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Inspire 2021: Here’s What Microsoft Partners Want To Hear About

As Microsoft prepares to kick off its virtual Inspire partner conference on Wednesday, solution providers tell CRN they’re hoping the agenda includes updates on Azure, security and partner competencies.

Solution providers say they’re hoping to hear more from Microsoft on Azure, security, industry vertical solutions and partner competencies for the coming year at the company’s Inspire 2021 partner conference this week.

The conference will also be the first for Rodney Clark, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of global channel sales, as channel chief. A 23-year Microsoft veteran, Clark moved into the role on April 1, succeeding Gavriella Schuster.

[Related: Microsoft Channel Chief Rodney Clark On How Partners Can Drive ‘Higher-Value’ Workloads And Services]

Rosalyn Arntzen, president and CEO of Amaxra, a Microsoft Gold partner based in Redmond, Wash., said she looks forward to hearing Clark’s thoughts and perspective during Inspire, which is taking place Wednesday and Thursday. “It would be good to understand his thoughts on partners and the partner model,” Arntzen said.

Mike Wilson, chief technology officer and partner at Mason, Ohio-based Interlink Cloud Advisors, a Microsoft Gold partner, said he will be keeping an eye out for announcements about Microsoft’s efforts to drive verticalization into specific industries, such as through its “industry clouds” packages of cloud-based tools and services. In June, Microsoft unveiled new capabilities for its cloud tools aimed at nonprofits.

“We tend to be more horizontal in our approach, so a primary goal is making sure we are updating our offerings to align with the new Microsoft focus,” Wilson said.

Wilson awaits news on Microsoft’s security and compliance footprint by breaking those out into a separate solution area from Modern Workplace, an area that includes playbooks for unified endpoint management and Microsoft Teams.

The team at Interlink also wants more information around Microsoft’s go-to-market strategy with employee wellness and productivity service Viva. In June, Microsoft announced a new integration with meditation app Headspace, giving the Viva Insights app guided meditations and mindfulness exercises among other features.

New announcements around Azure and GitHub, especially integrations that could help GitHub users automatically deploy applications on Azure, is top of mind for Ilanit Tseyrefman Parnas, vice president of marketing for Microsoft partner 2Bcloud, which has offices in Tel Aviv and New York.

“Anything that can streamline the work of developers and make it easier and simpler, we are always eager to hear that,” Tseyrefman Parnas told CRN.

Arntzen also said she is hoping to hear anything that might help simplify the process of working with and re-selling Azure for partners.

Azure is “still complex and, while that’s a niche for partners who understand, that also means it’s not as widely understood by customers,” she said. “Marketing to help customers better understand how Azure helps them and their business also helps partners.”

Several partners said they are hoping to hear updates from Microsoft about Windows 11, the successor to the Windows 10 operating system, which is expected to launch this holiday. Arntzen said she would like to hear more from Microsoft “what it addresses” for partners, and why customers should be encouraged to upgrade to it.

Phil Walker, customer advocate CEO of Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Microsoft partner Network Solutions Provider, also said he looks forward to more information on Windows 11 capabilities--and possibly even some updates related to Microsoft’s Surface portfolio of devices.

“I want to see more continuity between Surface devices, mobile devices. I want people to feel comfortable moving between different devices,” Walker said.

Michael Goldstein, CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based LAN Infotech, says he’ll miss the energy of a packed arena at in-person Inspire conferences, but said he’ll still look forward to the virtual keynote sessions to help guide him for the coming year.

Along with Clark, planned speakers at Inspire 2021 include Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; Chief Commercial Officer Judson Althoff, who recently saw an expansion of his role to head up a unified worldwide commercial group; and Nick Parker, corporate vice president of global partner solutions.

In terms of product updates, Goldstein expects Microsoft to announce new enhancements to the Teams collaboration app, the Azure Sentinel security information and event management tool and Azure Arc, which is used for centralized management and deployment of on-premises infrastructure as well as in the cloud.

Zach Saltzman, senior director for the Microsoft platform at Carlsbad, Calif.-based FMT Consultants, a Microsoft Gold partner, said he also looks forward to hearing what Microsoft has to say about security at Inspire. “I’m always excited to hear about the new security offerings and evolution of existing security services,” he said.

Mahadeva Bisappa, principal architect at Chicago-based Microsoft partner SPR, said he is hoping to hear about upcoming features and capabilities for Microsoft’s hybrid, multi-cloud and edge computing solution.

So far this year, Microsoft has made major announcements around Azure Stack HCI -- the company’s cloud-connected, hyperconverged infrastructure operating system that is delivered as a service. In May, Microsoft announced the general availability of Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS) on Azure Stack HCI among other Azure Stack HCI updates.

“I’ll also be interested to see any new services and solutions Microsoft announces to accelerate digital transformation and on-prem cloud migrations as companies embrace the hybrid office, as well as Teams integration capabilities for broader remote collaboration,” Bisappa said.

In terms of Microsoft’s partner program, several partners said they’re awaiting updates related to the company’s competencies requirements. At Inspire, Saltzman said he’s hoping to hear “updates--and hopefully simplification--of partner competencies and competency attainment.”

For Nyasha Tunduwani, CEO of Seattle-based Microsoft partner Real Impact Technology Consulting and a founder of the Black Channel Partner Alliance organization, the specific announcements pale in comparison to the opportunity Inspire presents for partners of all sizes to align their strategies with that of Microsoft, in order to serve existing customers and land new ones over the next 12 months.

“It gives us an opportunity to learn about new technology and help our clients innovate with it,” Tunduwani told CRN.

Kyle Alspach contributed to this report.

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