A new ‘Azure Expert' accreditation
Microsoft yesterday announced the new Azure Expert Managed Service Provider programme for partners, available exclusively to the cream of the Azure crop.
Partners will go through a "rigorous" application process before being awarded the status, which involves a third-party audit and partners having to demonstrate their Azure capabilities.
Microsoft's channel boss Gavriella Schuster said "partners achieving this level of qualification have to demonstrate the highest degree of capability and ability".
Early partners with the status include Crayon, DXC Technology, New Signature, and Rackspace.
But Schuster said that the main focus of the programme is Microsoft's customers, rather than partners themselves. She said that the rationale behind the programme is to give end users the confidence to select a partner and move workloads into the cloud.
Chatter about Microsoft being "closer to its partners than ever"
You'll never hear a vendor claiming to be further away from its partners - so this is probably to be expected - but there is some supporting evidence on this occasion.
For the first time, Microsoft is hosting its Inspire partner event at the same time, and in the same city, as its Ready sales kick-off. This means that the 17,000 partners in Las Vegas next week will be able to liaise directly with the vendor's 21,000 sales and technical staff.
Microsoft's communications VP Frank Shaw said this creates an "unprecedented" opportunity for partners to build "meaningful relationships" with Microsoft's employee base.
Bringing partners further into the Microsoft fold perhaps makes sense, given the restructure Microsoft has undertaken over the last couple of years.
A year ago the vendor made a wave of job cuts in its sales and marketing teams, which partners said demonstrated a move away from account managers and towards solutions specialists.
Not-so-subtle swipes at the competition
You'd be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft is taking over Las Vegas for a week, given that nearly 40,000 people will be attending its two events.
During the press webinar the vendor displayed a map indicating the 25 huge Vegas resorts that will play host to various festivities - but there is a gatecrasher in town.
Amazon Web Services happens to be hosting an event in Las Vegas at the same time, leading Shaw to quip that the public cloud giant is hoping to poach a few of Microsoft's partners and customers. "Roll the dice, Amazon," he said. We'd be surprised if further digs aren't made throughout the week…
Microsoft nudging partners towards Microsoft 365
Microsoft 365 - which pulls together solutions including Office 365, Windows and security capabilities - was one of the biggest announcements made at last year's Inspire conference in Washington, but expect it to feature prominently at this year's event as well.
Microsoft will attempt to tempt partners towards pushing subscription services, claiming that they can earn 60 per cent more per user than they can by selling just Office 365.
The vendor also announced a host of new features for Microsoft 365, including a new free version of Microsoft Teams.
Teams was introduced at the end of 2016 and is seen as Microsoft's attempt to take on Slack.
A greater focus on partners' intellectual property
As part of a growing theme in the channel, Microsoft is set to push partners harder to develop their own solutions on top of Microsoft's infrastructure.
The vendor claims to have built over 28,000 applications and solutions in tandem with its partners, and says that its IP co-sell initiative, launched at last year's Inspire, has generated over $5bn in sales for partners.
Schuster said that Microsoft is now putting as much emphasis on selling its partners' solutions as it is on selling its own, calling its app store the "front door for selling with Microsoft". The increased focus on the app store comes after some partners said they were finding it difficult to know how to get started when selling their own products, she added.
Schuster claimed that the app store sees around two million visitors a month and generates 100,000 leads a month - which Microsoft sends out to partners via the store.
The vendor plans to expand the use of its app store so it contains all the partner solutions that are currently stored in the vendor's internal catalogue - which means that a partner's product will go up on the app store as soon as Microsoft is aware of it.
Surface Go's unveiling
The latest edition to the Surface family was actually revealed this week, but will likely feature prominently in Las Vegas.
Surface Go is will be Microsoft's entry-level device, starting at $399, and is seen by some as the vendor's attempt to tighten its grip on the education sector - particularly after Apple recently targeted schools with an iPad refresh.
During the press briefing, which was streamed online, Shaw held up the new product, so perhaps partners will be able to get their hands on one in America next week.
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