Apple ecosystem partners, Bushel Product Manager Charles Edge told RCP that the product makes sense for Microsoft partners and managed service providers (MSPs) looking to manage the Apple devices that crop up around the edges of their customers' networks.

"It's very similar to what Microsoft has done releasing Intune for Windows," Edge said of Microsoft's SaaS solution for system management. "What we're after is policy-based management for small business. We're taking out complexity and the things you need lots of experience to do."

Bushel can be used to manage Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPods. Capabilities of the product include device inventory, app distribution, e-mail configuration, Wi-Fi setting distribution and device protection.

[Click on image for larger view.] The Bushel interface.

Under the small business-focused pricing model, the first three devices managed by Bushel are free, with supplemental devices costing $2 per month. The affiliate program, which Edge likens to consumer affiliate programs, involves a partner providing a specific sign-up link for customers that returns a percentage of the monthly payment to the partner.

Partners are able to manage devices on behalf of customers only with the customer's individual login, Edge said. So, for example, managing five customers would require five separate logins.

Other elements will be coming to the channel program. "Within a couple weeks we'll have marketing materials, PDFs and leave-behinds, customizable assets so the partners can put their brand on it, and YouTube channels with videos on how to set things up and manage them," Edge said.

Bushel is in a fast-growth stage, climbing from about 500 customers at the formal launch in mid-January to 3,300 organizations now. Anticipating similar uptake with partners, Edge said the company will wait for feedback from the channel on what resources and features to add.

One item that's on the radar but not formally on a roadmap is potential integration with Intune and other management platforms for single-pane-of-glass management. "We're looking at ways to partner with and do integrations with other platforms," he said. "But at the four-month mark, we're still gaining lots and lots of marketshare on the Apple side."

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 27, 2015 at 11:35 AM0 comments


NetApp Turns Page on SteelStore Acquisition with Rebranding

Seven months after buying Riverbed Technology's SteelStore product line for $80 million, NetApp Inc. made the hybrid data protection line more completely its own on Wednesday by rebranding it as NetApp AltaVault.

In the months in between, NetApp marketed the product line as NetApp SteelStore. The newly branded AltaVault will push the product line forward with new capabilities and new appliance models.

The AltaVault brand covers three discrete products types. Traditional AltaVault physical appliances will run NetApp software on NetApp hardware. The AVA400 physical appliance, supporting up to 72 disk drives and 288TB of raw capacity, is available now. A larger AVA800, supporting up to 96 drives and 576TB, is planned for Q3.

Virtual AltaVault appliances run NetApp software on VMware ESX or Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines on third-party hardware. Cloud appliances for AltaVault are currently available in the Amazon Web Services marketplace and are scheduled to be available in the Microsoft Azure marketplace later this year.

The appliances include inline deduplication and compression, and they integrate with NetApp SnapProtect. Other supported backup software includes Arcserve, CommVault Simpana, Dell vRanger, EMC NetWorker, HP Data Protector, IBM Spectrum Protect, Veeam, Veritas Backup Exec, Veritas Enterprise Vault, Veritas NetBackup, Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle RMAN.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 27, 2015 at 12:26 PM0 comments