Microsoft Confirms Office 365 "Out Soon" to Channel Partners

April 14, 2011

By samdizzy

Twice in 24-hour period this week, Microsoft’s Eric Martorano spoke at a major channel partner conference. At Synnex Varnex in Boston and Ingram Micro VTN in Chicago, Martorano described why Microsoft needs channel partners to promote Office 365, the forthcoming cloud platform. Martorano even appeared to go slightly off-script in Chicago, offering a quick but significant clue about Office 365’s planned availability to VARs and MSPs.

Give Martorano credit: He was on-message with the Ingram and Synnex channel audiences (I was at both events), focusing his comments about Office 365, Windows Intune and Dynamics CRM Online to an SMB-centric channel crowd. In Boston, Martorano offered the standard statement about Office 365’s introduction, stating that the cloud suite would arrive sometime in 2011. But in Chicago, Martorano went off-script ever-so-slightly, at one point saying Office 365 would be coming out soon to channel partners. Listen closely to the TalkinCloud FastChat Video (left) for the exact statement in Chicago.

Brian von Axelson, from Microsoft’s Windows Intune team, also was on-message. He positioned Windows Intune as a complementary tool for MSPs seeking to remotely manage customer systems. He also said Windows Intune was an ideal springboard to help aspiring MSPs step into the managed services market. At no point did von Axelson position Windows Intune as a complete, all-encompassing remote management tool. Smart move. I’ve previously noted Windows Intune only supports Windows desktop and mobile systems — with no ability to remotely maintain Apple, Linux or Google Android platforms.

Channel… Partner… Commitment

At both Ingram Micro VTN and Synnex Varnex, Martorano opened his keynotes with dramatic pauses — emphasizing the massive cloud opportunity and Microsoft’s continued commitment to partners. That’s a familiar theme lately; Microsoft in March 2011 rolled out partner commitment statements highlighting that 95 percent of Microsoft revenues come from partners.

Also, Martorano effectively described several programs to help VARs and MSPs succeed in the cloud, pointing to the Microsoft SMB Cloud Champions Club as a key avenue to promote partner success. Also, Martorano mentioned that roughly 200 North American channel partners now enjoy strong success with Microsoft in the cloud; 2,000 partners are actively selling Microsoft cloud solutions; and 6,000 partners have signed up to sell Microsoft’s cloud offerings.

Cooperating and Competing

Still, there’s no denying some tension in the room during Martorano’s keynote presentations at Ingram Micro VTN (April 12) and Synnex Varnex (April 11). Plenty of channel partners continue to question Microsoft’s cloud strategy. Some fear moving customer information into Microsoft datacenters. Others want to control end-customer billing for cloud services — a capability that Microsoft has yet to offer.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has told some partners — particularly hosting providers and service providers — to expect competition going forward. Microsoft GM Bill Staples delivered that very message during the Parallels Summit back in March, outlining a coopetition (cooperate and compete) strategy to attendees (see FastChat video, left).

Fast forward to the present. Office 365’s arrival seems imminent. A major Office 365 advertising campaign has already started. And during the Ingram Micro VTN conference this week, Martorano seemed to indicate that Office 365 was coming really soon to channel partners.

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