Microsoft's WPC Wrap Up: Visions Of The Cloud

Capitol Idea

Some 9,500 Microsoft channel partners and 3,000 Microsoft employees easily fit into the sprawling Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. last week for the vendor’s 2010 Worldwide Partner Conference.

Allison Watson's Swan Song As Channel Chief

Channel chief Allison Watson, who is taking on a new job within Microsoft, took the stage in the Verizon Center during the Monday keynotes to bid farewell to the company’s channel partners. Watson, Microsoft’s worldwide channel chief for eight years, is now corporate vice president of the Business and Marketing Organization in the U.S. while Jon Roskill, who previously held the post Watson has taken, is now the new channel chief.

Watson drew sustained applause when she said that being channel chief is likely the only opportunity she’ll get ’to have a job that is this cool.’

Jon Roskill Takes Over As Channel Chief

Making his debut as head of Microsoft’s worldwide channel operations, Jon Roskill devoted much of his keynote speech on Tuesday to describing new channel program tools, sales support services and other resources to help partners make the transition to become cloud service providers. A new Microsoft Cloud Essentials Pack, for example, offers a range of training services, pre-sales and technical support, and marketing resources.

’Together we’re going to succeed in this transition to the cloud,’ Roskill said. Channel partners also will be offered free 250-seat licenses for Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), Azure, CRM Online and Intune for their own use. ’We’re doing this because we want you running on our latest software,’ Roskill said. The idea: Solution providers can’t adequately sell cloud-computing software they don’t use themselves.

Leading By Example

Roskill, speaking onstage at the Verizon Center, introduced onstage a handful of solution providers who have already begun selling Microsoft cloud software. They spoke briefly about their experiences selling BPOS, Dynamics CRM Online and other Microsoft products, and offered tips on how to make the transition.

Insight Enterprises Inc., a Microsoft large-account reseller, developed a special set of services to help customers migrate to cloud computing and developed a cloud-based IT management application and a single sign-on cloud software aggregation tool for its clients. The LAR now has 650 cloud-computing customers totaling 195,000 seats.

Webfortis, a San Francisco-based solution provider that sells on-premise and on-demand versions of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, created a separate line-of-business for cloud computing with a defined practice manager and dedicated sales and marketing resources.

But Where Are The Washington Wizards?

While most of the presentations, workshops, partner expo and other WPC events were in the Washington Convention Center, the morning keynotes were held in the cavernous Verizon Center a few blocks away. When not occupied by Microsoft channel partners the center is home to the Washington Wizards basketball team and Washington Capitals hockey team.

Music To Partners Ears

The Monday keynote session was opened by the acapella group ’Mosaic.’

Clouds Overhead

Sometimes Microsoft executives seemed to get swallowed up by the Verizon Center and attendees relied on the overhead screens to follow keynote speeches. Here Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, makes a pitch for cloud computing.

Microsoft To Partners: There Is Money To Be Made In Cloud Computing

’It is no longer a question of if, but when our customers should move to the cloud,’ Elop said. ’Increasingly our customers are purchasing suites of online services. Customers are speaking with their wallets.’

Elop sought to dispel the idea that channel partners can’t make money selling cloud services. He cited a study Microsoft made of 40 sales contracts for Microsoft Online Services through channel partners and concluded that each generated $167 per seat in revenue for solution providers. The revenue came from managed services, business consulting and customization work, migration and integration services, and provider-of-record fees.

A Call To (Cloud) Arms

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivered a keynote that detailed the company’s aggressive plans to compete in the cloud computing market. And his message was that channel partners had better make their own cloud computing plans or fall behind.

’This is a scary move,’ Ballmer said, acknowledging that cloud computing represents a marked change in business models for both Microsoft and solution providers. But he said: ’If you don’t want to move to the cloud, then we’re not your company.’

Azure Assurances

Bob Muglia, president of the Server and Tools Division, said in his keynote that there are already more than 10,000 customers using Microsoft’s Azure cloud development and deployment platform just five months after it became generally available.

The Microsoft executive unveiled the Windows Azure platform appliance that combines the security and control advantages of private clouds with the scalability benefits of the public cloud. Slated for general availability later this year, the appliance includes locked down, Microsoft-specific networking and storage running the Windows Azure and SQL Azure services.

Muglia also said that an online catalog and marketplace for public and commercial information, code-named ’Dallas,’ would be generally available late this year.

A Sell-Out Cloud Crowd

One indication that cloud computing is a hot topic among Microsoft channel partners was how quickly conference sessions and workshops on the topic filled up. Tuesday conference workers had to put up a ’Session Full’ sign on the door to this presentation on helping customers deploy Microsoft’s BPOS product and turn away attendees who came too late.

