7 Things Microsoft Will Be Talking About At Its 2014 Worldwide Partner Conference

On The Agenda

Next week in Washington, D.C., Microsoft will hold its annual Worldwide Partner Conference, which typically attracts more attendees than any of the many other events the vendor holds throughout the year. Last year's WPC in Houston attracted some 16,000 partners, and it's likely at least that many will flock to the nation's capital to hear about the latest and greatest Microsoft has in store for fiscal 2015.

This year, Microsoft is preparing to unveil a fusillade of Azure-related news. Which is good, since Microsoft will be opening up Azure for the channel to sell starting next month.

Microsoft also has lots of news in store for Office 365, which it claims is the fastest-growing product in its history, selling at a $2.5 billion annual rate.

Whether you're going to WPC, or watching the developments unfold on social media at home on your couch, be sure to check out the following news items that are coming next week at the event.

7. Microsoft Is Going Hard After U.S. Government Customers

Microsoft has a well-developed public sector business, but it and other enterprise vendors are trying to up their government cloud game after Amazon beat out IBM last year for a $600 million cloud contract.

At WPC, Microsoft will talk about Azure U.S. Government Cloud, a new version of Azure aimed at federal government customers. "It's a separate instance of Azure that is isolated logically and physically," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said last October in describing the project.

Microsoft also will talk about a new version of Dynamics CRM Online that's especially tailored for the security and compliance needs of government agencies. Microsoft already has government-focused versions of Office 365 and Azure that are FedRAMP-compliant.

6. Microsoft Bringing StorSimple To Azure Cloud

Microsoft acquired cloud storage startup StorSimple in 2012, and next week it'll be talking about a new hybrid cloud storage offering that'll be available Aug. 1.

Called Microsoft Azure StorSimple, it consists of an on-premise hardware appliance that handles backup and recovery, which is integrated with the Azure public cloud for primary, archive, backup and disaster recovery.

Cloud storage gateways are popular with regulated industries that have to keep data on premise but would like to use the cloud for certain types of storage. This is a hot market, and now Microsoft is pushing the envelope with acquired technology to bring it to its enterprise customers.

5. Microsoft Is Getting Serious About Machine Learning Tech In The Cloud

Microsoft has been working on machine learning technology since 1992 and over the years has become pretty good at it. On Monday, Microsoft will take the wraps off a preview cloud service -- called Azure Machine Learning -- that will put the power of predictive analytics into the hands of developers.

Microsoft already has a bunch of partners working with the cloud service, including MAX451, OSIsoft, Neal Analytics and Versium, all of which are using it for cutting-edge apps.

This is one area where Microsoft has the lead on cloud rivals Google and Amazon Web Services, so it's likely we'll be hearing at WPC about how Azure can handle a level of computational complexity that other vendors can't.

4. Microsoft Is Expanding Azure's Reach

At WPC, Microsoft will talk about two new regions it's opening in the U.S.for its Azure cloud.

Microsoft's new U.S. Central and U.S. East 2 regions, located in Iowa and Virginia, respectively, will enable Microsoft "to double capacity every six to nine months without sacrificing performance," Microsoft channel chief Phil Sorgen said in a blog post.

No word yet on what services will be available from the new regions or what they'll cost.

3. Azure Cloud Is Becoming More Hybrid

Microsoft's recently launched Azure ExpressRoute offering is a way to connect on-premise infrastructure with Azure through a dedicated and private connection. Amazon already offers this service, which is important for enterprises that just cannot have problems with latency, speed or security.

Microsoft is selling Azure ExpressRoute today in three locations in the U.S. and Europe and, through its partnership with Equinix, Microsoft is now offering it in six additional locations around the world, Sorgen said in a blog post.

2. How Partners Can Make Money From Azure

At WPC last year, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner beseeched partners that aren't yet selling Microsoft cloud products to get on board, because the train's leaving the station. He also said he wasn't crazy about the fact that only a small portion of Microsoft's vast 600,000-strong global partner base was selling cloud.

On Aug. 1, Microsoft will begin letting partners resell Azure cloud services through its Open Licensing program. Microsoft partners already use Open Licensing to resell Windows, SQL Server, Office 365 and other Microsoft products and services.

By putting Azure into distribution, Microsoft is signaling the cloud is ready for the channel to sell. So we can expect this to be a major focus at WPC next week.

1. This Will Be Nadella's First Time Talking To Partners As CEO

Satya Nadella has been to WPC before and spoke to partners at last year's event. But this will be the first time he keynotes WPC as CEO.

Nadella hasn't said much about the channel in public appearances since taking over as CEO nearly six months ago. Most partners don't expect him to make major changes to Microsoft's channel program, but at the same time, they're hoping he will speak directly to things they care about.

Nadella, earlier in his 22-year Microsoft career, held roles in which he spoke directly to channel partners. When Microsoft launched .Net, it was Nadella who explained to developer partners why this big change was going to be a good thing.

Given his background, Nadella could really build admiration with partners by taking them on a trip down memory lane. Just an anecdote of his earlier experiences with the channel, which illustrate how he realized that partners are vital to Microsoft's business, will be enough.