Can Microsoft Learn From McAfee's SaaS Strategy?

Can Microsoft Learn From McAfee's SaaS Strategy?

Sometime in 2011, McAfee will roll out a channel partner designation specifically for SaaS specialists and managed services providers. The effort will offer partners three SaaS security options: (1) you can just sell it (2) or you can sell it and bill it or (3) you can sell it, bill it and support it. As I heard about the McAfee SaaS effort, I began to wonder: Will Microsoft ever offer that type of SaaS flexibility to channel partners?

First, the news: McAfee is planning to launch a SaaS monthly designation for resellers sometime in 2011, according Alex Thurber, the company's global channel chief. Thurber described the SaaS channel strategy and additional partner moves earlier today during the McAfee Global Partner Day (part of McAfee Focus 10) in Las Vegas.

Looking Back to Move Ahead

Instead of reinventing the SaaS wheel, McAfee is largely leveraging the MX Logic partner program. McAfee acquired MX Logic, the SaaS security specialist, in 2009.

Assuming it works as advertised, McAfee's SaaS partner approach identifies a key inflection point in the market:
  • Are more and more VARs and MSPs pushing to sell, bill and support third-party SaaS applications?
  • Or do partners prefer the Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) approach, where partners merely resell Microsoft's offerings (SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, etc.) without getting involved in billing?

Flexibility Counts

No doubt, some partners welcome Microsoft's decision to handle BPOS billing. But I wonder if McAfee's more flexible SaaS approach is part of a growing trend -- allowing SaaS and cloud partners to keep their brand in front of end-customers every step of the way.

During multiple interviews in 2010, Microsoft has repeatedly told me that they listen to BPOS partner feedback. But so far, Microsoft doesn't seem to have any plans to permit VARs and MSPs to manage BPOS billing. Will Microsoft partners demand such flexibility in 2011? We'll be watching.

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