Partners On Microsoft Azure: Success Hinges On Channel Engagement, Technology Keeping Pace

Microsoft partners say the software giant's Azure Infrastructure offensive is going to succeed or fail based on how the company follows through in the sales trenches with partners.

"Microsoft's going to have to do whatever it can to compete against Amazon and Google, whatever. They need to launch as much as they can. It's how they engage with the channel that's a challenge," said Paul Benson, president of Virtual Communication Specialists, an Athens, Texas-based solution provider.

Microsoft Tuesday announced the general availability of its Windows Azure Infrastructure Services, which the company described as the final component of its cloud services lineup. The new infrastructure-as-a-service offering puts the company in head-to-head competition with Amazon Web Services in the IaaS market.

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Microsoft has been offering the Azure Infrastructure on a preview basis since June. The Redmond, Wash.-based company also announced price cuts to its cloud services, ranging between 21 and 33 percent, to better compete with Amazon Web Services.

Microsoft's challenge is going to be convincing VARs to sell Azure Infrastructure Services, said Lester Keizer, CEO of Business Continuity Technologies, a Las Vegas-based VAR.

"If Microsoft is really serious about playing in the channel, investing in the channel, putting their money where their mouth is, then yes, I'm interested. In the past, they talked about their [Surface] tablet, [and] then they went the other way [direct and through limited retailers]. That caused some conflict. But if they can [engage the channel] and they show the interest, that's of interest to me."

Kris Shoemaker, a marketing and development executive at Eleven Consulting, a Waterloo, Ontario-based solution provider, said his company built its own private cloud infrastructure for clients. But, he might be interested in Microsoft Azure services if it made sense.

"Certainly, if they have an infrastructure we could work with. We have our own private cloud infrastructure, but that doesn't mean that there couldn't be a hybrid collaboration there," he said.

NEXT: Praise For Azure's New SLAs

Several solution providers that already work with Microsoft on Azure said the official general availability of the infrastructure services would help them attract new customers -- especially those nervous about adopting cloud services -- because of the service level agreements.

"It shows Microsoft's commitment to the stability of the service," said Joel Forman, national solution architect at Slalom Consulting, a Seattle-based Microsoft partner that works with Azure and Microsoft's Office 365 cloud applications. The SLAs "open more doors and improve the level of comfort of customers. I think we'll get more traction in getting those customers to start moving to the cloud," he said.

Forman said Slalom plans on offering customers a range of services around Azure Infrastructure Services, from migration services to consulting on planning for organizational and operational change.

Microsoft's challenge with Azure will be adapting the product to keep up with the rapid pace of change in cloud technology, including features and functionality relating to performance and security. Also critical is keeping the software's development tools and capabilities up to par. "It's amazing how fast new features and functionality are being introduced," Forman said.

Reed Wiedower, CTO at New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based solution provider, said Microsoft's pricing model will make it easier for his company to sell customers on Azure. "Azure has a subscription-based model, but that subscription extends across every product in the Azure suite," he said.

Rick Whiting contributed to this story.