The best those shut out could do was peek through the window from the hallway. Also closed out was the session ’Microsoft Partner Network 2011: Leading The Charge.’ (It was repeated later in the day to accommodate as many attendees as possible.)

Microsoft In The Home

Brad Brooks, corporate vice president of Windows consumer marketing, led off a series of demonstrations of new products that he said would ’totally change the way people think about home entertainment.’

Brooks led off with demonstrations of how a home PC network and entertainment system would work, including showing off new features in Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Messenger instant messaging application.

At the core of the demonstration was Windows 7, the desktop operating system that has been a strong seller for Microsoft. Brooks also took a shot at Apple CEO Steve Jobs and other critics who say mobile devices will predominate in the future with fewer people using PCs. Brooks pointed to forecasts that 370 million PCs, which he said stands for ’personal cloud,’ will be shipped in the next 12 months.

Put The Body In Motion

Attendees were wowed by a demonstration of Kinect for Xbox 360, Microsoft’s hands-free controller that lets people interact with video games through body motions and voice commands. Particularly impressive were a demonstration of a river rafting game and a demonstration of Kinectimals, a ’virtual pet simulator’ that children interact with through the Kinect system.

Definitely Not Phoning It In

Andrew Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business, gave a lengthy demonstration of Windows Phone 7, the next release of Microsoft’s mobile operating system that’s scheduled for general availability later this year.

According to Microsoft, a number of mobile device makers have committed to using Windows Mobile 7 including HTC, Dell, Samsung, LG, Toshiba and Sony Ericsson.

Opportunity Calling?

On the expo show floor Microsoft’s demonstration of Windows Phone 7 seemed to be attracting a lot of interest from channel partners. That’s good news for Microsoft given that earlier generations of the company’s mobile operating system have not done well in the marketplace.

WPC Ain't A Day At The Beach

Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference can be exhausting. This attendee found a quiet corner of the Washington Convention Center to crash for a few minutes.

What's Goin' On

Microsoft kicked off Day Three of its Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington D.C. with a performance from Playing for Change, the band made up of musicians from around the world that helps raise money to build music schools for children around the globe. The group opened the show with, appropriately enough, a performance of Concrete Blonde’s ’What’s Up?’

Cloud And Windows Upgrade Channel Opportunities

Microsoft chief operating officer Kevin Turner delivered a keynote address that was part pep talk, part marketing guide for the company’s channel partners.

Turner said cloud computing offers ’an unbelievable opportunity for new revenue streams.’ The executive said Microsoft has invested in a growing line of cloud-computing products, including the Business Productivity Online Suite, Office Web Apps, Windows Azure and Dynamics CRM Online, adding, ’I really encourage you to bet big with us on the cloud.’

The COO also described the Windows 7 upgrade opportunities for partners, noting that 85% of Windows users are still running old XP and Vista releases. Fifty-two percent of Internet Explorer users are on IE6 and IE7, he said, and 63 percent are using Office 2003 or older.

Firing Up The Troops

Turner exhorted partners to sell hard against Microsoft’s competitors. ’At Microsoft, big aspirations have always fueled our company,’ he said, making it clear he expects partners to think equally big.

Turner offered insights on Microsoft’s chief competitors, including Apple, Oracle and Google. The COO sees opportunities for resellers among Oracle’s customers, for example, as Oracle begins to migrate them away from its current applications to its next-generation Fusion products.

Turner wasn’t above taking a few shots at Microsoft’s market rivals. He got big laughs when he said of Google: ’We don’t need a mission statement not to do evil to remind us not to do evil.’ Referring to widely reported problems with the new Apple iPhone 4, Turner said that product just might become ’Apple’s Vista.’ Ouch.

Hail To The Chief

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker Wednesday. Since leaving office in 2001 Clinton has championed a number of causes around the world, including working to help bring relief to earthquake victims in Haiti and provide medical help to AIDS sufferers in developing countries. Some of his healthcare work has been done in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, started by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The former president said most of the problems facing the world today stem from what he called ’three distinct challenges: A highly unstable world, a highly unequal world, and an unsustainable world.’

In contrast to the quality of life in the U.S., Clinton said two-thirds of the human race lives on less than $2 a day and for them ’life is a guerilla war’ where it’s a major effort ’just to keep your children from dying before they’re five.’

Thanks to IT and the Internet, Clinton said we live in ’the most self-help society [and] most interdependent age in history.’ He urged WPC attendees to use their expertise and IT networks – that interdependence – to find solutions to those problems.

Sign Of Affection

This banner hanging in the lobby of the Washington Convention Center showed Microsoft’s appreciation for its channel partners – a sentiment Microsoft executives expressed throughout WPC. ’Partners are Microsoft’s most important asset,’ said Jon Roskill, the new corporate vice president of Microsoft’s worldwide partner group, during his keynote.

Next year’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference will be held in Los Angeles, July 10 – 14.