Microsoft: Partner Services Aren't Going Away

For example, solution providers will be needed to connect in-the-cloud Exchange with servers using Active Directory as well as to handle the configuration of business rules, said Chris Capossela, senior vice president of the Microsoft Information Worker Product Management Group, in a recent interview with ChannelWeb.

"None of the services opportunity around Exchange, in terms of methods and practice, is going away," said Capossela. "All the configuration work will still exist; what changes for partners is [that they won't] actually be going on site and rolling out the server."

SharePoint actually has more ongoing services potential than Exchange because its default setup is relatively bare bones, according to Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based solution provider ITSynergy. "Having a hosted SharePoint site doesn't give you much, which is why SharePoint has more potential for configuration services than Exchange," said Cocanower.

Steven Reese, security practice manager at Nexus Integration Services, a Valencia, Calif.-based Microsoft Gold partner, says customization is where much of the partner opportunity exists in the Microsoft Online Services world. And because most enterprises prefer to handle their own hosting and services buildouts, Reese expects SMBs to be where most partners will make their services money.

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Next month at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, company officials are expected to finally provide real answers to the many business-related questions many solution providers have been asking about its Software Plus Services strategy, and where the channel fits into it.

In addition to clarifying Software Plus Services to its channel partners, Microsoft also faces perception challenges in its transition to services.

In February, Microsoft's Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger, and Skydrive services were struck by a global outage that Microsoft detractors were quick to cite as an example of the risks associated with cloud services. Earlier this month, some partners objected when Microsoft took down the beta of its Business Productivity Online Suite for a 24 hour, scheduled maintenance window.

Capossela acknowledges that there will be "bumps in the road" along the way as Microsoft adopts the services business model, but he expects communication with customers and partners to help minimize any frustrations over downtime.

"We want to be predictable, and we have made improvements in terms of being predictable with our security fixes," said Capossela.