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Ahead of Inspire 2019, Microsoft unveils channel programs around cloud migration, management, AI and data storage.

Jeffrey Burt

July 11, 2019

7 Min Read
Cloud Computing
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Microsoft Azure officials want to make it easier for channel partners to help enterprises migrate their workloads to the Azure cloud and then manage those applications and data once they’ve made the move.

Ahead of the Microsoft Inspire 2019 partner show next week in Las Vegas, the enterprise software giant is announcing that the company’s Azure Migration Program – which is designed to give the channel the tools and services they need to more easily move their end users into the public cloud – will be generally available July 15. Also new is the Azure Lighthouse service, which will give partners a single view, enabling them to manage Azure at scale for all customers.

The news about Azure Migration Program and Azure Lighthouse are among a spate of announcements around Azure, which is the second largest public cloud service provider in the world behind Amazon Web Services (AWS) and ahead of Google Cloud Platform. With the cloud infrastructure services market expected to grow to more than $81 billion by 2023, according to a report on MarketsandMarkets, Azure, AWS and other providers are rapidly building out their capabilities, particularly as more organizations are adopting hybrid cloud and multicloud strategies.

The annual RightScale cloud report from Flexera this year found that Azure is chipping away at AWS’ dominant lead among enterprise users as more organizations adopt the public cloud. The news around Azure coming out ahead of Inspire is an indication that Microsoft wants to keep that momentum going. Helping the channel migrate and manage their customers in their cloud effort are key ways to do that.

“When Azure as a platform does more for our partners, our partners can focus more on providing differentiated services and higher value to our joint customers,” Azure CTO Mark Russinovich wrote in a blog. “That is how partners make more possible on Azure.”

The Azure Migration Program is a continuation of Microsoft’s efforts to help enterprises make the move to the cloud. Also in a blog, Julia White, corporate vice president at Azure, noted that a year ago she talked about the cloud provider’s desire to help customers make the move and that the customer response from such enterprises like Chevron and Carlsberg Beers was strong.

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Microsoft’s Julia White

“We’ve gained valuable insights about customer needs along their journey,” White wrote. “Today, we are bringing together the insights from this experience to market with our latest investment in migration.”

The new migration effort includes guidance from Microsoft experts and partners that is based on the new Cloud Adoption Framework for Azure, coursework for developing Azure skills, free migration tools such as Azure Migrate for assessing and migrating workloads, and reducing migration costs.

Azure’s efforts focus on an important area of the cloud for both end users and their channel partners, according to Jo Peterson, vice president of cloud and security services at Clarify360, a partner of many of the top cloud providers, including Microsoft.

“Having worked in the cloud space since 2009, I’ve seen many ways to approach a cloud migration,” Peterson told Channel Futures. “Cloud is as much about the technology as it is about organizational preference. Your organization can decide to use a little cloud or a lot of cloud. The choice often comes down to, not if you can move everything to the cloud, but do you …

…want to move everything to the cloud. All sorts of things factor into this equation — financial preference for operational expense versus capital expense, cloud expertise within your current team, security and regulatory considerations [and so on].

Given the broad range of technology and business decisions that need to be made, companies that want to move to the cloud might need outside help, she said.

“A consideration might be a third-party management firm that can assist with optimization, security and architecture of the environment,” Peterson said. “A channel partner can bring a short list of qualified firms versed in a specific cloud technology that can manage the environment either short term – until you can your staff up to speed – or long-term if cloud management is not an organizational priority.”

Mary Leigh Mackie, vice president of product marketing at IT solutions provider AvePoint, agreed, telling Channel Futures that it’s “critical to work with partners who are already thinking in cloud-first terms and can provide extensive insight to help customers along this journey. AvePoint went through this journey as we prepared to offer our first fully hosted SaaS solution for managing what is now Office 365, almost seven ago.”

When migrating to Azure, partners and customers need to rethink the architecture of current on-premises applications so they can take advantage of cloud features while avoiding such unexpected hitches as extensive throttling that will hinder performance and cost overruns.

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AvePoint’s Mary Leigh Mackie

“Because Azure has an extensive array of microservices and other capabilities that offer customers more scale and flexibility, it requires any apps you want to take to the cloud be rethought and likely rebuilt,” Mackie said.

Azure Lighthouse is the first time Microsoft has created a solution at such a scale with and for partners, Microsoft said. Azure’s Russinovich said the solution was inspired by partners that incorporate code as a service and automation into their managed services. It offers a new delegated resource concept that is deigned to simplify cross-tenant governance and operations, he wrote.

With Azure Lighthouse, customer resources are seen as resources in providers’ own subscriptions. In addition, Azure delegated resource management works the same regardless of the customer’s licensing, such as pay-as-you-go.

“Partners can now manage tens of thousands of resources from thousands of distinct customers from their own Azure portal or CLI context,” the CTO wrote. “Because customer resources are visible to service providers as Azure resources in their own tenant, service providers can easily automate status monitoring and apply create, update, change, delete (CRUD) changes across the resources of many customers from a single location.”

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Unitas Global’s Chris Smith

Such an offering could be a boon for partners, says Chris Smith, vice president of cloud architecture for Unitas Global, which partners with Azure as well as AWS and Google Cloud.

“Once the customer is in the cloud/hybrid cloud, managing multiple customers in their own portals can become a challenge,” Smith told Channel Futures. “You begin looking into how to set up your accounts for multiple users on your team, all while making it a secure access and operating model. Having a single pane of glass for all your customers to manage multiple environments would be a huge win for channel partners.”

Partners would be able to support the environments across multiple customers with a single way to log in and manage all clients, he said, adding that it would mean “faster access, which means a faster resolution to problems. This would also mean a single pane of glass for managing billing, access and engineering tasks for customers across the system, which provides a relief …

… to channel partner organizations as a whole, not just the operations teams.”

Other announcements around Azure include:

  • Azure AI Accelerate Program, which is designed to help partners more quickly bring solutions and capabilities around artificial intelligence (AI) to market, highlighting such tools as Azure Machine Learning, Knowledge Mining and AI applications.

  • The general availability in the United States and Europe of Data Box Heavy, which is part of Microsoft’s Data Box lineup of offline transfer offerings for moving large volumes of data into Azure when the network can’t be used. In addition, Data Box, an existing product, is now available in Japan, Canada and Australia. Data Box Disk, another existing offering, is now available in Korea, Southeast Asia and for the U.S. government.

  • The Azure Kinect DK developer kit, which includes AI sensors for computer vision and speech recognition, is available in the U.S. and China.

  • Azure Blob API interoperability with Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 is now in public preview. Azure Blob Storage integrated with the Azure data lake offering brings the level of scalability, security and availability needed for cloud-scale analytics, Microsoft said. The API interoperability will enable customers to more easily manage their workloads.

  • The new Azure Data Share analytics service, aimed at sharing big data easily and securely with other companies, will be available in public preview July 15. Sharing large data files with outside organizations is complex and costly, the company said. The new service uses Azure security measures like access controls, authentication and encryption to address those challenges.

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