Managed Services Chatter At Microsoft Partner Conference

Managed Services Chatter At Microsoft Partner Conference

Microsoft is in transition. And so is the Microsoft channel partner community. At Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC10), there's noticeably more managed services chatter this year compared to the 2009 conference. But are MSPs really here in full force? And is Microsoft fulfilling their needs? Here are some perspectives from Day 2 at the conference.

As expected, Cloud Computing has dominated most conversations here, and CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote was all about Microsoft's cloud strategy. But still, cloud computing and managed services are close cousins. And there's plenty of managed services chatter at the event. Examples include:

1. MSPs in the Hall: Generally speaking, I think most attendees are VARs and solutions providers that specialize in traditional on-premises IT sales. But unlike 2009, this year it's easy to spot MSP industry pundits throughout the 2010 conference. Well-known MSP industry names here include Evolve Technologies CEO Dave Sobel, MSP Services Network CEO Gerard Kane, Rezitech CEO Travis Austin and Transformation Strategies President David Schafran.

2. Pieces of an Ecosystem: Several portions of the MSP software industry also are here. Familiar names from Autotask, ConnectWise, ExchangeDefender, LabTech Software, Level Platforms, Quest Software and Intel's MSP-centric team are here. And the Intel Hybrid Cloud (targeting MSPs) is expected to generate more buzz in the days ahead during demos. Level Platforms CEO Peter Sandiford says his company has spent more than a year developing a relationship with Intel on the hybrid cloud effort.

3. Thinking Bigger: Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Azure Appliance (for private clouds) specifically targets large service providers, though its unclear how small MSPs will profit from the forthcoming appliance.

4. Educating Partners: The 2010 conference agenda has several sessions devoted to MSPs. I could be wrong, but I don't think managed services made it onto the 2009 agenda -- when Windows 7 and Office 2010 dominated Microsoft's rhetoric.

5. Next Steps: Microsoft also said Windows Intune -- a SaaS-based managed services platform for maintaining and securing Windows devices -- has entered Beta 2. We've previously noted that Windows Intune is Windows-centric, which means it may not meet the needs of cross-platform MSPs. But it's clear that Microsoft is finally ready to leverage the managed services concept within its own products and services.

I suspect the managed services chatter will grow louder on July 13 and 14 at the conference. A range of MSP-centric companies are hosting gatherings, parties and education sessions.

I'm not suggesting that Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference represents the center of the managed services universe. And there are plenty of holes in Microsoft's MSP strategy -- especially when it comes to clearly articulating how partners can profit from blended MSP and cloud solutions.

But in terms of MSP content and business opportunities, the 2010 conference shows Microsoft is listening to established and aspiring MSPs. I'm pleasantly surprised by the progress.

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