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No Microsoft Muscle?
Although Microsoft used to get its hackles raised over partners with Linux leanings, it’s hard to find a Microsoft partner today who’s feeling pressure to go all-in with Microsoft products. Microsoft does encourage partner “commitment,” but its partner program doesn’t place the heavy emphasis on sales performance and sell-through numbers that other vendors’ programs do. Instead, Microsoft’s partner program is designed to foster abundant services opportunities for the channel, and that has been one of the keys to its success.
“The margins on Microsoft software sales are minimal, and since most partners are focused on services, they actually have an incentive to minimize software sales as a portion of a project’s total budget,” said Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft, Kirkland, Wash. “This leaves more room for additional services, where margins and ongoing revenues are greater.”
Of course, Microsoft’s sales teams prefer working with partners that embrace the full Microsoft stack, but with the exception of Dynamics, most partner competencies aren’t based on sales performance, added DeGroot.
Traditionally, many of Microsoft’s competitors have also been partners, which makes it difficult for exclusivity to creep into the equation. Cisco is a prime example. Even after Microsoft entered the unified communications market with Office Communications Server, the two companies continued working closely together, which makes sense since many Microsoft partners are also Cisco partners. Microsoft and Cisco often trade verbal barbs about whose UC solution is better, but solution providers haven’t experienced any strong-arming from Microsoft.
“I haven’t seen Microsoft pushing partners to drop Cisco,” said Neil Brenner, vice president of converged technology at Consolidated Technologies, a Port Chester, N.Y.-based solution provider. While Microsoft’s stance today is to integrate with PBXes from the likes of Cisco and Avaya, that might not always be the case, said Brenner. “I believe at some point soon, [Office Communications Server] won’t have seamless integration with Cisco or Avaya for call control or remote call control. At that point, enterprise users would have to make the choice for a ‘go forward’ platform,” he said.
In virtualization, where Microsoft has been making incursions into VMware market strongholds, the software giant has been stressing the cost savings it offers to lure VMware customers but hasn’t demanded that its solution providers drop VMware altogether. Microsoft, in its partner marketing efforts, has targeted areas of complexity in VMware products that are causing problems for customers. In March, Microsoft and Citrix Systems unveiled the “Rescue for VMware VDI” promotion, which lets customers trade in their VMware View software licenses for the same number of Microsoft VDI Standard Suite subscription and Citrix XenDesktop VDI Edition annual licenses, for free.
Microsoft’s increasing focus on interconnected systems also runs contrary to the notion of vendor exclusivity. Microsoft says XML is now at the core of all its product development efforts, and Jean Paoli, co-creator of XML, is a Microsoft employee. “Microsoft has focused a lot on interoperability in recent years, and you can’t do that and insist that people use only your products,” said DeGroot. “In general, it’s probably a good strategy and gained them more than they lost, in the sense that it has let them penetrate accounts where rip and replace wasn’t an option.” —Kevin McLaughlin
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