Some Microsoft Partners Think Free Email Migrations Program Will Benefit Channel

Some partners fear the worst from Microsoft's plan to offer customers free email migrations to Office 365, but now a different, more optimistic view is starting to emerge.

Two partners told CRN on Friday that Microsoft's free email migrations -- which will apply to deals of 150 seats or more -- isn’t a big deal because migration business isn't a long-term business for the channel anyway.

Microsoft feels its booming Office 365 business could grow even faster if it gets involved in automating onboarding and email migrations.

Related: Microsoft Explains How Free Office 365 Email Migration, Onboarding Services Will Work

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With Microsoft pushing hard to get Office 365 customers to start using all of the seats they buy, partners are going to be more focused on deployment-related services, Steven Murphy, CEO of Metalogix, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN.

Metalogix sells software tools for migrating content, emails, files and Sharepoint data to Office 365. It also migrates data from Box and Google Docs to Office 365. In some ways, Microsoft's free email migrations will compete with Metalogix, but Murphy said the net effect of the move will be positive.

"We see this as a sign to the market that Microsoft is focusing on deployment. When Microsoft focuses on something, there is usually a great incentive to motivate the ecosystem," Murphy said. "It's not a threat, and it will actually lubricate the entire cloud market. They're doing this to prime the pump."

The scope of Microsoft's email migrations will also be fairly limited, and customers with more advanced needs will be directed to work with partners. Partners will also be required for customers that want to migrate Sharepoint data, deploy Lync voice capabilities and integrate Office 365 with a line of business systems, among other tasks.

Microsoft will provide funding to customers under its Office 365 promotion, which they can use to pay partners for this advanced work. From Sept. 1 to March 31, 2015, Microsoft partners will get $15 per seat for up to 1,000 seats, and $5 per seat after that, with a limit of $60,000 per customer.

Tommy Irwin, a corporate account executive at PCM, which has used Microsoft's Fast Track funding in the past, said the Office 365 partner funding has been essential in larger deals.

"I especially like that Fast Track funds are strategic for Office 365 net-new EA customers, as they can offset the migration and deployment costs," Irwin told CRN. "Customers can feel comfortable trusting a recognized cloud deployment partner of Microsoft to avoid unforeseen costs and delays."

It's no secret in the Microsoft channel that email migration business has a limited shelf life. Once customers migrate to Office 365, Microsoft will be handling all the software updates and infrastructure tweaks that partners used to do to their customers' on premise systems.

The way some Microsoft partners see it, this is simply the reality of the cloud, where some services that partners provide get obviated by technology advancements -- like automation -- which helps drive down the overall cost of cloud services.