8 Things Partners Need To Know About Microsoft's Acquisition Of GitHub

Partners Contemplate Microsoft's GitHub Buy

Microsoft's $7.5 billion deal to buy leading open source code repository GitHub will reverberate through the software giant's channel, creating new opportunities for partners to sell Azure Cloud services and drive greater engagement with their largest customers.

Partners have closely watched Microsoft's flirtations with GitHub in recent years. After many starts and stops in negotiations, the deal is finally done, and now partners can start to contemplate the many ways the global platform developers rely on to share code and mutually contribute to projects will impact their practices.

GitHub's enterprise potential is extremely significant, partners say. But they're also excited about the credibility the San Francisco-based startup will give Microsoft with developers and open software communities, and, with that, the mindshare Microsoft will gain with the up-and-coming generation of technology influencers.

Pictured: Github CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft corporate vice president, Developer Services Nat Friedman,

Open Source Cred

The world's largest software maker once notoriously maintained a tight grip over a closed ecosystem.

Since the appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO in 2014, the company has dramatically changed that reality, and perception, by investing heavily in open technologies.

Microsoft, notably, has open sourced the .NET development and PowerShell configuration management frameworks, developing Azure Sphere, a Linux-based operating system for Internet of Things and introducing Linux to its Azure Cloud.

"All of this makes an acquisition of GitHub strategic to Microsoft itself and reinforces their need to be the center of the development universe," Reed Wiedower, CTO of New Signature, a Microsoft partner based in Washington, D.C., told CRN.

Channel Development

GitHub launched a channel program in 2016 and cast a net for partners to drive its expansion.

The startup primarily partners with system integrators and boutique firms that can help enterprises move code onto the repository. After migrating code bases, partners often perform audit services using security tools.

AHEAD, a Chicago-based solution provider, partnered with GitHub in 2016 after seeing strong interest from customers.

Nick Colyer, practice manager for cloud management and automation at AHEAD, told CRN that GitHub was a natural fit at a time when enterprises were eager to learn how to operate infrastructure as code.

Since then, they've become more sophisticated with that concept, but still need assistance implementing efficient version-control practices.

"If you want to do cloud effectively, you really need to know automation and code control," Colyer said.

The relationship with GitHub is more technical than transactional, with strong cooperation between technical teams. AHEAD works with GitHub across all its cloud practices, including a booming Azure one.

Often, GitHub provides leads to its partner.

"It's very collaborative and we share a lot of information," Colyer said.

If You Can't Beat Them...

Microsoft once competed against GitHub with CodePlex, a social development service it launched all the way back in 2006.

But the competitive posture began to change even before Microsoft shuttered CodePlex last year.

To support its open source contributions, Microsoft became "very invested in GitHub" in the last couple years, said Reed Wiedower, CTO of New Signature, a Microsoft partner based in Washington, D.C.

Microsoft's Visual Studio Code, a source code editor, has long been the open source project with the most contributors on GitHub.

When Microsoft put CodePlex to pasture, it further solidified its relationship with GitHub to enable developers using its platform to migrate code to the rival repository so as not to stymie their work.

Microsoft also offers a git repository in Visual Studio Team Services, the online version of Team Foundation Server, a source code management platform that contributed features to CodePlex.

Nick Colyer, practice manager for cloud management and automation at AHEAD, a Microsoft and GitHub partner, told CRN that VS Team Services and GitHub are likely points of product integration.

A Challenge To AWS

Amazon Web Services started essentially as a developer cloud, and scaled the business across the enterprise from there.

By default, a lot of projects fall into the AWS universe, and GitHub users are typically more oriented toward Amazon's cloud than Microsoft Azure, Tom Kieffer, CEO of Virteva, a Microsoft partner based in Minneapolis, MN., told CRN.

By "associating" that GitHub "non-enterprise coding community" with Azure, Microsoft could shift that developer orientation away from AWS and gain "exposure and collaboration with the typically enterprise-oriented Azure crowd."

"With [Infrastructure-as-a-Service] and even [Platform-as-a-Service] becoming more ubiquitous and commoditized every day, the real value has migrated to the next layer -- code," Kieffer said. "GitHub is code.

Abandoned IPO, New CEO

GitHub was widely expected to cruise to an IPO.

The change in course, to some degree, is thought related to challenges in replacing Chris Wanstrath (pictured) as CEO -- the GitHub co-founder has stayed on in the top job since announcing his resignation last August.

Microsoft has resolved the leadership issue by naming Corporate Vice President Nat Friedman, the founder of mobile app development platform Xamarin, acquired by Microsoft in 2016, as Wanstrath's replacement.

Friedman's experience building a platform for open source developers makes him a natural choice to advance GitHub capabilities, and package them as an enterprise-grade solution Microsoft partners can leverage to drive more business with their largest customers.

Open Community Meets Enterprise

In 2017, GitHub launched an enterprise-focused version of its platform that runs behind an organization's firewall, enabling admins to control access to proprietary software.

Since then, GitHub has served dual purposes -- a place for developers to collaborate on open source projects, as well as for large enterprises to manage internally built resources and coordinate advanced software development practices.

Microsoft pledged on Monday that GitHub will retain its "developer-first ethos" and operate independently to provide an open platform for developers across all industries.

But Microsoft's influence should help ramp business on the enterprise side of the fence dramatically, giving partners new inroads into large accounts.

Hearts And Minds Of Tomorrow

In the dark days of yesteryear, Microsoft's influence over the next generation of technology influencers waned.

College students were more interested in mastering open source solutions. And Google was getting to an even younger crop of talent by becoming a dominant presence in K-12.

Since Satya Nadella (pictured) took over the company, Microsoft has focused on building out programs to develop a next-generation workforce by leaning into opens source communities, said Ric Opal, vice president at Oak Brook, Ill.-based SWC Technology Partners.

If Microsoft effectively executes an integration, GitHub will further counteract traction lost in winning the hearts and minds of students at a formative age, Opal said.

"It may open up a world of developers and expose them to all things Azure, hybrid cloud, etc. that maybe would have just taken the default route before of doing it on Google or AWS," Opal said.

"If this gets them back to that generation of buyers and developers that maybe they missed due to some earlier strategy, this is massive," he added.

Long-Term Synergies

When Microsoft bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016, it also took hold of Lynda.com, an online learning platform with educational content provided by software and business professionals.

GitHub has some interesting synergies with both LinkedIn and Lynda that can benefit Microsoft over the long-term, said Ric Opal, vice president at Oak Brook, Ill.-based SWC Technology Partners.

"You have to look at the other assets they have and see how this asset plugs into those," Opal told CRN.

The combination of Lynda.com learning tools, LinkedIn career development capabilities, and GitHub's open source repository could make Microsoft a uniquely attractive ecosystem for a new generation of software professionals entering the workforce, he said.

"It's a boon for their cloud. It is also a significant opportunity if they tie the other assets -- professional development tools and open source," Opal told CRN.