Microsoft Works Hard to Win Over PartnersBy Peter Galli | Print
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At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, prospective partners are asking tough questions as they contemplate joining forces with the software giant.
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles that examines Microsoft's strategy of gaining market share and driving new solutions to market through its partner base.
BOSTONMicrosoft may not have answered all the questions prospective partners had when they attended a summit before the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference here, but it certainly convinced many of them that they should indeed join forces with the software giant.
Microsoft invited some 320 potential new partners to attend the Partnering Executive Summit on July 10, where it tried to sell them on the benefits of partnering with Microsoft and explain why it is better positioned competitively than the platforms they are currently selling.
While a number of those prospective partners came with a myriad of questions and issues that they hoped would be answered at the day-long event on July 10, some were let down.
Richard Groves, the chief operating officer at Streamline Computing, which has been operating for six years delivering Linux clusters, is one such potential partner.
While he was upbeat about the summit and all the things he learned about Microsoft and partnering with it, some of his fundamental questions were not answered, he told eWEEK in an interview here.
Streamline had been hoping to hear about HPC supported applications that would allow it to address some of the needs of companies in the SMB space, as well as how Microsoft planned to deliver a consistent development environment and all the tools that go along with that.
"There was no mention of the development environment and the tool chain at Summit, and this is very important to us and to our customers," Groves said.
"Also, with regard to certification and accreditation, the HPC market is a completely new one to Microsoft and I wanted to hear what they planned to do on that front. Again, I did not."
Allison Watson, Microsoft's corporate vice president for the worldwide partner group, told eWEEK that while she had received a lot of positive feedback from Summit attendees, "this is just the beginning of the journey."
She acknowledged that Microsoft needed to have more one-on-one meetings on-site, but noted that she did not expect all potential partner questions to be answered in the few days at the Summit and the partner conference.
Streamline's Groves agreed that the Summit had been informative and useful.
"I was impressed by the fact that Microsoft has such a lot of staff with so much enthusiasm, which is good to see. I was also surprised by the breadth of products they have and are bringing to market beyond the core Windows and Office brands," he said.
Groves was also interested in some of Microsoft's perspectives, shared during the day in executive keynotes, especially by the prediction that some 10 percent of all servers sold worldwide would end up being HPC servers.
Another keynote on competitive platform issues, by Ryan Gavin, Microsoft's director of platform strategy, looked at Windows as an operating system and how it was positioned competitively.
Groves' take was that "he's a Microsoft employee and obviously favors Windows. I think there are other perspectives on the competitive front."
Next Page: "If Microsoft wants to get into a market, they will."
With regard to becoming a Microsoft partner, Groves was pragmatic, saying that "my view coming in is that if Microsoft wants to get into a market, they will, and if you want to be part of that, you have to work with them."
Streamline has been fielding calls from interested customers in Microsoft's HPC offering, known as Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, and expects to start delivering this to them shortly.
"But we don't see this as displacing Linux in our business, but rather adding to it. I expect Microsoft's entry into this market will expand the potential customer base for these products as many Windows customers have been wary of HPC until now, as they had to put Linux clusters into their environment and deal with the integration of it all. That is no longer the case," Groves said.
For his part Graham Jones, chief operating officer for Integralis, a Europe-based security systems integrator, said the company wanted to learn more about Microsoft's future security product strategy before it built a consulting practice around those solutions.
Jones said he also wanted to hear about "truly differentiated channels. With all of our vendors, we have the highest level of accreditation, and in exchange for that we expect the best terms and engagement that we can get."
He said he was also curious to see what the real service opportunity with Microsoft is, as he believed that the current Microsoft channel did not understand security the way companies like Integralis did.
"They can supply Exchange, Office and Windows, but we understand the environment that ISA Server is going into. We have a far wider view of security," he said.
Jones said Microsoft did lay out its security product roadmap, and the software giant had first gone for the low-hanging fruit, the anti-virus market.
"We don't play in that market. I thought the roadmap was a good, compelling story for users. Our involvement will probably come in the second wave of its security technology," he said.
Jones also acknowledged that he remained unsure how to navigate the Microsoft system to reach the right people, admitting that there needs to be "more work to be done there" on both sides.
But he welcomed the ability to attend the full Worldwide Partner show, attend sessions and network with peers.
"Outside of the technology, this was a great opportunity to learn about the company, meet its people, and network with potential and existing partners," he said.
Integralis believes there was an opportunity to start consulting around Microsoft Forefront and is going to look at how best to establish a security consulting group that has a "Microsoft wrap around it, but it is a bit early to say how this will look," Jones said.
In fact, Microsoft used the partner show to announce its SSA (Security Software Advisor) program, designed to give Microsoft's security partners and solutions providers an opportunity to earn supplemental revenue when they assist customers with the acquisition and deployment of Microsoft security software.
Eligible partners can receive fees of up to 30 percent of the sale of selected Microsoft security products, while those who are involved in the recommendation process and serve as the primary Microsoft security software implementation partner for new sales of selected ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) Server and Antigen product SKUs will get an additional 10 percent above their security software adviser fees.
This offer expires Feb. 1, 2007, Steven VanRoekel, the director of the Windows solutions group, told eWEEK.
Jones said Integralis was also especially interested in working with Microsoft on a consultancy basis when it came out with more security management offerings.
But, he cautioned, this was a market with a lot of existing, established players and Microsoft had to be cognizant of that.
With regard to becoming a Microsoft partner, Jones said the decision had been made to work toward gold certification, adding though that he did want to hear more about what this would do for his firm.
He also hoped that Microsoft would be willing to listen to input on its current requirements for certification and accreditation and whether those requirements were appropriate to Integralis' business.
Microsoft's Watson said the partner team was always open to working together with its partners. She also noted that some 431 new partners had built a business practice on Microsoft's technologies over the past year and 40 percent had dropped their previous platform provider over that year.
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