At IT Nation this week in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft partners are hearing about Apple's new Mobility Technical Competency (MTC) directly from Francois Daumard, the ex-Microsoft channel executive who is driving the program. Some partners are even getting on-site training for iOS integration in corporate networks.
This may sound like bad news for Microsoft, but several partners told CRN that interpreting this as a blow to the software giant's mobile business would be inaccurate.
With Windows Phone still at an early stage, and Windows 8 not expected to arrive until later next year, Microsoft partners are doing iOS and Android development to meet the current needs of their customers.
"iOS is here right now and that’s the device platform for which some partners are building software," said Andrew Brust, CEO of Microsoft analyst firm Blue Badge Insights, based in New York City. "That’s inconvenient, and even unfortunate in some ways, but it’s not surprising and it’s not disloyal."
Added Brust: "You can bet that these same partners would be happier developing for Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets, and are doing what they can to see those devices attain ubiquity amongst their customers as well."
Nonetheless, several Microsoft partners CRN spoke with were unabashedly excited about the potential new business that an Apple relationship could bring.
Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates, an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based solution provider, knows one Chicago-based health-care firm that recently bought 20,000 iPads in a single order. Someone has to handle the integration of these devices into corporate networks, and Opal reckons that it might as well be him.
"From my perspective as a Microsoft partner, I now have 20,000 potentially unsecured endpoints going onto a network. That is, operationally, a significant market opportunity," Opal told CRN.
What’s more, Opal says the iOS integration work he's doing will help him identify market opportunities for Windows 8 when it does arrive. "We can't buy Windows 8 now, but we can plan and start strategizing for it," he said.
Microsoft declined to comment on Apple's MTC program. But it's not as if the software giant is sitting back and watching Apple eat its lunch.
System Center 2012, unveiled in March and expected to launch later this year, will include support for managing iPads and iPhones. It’s the same approach Microsoft uses with System Center Virtual Machine Manager, which supports management of VMware virtual machines.
Next: Microsoft's Strategy For iOS
One solution provider said Microsoft is reacting to the flood of iOS devices in corporations in a way that makes sense.
"Microsoft sees iPads and iPhones coming in everywhere, and they accommodate them nicely by licensing Exchange ActiveSync, so that those devices work well as Exchange e-mail clients," said the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of his relationship with Microsoft. "This, I believe, is a huge reason for corporate adoption of iPads and iPhones."
The costs of joining the Apple Consultants Network and obtaining MTC certification may also present a barrier to a full-scale Microsoft channel partner migration to Apple.
Individual ACN memberships include a $60 non-refundable application fee, and Apple charges $695 for a company agreement with one location and certified consultant. Adding a consultant to an existing location costs $250, and adding another location with a certified consultant costs $550.
"The costs of ACN and MTC definitely keeps it from being a no-brainer," said Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based Microsoft solution provider ITSynergy. "$750 a year is not insignificant, and it does cause me to think more about the decision."
The final step to MTC is a two-day, $400 iOS workshop that focuses on strategies for providing secure access from mobile devices to services running on private networks.
Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, a Fresno, Calif.-based solution provider, approached Apple about joining MTC but declined after being told that Apple couldn't offer an estimate of leads he would get in return for his investment.
"This sounds like a good idea, but I'd expect them to be able to tell a potential new partner how much activity their ACN site is getting each month," he said.