Canadian Microsoft Partners Bracing For Restricted Surface Channel Launch


Canadian solution providers are still waiting for Microsoft to release Surface in the channel, and it looks like the vast majority will be waiting a lot longer.

While Microsoft tapped 10 large account reseller partners for Surface authorization in the U.S., the number of approved Surface resellers looks to be even smaller north of the border. Microsoft partners in Canada say they've been informed that approximately five top partners will be selected for the Microsoft Devices Program rollout, which is scheduled to take place before the end of September, while all other partners will be forced to wait for Surface authorization.

Amit "Sunny" Sahni, vice president and CTO at Evron Computer Systems, a Microsoft Gold Partner based in Toronto, said he's puzzled by the decision. "As a Microsoft Gold partner, we don't understand why they're restricting it. We'd like to see Surface made available to more partners," Sahni said. "It doesn't make much sense to go through distribution if you're only going to allow five partners to sell it."

[Related: U.S. Solution Providers Still Left Out Of Microsoft Surface Strategy]

Sahni attended Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston last week and said the experience was productive overall. But, he said Evron and other Canadian partners were disappointed that Canada was pushed to the back-burner for the Microsoft Devices Program rollout and further frustrated that a smaller number of partners will be authorized than in the U.S.

During WPC, Microsoft announced it will expand the Microsoft Devices Program beyond the U.S. to 28 additional countries, including Mexico and Canada, by the end of September.

Microsoft declined to provide specifics about how many or what types of partners will be authorized in the additional countries.

In an interview with CRN, Microsoft worldwide channel chief Jon Roskill said the company is taking a "phased approach" to the Surface rollout and doesn't want to over-distribute the tablets.

"And as we go into a market, we're picking a handful [of partners]," Roskill told CRN. "It's going to be three to 10, depending on size of the market and the number that we need to work with to get coverage."

Steven Findlay, president of Noratek Solutions in Prince George, British Columbia, called Microsoft's strategy "short-sighted" and said Surface will need the channel's support to help it compete against Apple and Android-based tablet makers like Samsung.

"I don't know who's making the decisions at Microsoft, but apparently they've never been to Canada," he said. "This is a rather big country, and five companies alone aren't going to be able to cover it."

Like U.S. partners, Canadian solution providers are frustrated by Microsoft's emphasis on retail for the Surface. Michael Pilling, director of corporate accounts at Lowery's in Thunder Bay, Ontario, said Microsoft seems to be emulating Apple's "walled-garden" approach with retail stores and direct sales. "I can see an impending clash between solution providers and Microsoft if it tries to take the strategy too far," Pilling said.

Solution providers were also irked by comments from Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, who last week told partners at WPC that they should bring their clients to Microsoft retail stores and use the stores as extensions of their own offices.

Sahni said the Microsoft Store invite was "ridiculous" and that Microsoft's retail strategy is the primary reason for the Surface restrictions in the channel. "I think they've invested a lot in their retail stories," Sahni said, "and they don't want us competing with them."

Kevin Mclaughlin contributed to this story

PUBLISHED JULY 16, 2013