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After years working collaboratively behind the scenes, Microsoft and NetApp formalized their partnership this week, inking a three-year agreement around product integration and compatibility and joint sales and marketing activities.

The catalyst for the partnership is the momentum behind dynamic data center development, especially in the areas of virtualization, cloud computing and storage management, according to David Greschler, Director of Virtualization Strategy at Microsoft. To that end, the two companies will be tightening integration of their various product lines so that channel partners can offer a comprehensive solution for building private clouds for their customers.

“As we look out to the data center, there’s been a dramatic shift that is because of virtualization,” Greschler told Channel Insider. “Data centers are more dynamic and agile. And while virtualization used to be about reducing the number of servers you need or saving energy and cutting down on real estate costs, now it’s for private clouds.”

As part of the alliance, the two companies have identified three integration points for NetApp’s storage solutions to intersect with various pieces of the Microsoft platform.

•    Infrastructure level, which includes Windows operating systems and Microsoft’s virtualization engine, Hyper-V and NetApp storage solutions.

•    Management level, which ties NetApp’s storage solutions into Microsoft’s System Center family of network management products.

•    Application level, which links the storage solutions to Exchange, SQL and Sharepoint servers

These types of end-to-end solutions map to the evolving business model of the channel, according to Patrick Rogers, vice president of solutions and alliances at NetApp.

“The way NetApp’s channel structure works, some partners are focused exclusively on storage, but the fastest growing segment are platform integrators,” he said. “They are reselling Microsoft products, along with storage and networking and bringing it all together.”

By formalizing the Microsoft-NetApp alliance the companies hope to demonstrate a long-term commitment, not simply a point in time integration, Rogers added. “This proves that if I, as a partner, invest in professional services around these solutions it will be around a stable and growing business model.”

Both Rogers and Greschler touted the opportunity for partners to use this combined solution to build private clouds for their customers as more and more internal applications are being virtualized. Partners can reap margin by providing enterprise-grade security and service level agreements around such an infrastructure, they said.