Microsoft began letting partners handle Office 365 billing last summer, and it's planning to give the channel even more responsibility for selling and supporting its cloud services.
On Monday at its Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft unveiled its Cloud Solution Provider program, which lets distributors, MSPs, ISVs and hosting providers package their products and services together with Microsoft cloud services.
Under the program, partners will directly provision and manage cloud software for their customers, and they'll also handle technical support, John Case, corporate vice president of marketing for Microsoft Office, said in a keynote at the event.
For the first time, partners will be able to give customers a single bill that includes their services and ones from Microsoft, Case said.
Microsoft plans to make the program available to "select" partners over the next 12 months, initially with Office 365 and Intune, and later with Azure, Dynamics CRM Online and other cloud services, Case said.
Microsoft says Office 365 is its fastest growing business ever, selling at a $2.5 billion annual rate. Microsoft partners are already playing a big role here, deploying services for around 75 percent of Office 365 customers, Case said.
While partners are upbeat about the move, some are wary of the "select partners" language that Case used to describe who will be eligible for the program. Microsoft used similar terms last year when it opened Surface distribution to a small set of large account reseller partners.
In an interview, Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, told CRN the Cloud Solutions program will be a good fit for ISVs, MSPs and hosting providers.
Microsoft isn't yet talking about what criteria it's going to use to pick which partners can take part in the program.
Sorgen said traditional Microsoft resellers will be eligible, but acknowledged that they'll need to be able to handle technical support and other requirements.
"We’ll have to look at the kinds of partners that are interested and start going through the selection process," Sorgen said. "This isn't for everyone. Companies will have to have the business model to support this."
If resellers don't meet Microsoft's requirements, they'll still be able to sell Office 365 through other programs, Sorgen said.
Partners are already playing a huge role here, as Microsoft brought Office 365 to Open a couple of years ago. Case said three quarters of Office 365 customers are handled by partners.
Some Microsoft partners believe eligibility for the Cloud Solution Provider program will depend on which technical competencies they've achieved. But after what happened with Surface, others believe this could be another program that only benefits Microsoft's larger partners.
"You have to figure this is going to benefit the LSP [Licensing Solution Provider] partners. The rich may get richer," grumbled one partner, who requested anonymity.