Microsoft Partners: Ozzie's Shoes Will Be Tough To Fill

Ray Ozzie is Microsoft's top visionary, an executive who at one time was seen as a possible successor to Bill Gates. So it's not surprising that his decision to step down as chief software architect would have a disquieting effect on channel partners, particularly since Microsoft doesn't plan on replacing him.

Ozzie, the architect of Microsoft's Windows Azure platform-as-a-service, and other cloud initiatives such as Live Mesh, has played a behind-the-scenes role at Microsoft that hasn't included much interaction with channel partners. Nonetheless, partners are well aware of the guiding role Ozzie has played in Microsoft's SaaS and cloud computing business and they're curious about who will handle that leadership role in the future.

"When Bill Gates left, Ray Ozzie was a logical choice to fill his shoes," said Ken Winell, CEO of ExpertCollab, a Microsoft solution provider in Florham Park, N.J. "Under Ozzie's leadership, the cloud computing and collaboration environments grew, and I'm concerned over who Microsoft will find to replace him."

However, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has already said he doesn't plan on hiring a replacement for the chief software architect role. Solution providers believe this would be a mistake on Microsoft's part.

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Michael Cocanower, president of Phoenix-based Microsoft solution provider ITSynergy, says Ozzie's departure "leaves a real void" in terms of product innovation and leadership. "With Ozzie leaving, and the torch not being passed to anyone, I'm concerned over Microsoft's direction and strategy," he said.

Next: Microsoft's Side Of The Story

Ozzie isn't leaving right away: Microsoft says he'll be staying on for an unspecified period of time to help out with the company's entertainment business. Whatever this means isn't clear: Microsoft may be trying to preempt speculation about the impetus behind yet another high profile executive departure, or it may be looking to leverage Ozzie's visionary thinking in a part of its business that has also seen

Speculation about Ozzie leaving Microsoft flared last December when the company unveiled its new Server & Cloud Division (SCD) and named Bob Muglia, president of theServer and Tools division, as its head. Along with that move, Microsoft transferred leadership of the Windows Azure development team from Ozzie to Muglia.

Obviously Microsoft has plenty of executives who can keep the company's momentum going in cloud computing. The big question is, will losing a visionary thinker like Ozzie hurt Microsoft, or is the company's strategy sufficiently baked at this point where cloud is ready to become another humming Microsoft revenue engine?

Karl Palachuk, founder and CEO of KPEnterprises Business Consulting, a Sacramento, Calif.-based solution provider, doesn't feel Ozzie's departure from the role of chief cloud visionary at Microsoft will have much effect on Microsoft’s cloud service offerings.

"You could make the argument that someone needs to be the Cloud Services Czar at Microsoft and orchestrate a united approach," Palachuk said. "Maybe Ozzie was supposed to be doing that, but there’s no evidence that any progress was made along those lines. As a result, his departure won’t have much impact at all."