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Microsoft Says It'll Begin Offering Free Office 365 Email Migrations Next Month

Microsoft is moving forward with a controversial plan to offer free email data migration services to customers that buy Office 365, and it's also offering insight into how this will work in the channel.

Microsoft plans to start offering free email migration services to Office 365 customers starting Sept. 1, a spokesperson from the Redmond, Wash.-based vendor told CRN Friday.

Microsoft will offer the free Office 365 migrations to customers on deals of 150 seats or more under its Office 365 Fast Track program, which it launched last year to boost sales and usage of the Office 365 suite of cloud apps.

For now, Microsoft is limiting its free Office 365 migration offer to email; customers that need to move on premise Sharepoint data to the cloud, and which require higher-level services, will be directed to work with partners.

"We know that the customer satisfaction of Office 365 service is high when a partner works with the customer. Hence, every customer onboarded via FastTrack willing to work with a partner will be connected to a Microsoft certified partner," the Microsoft spokesperson said in an email.

Microsoft will also provide funding to partners so they can offer discounted Office 365 services to customers. Microsoft will pay partners $15 per seat for up to 1,000 seats, and then $5 per seat after that, with a limit of $60,000 per customer.

That funding -- part of Microsoft's FY15 Adoption Offer -- will run from Sept. 1 to March 31, 2015, the spokesperson said.

"More details on qualification criteria and activities will be available shortly," said the spokesperson.

The free email migration plan, which has caused no small amount of consternation in the Microsoft channel, has apparently been in flux until recently.

While partners heard of the Sept. 1 start date several weeks ago, Tanuj Bansal, Microsoft's director of partner and channel Office marketing, declined to offer a more specific time frame than "this fall" in an interview with CRN last month.

Related: Microsoft Exec Discusses Plan To Offer Customers Free Office 365 Migration Services

While partners are pleased to know the start date for Fast Track, they're concerned about Microsoft's plans because the company is hiring new engineers to deliver the free data migration services.

Sources told CRN this week Microsoft may hire as many as 800 new engineers to provide the Office 365 migration services. Microsoft has confirmed it is hiring new engineers for Fast Track but has declined to provide a specific number.

Some partners also expect Microsoft to eventually expand the free migration services beyond email. Bansal told CRN last month that Microsoft would be publishing a list of the services its engineers will be handling "very shortly."

Microsoft has not provided much information about Office 365 Fast Track to partners, and that has led to rampant speculation about its motivations.

Some partners say Microsoft is concerned about Office 365 seats that have been sold but not used, while others say Microsoft thinks partners are charging too much for their Office 365 migration services.

Many partners believe Microsoft's Office division (MOD) is driving the free email migrations plan. MOD fought hard against letting partners control customer billing relationships with Office 365 several years ago, partners said.

MOD, in conversations with Microsoft partners, has been pitching free email migration plan as a move that will help the channel, according to partners.

"MOD is definitely acting surprised and definitely spinning this as good for partners," one partner told CRN. "I haven’t met a partner yet who is buying what they are selling."

Other partners said they're hearing Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group is behind the Fast Track program. Microsoft didn't respond to a request for an interview with Phil Sorgen, corporate vice president of the WWPG, to discuss the Fast Track changes.

As is often the case with controversial channel decisions, Microsoft claims that many different parts of the company are working together on Fast Track.

"The work we do with partners is managed by our Worldwide Partner Group. The onboarding work will be conducted by engineers in the Office organization working in partnership with the Worldwide Partner Group," the Microsoft spokesperson told CRN.

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