WPC 2014: Microsoft Integrates Cloud into the Microsoft Partner Network, Retires Other Programs

Microsoft announces big changes to programs for partners at WPC 2014, hoping to fast-track the transition to the cloud by putting its partners at the center. By Matt Whitlock

Microsoft used the 2014 Worldwide Partner Conference and its new cloud first/mobile first vision to make some changes to its partner programs, hoping to guide channel partners to the cloud and put them at the center of customer cloud adoption.

Rather than run alternate programs for the cloud, Microsoft is now integrating the cloud into the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), with three new cloud-focused competencies based on performance for Office 365 and Microsoft Azure. The new competencies are as follows:

  • Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions: For partners selling Microsoft Office 365 to small and midsize customers.
  • Cloud Productivity: For partners deploying Microsoft Office 365 for enterprise customers.
  • Cloud Platform: For partners who specialize in delivering infrastructure, PaaS, and SaaS solutions on Microsoft Azure.

These competencies work a little differently, too, with the goal of making it easier for partners. These changes include:

  1. Waiving the first year fee for Silver cloud competencies
  2. Enhancing Internal Use Rights for Office 365 and Azure, providing between 25 percent and 200 percent more IUR licenses depending on the competency level achieved
  3. Signature Cloud Support is an exclusive support solution that helps cloud partners better support their customers. Launching in September, Signature Cloud Support provides partners with direct contact to a high-quality support team.
  4. To enable partners to continue to make the investments necessary to succeed in the cloud, Microsoft also announced it is reducing the fees for on-premises competencies by up to 10 percent.

With the new competencies in MPN, Microsoft is phasing out the Cloud Accelerate, Cloud Deployment, and Azure Circle programs. Partners in these programs will have a path to migrate to the new competencies.

Microsoft knows change is hard, and a good education can make all the difference. To that effect, the company announced the Azure Machine Learning University, which is a portfolio of online, self-service learning assets designed to get partners started with Azure ML. Machine Learning University will provide partners with an overview of Azure ML, and walk through the data science life cycle from importing data to building predictive models and deploying in production.

Probably the most important announcement for partners centers on the partner/customer relationship, and Microsoft clearly wants partners at the center and makes it as easy as possible for partners and customers to purchase, deploy, and use Microsoft solutions. As a result, the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider program allows partners to own 100 percent of the customer lifecycle, with partners serving as the only contact for all customer needs, including: billing, provisioning, support and, most important, the ability to sell their own tools, products, and services. "This new program provides our partners with complete control, and ensures our mutual customers can rely on their partner to ensure they’re getting the most out of their Microsoft cloud solutions," says Gavriella Schuster, general manager, Worldwide Partner Programs at Microsoft (pictured).

The Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider program will start with Office 365 and Windows Intune, but will eventually be extended to cover all Microsoft cloud services. For partners who want to truly own the relationship going forward to the cloud, this is huge. Furthermore, Dynamics CRM and Azure are coming to Open later this year, allowing partners flexible volume licensing options that should create huge opportunity in SMB.

It's a lot to digest, so we recommend partners check out Microsoft's partner resources for more information on these changes in the coming days. We know the cloud has some channel partners on edge, but at least Microsoft seems genuinely serious about taking away a lot of the things that would make channel partners nervous.

What do you think about some of these changes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.