10 Major Microsoft Announcements At Inspire 2018

Focus On Partners

A year after the rollout of sweeping organizational and compensation changes at Microsoft, the company is touting positive outcomes for partners -- and announcing new details on what's next. With the Inspire 2018 partner conference set for next week in Las Vegas, Microsoft Thursday unveiled a wide range of updates in its products and partner programs. Product updates span Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and other business applications. As for the partner program updates, a key focus is on helping channel partners to specialize in order to boost profitability -- as well as on accelerating the joint selling of solutions between partners and Microsoft salespeople, Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster said in a blog post.

Microsoft disclosed that co-selling efforts with partners have generated $5 billion in partner sales to date, while the company has supplied partners with more than 1 million customer leads since Inspire last year. Microsoft also said it now has 72,000 cloud partners in total, and reports that Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) revenue is up 234 percent compared with a year ago. The $5 billion in partner sales is a "really good start to this motion, but it's only just the beginning," Schuster said in a briefing with reporters Thursday, echoing comments she made in June in an interview with CRN.

In the following slides, we've rounded up Microsoft's 10 biggest announcements ahead of Inspire 2018.

Integrated Partner-to-Partner Solutions

Microsoft is going to grow opportunities for partners by relying heavily on its marketplaces and making AppSource the "front door" for partners selling with the company, said Schuster, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft's One Commercial Partner organization, in the June interview with CRN. As such, the company is now launching new marketplace capabilities aimed at helping the channel grow its business, and this includes integrated partner-to-partner solutions.

Integrated Partner-to-Partner lets multiple partner solutions come together, along with a systems integrator for help with sales and deployment, into a single offer that will be listed on the marketplace for customers to find. The marketplace already is featuring a few partner-to-partner solutions, which include ISVs Cloudera, Qlik and Trifacta, and Bardess as the systems integrator.

Private Offers Expand In Azure Marketplace

Partner-to-Partner solutions aren't the only ways that Microsoft is helping its partners grow their businesses. The company also revealed it is expanding private offers in the Azure marketplace. With private offers, partners can confidentially share solutions with their customers that meet their unique buying needs. A better buying experience, Schuster said, is key to helping partners sell more with Microsoft.

The private offer feature also lets partners move away from standard pricing and give private discounts to specific customers, Charlotte Yarkoni, corporate vice president of Azure, told CRN.

Business Apps Get New Resources And Incentives

Microsoft is looking to help boost partner capabilities around business applications such as Dynamics 365 and Power BI. For starters, the company is now providing free access for partners to the Dynamics learning environment -- which offers a large collection of self-service technical and sales resources (and which previously required a fee). Microsoft also is launching a four-day, in-person bootcamp training for partner solution architects that are assigned to a FastTrack opportunity. And to help partners with improving their business decision-making and tracking their success, Microsoft is providing partners with telemetry-based business insights, which will enable them to understand the performance and stability of their deployment environments.

Microsoft also is enhancing available incentives for partners to improve profitability with business applications. The company is announcing that fiscal 2019 incentives will allow partners to earn between 10 percent and 50 percent more on new customer acquisition for business apps. Microsoft also is doubling its incentive package for cloud usage and adoption of business app seats, which the company says will allow it to remain at or above competitor rates. In addition, Microsoft is bringing field co-selling incentives -- which were announced last year for Azure -- to Dynamics. Through the incentives, Microsoft salespeople will receive a 2X multiplier in terms of quota retirement when they co-sell with an ISV partner.

Advanced Specializations

Because specializing can be such a crucial element of boosting profitability for partners, Microsoft is now launching advanced specializations that go beyond Microsoft Gold competencies, as a way to help partners differentiate. Among the advanced specializations now being introduced by Microsoft are in Modern Workplace (including services such as threat protection, information protection, GDPR, eDiscovery and identity and access management); Biz Apps (services including Dynamics 365 for Sales, Dynamics 365 for Customer Service and Dynamics 365 for Field Service); Apps and Infrastructure (services including SAP on Azure, Azure Stack, cloud migration, backup and disaster recovery, Linux on Azure, high-performance computing and networking); and Data and AI (services including machine learning, cognitive services, database migration, data warehouse, big data, database on Linux and IoT services).

Azure Expert MSP

To help partners stand out even more from the pack, Microsoft is introducing a brand-new program for partners that have demonstrated the highest degree of capabilities and skills when it comes to delivering consistent managed services on Azure, Schuster said.

The Azure Expert Managed Service Provider program, which began as a pilot program at the beginning of the year, now includes a group of Azure MSPs that have been carefully vetted by Microsoft. The program requires multiple customer references and includes a rigorous two-day audit by a third party which must be repeated every year, so that these partners are more than ready to help customers with their cloud migrations and projects, according to Corey Sanders, corporate vice president of Azure.

Today, there are already more than 30 Azure Expert MSP partners, including New Signature, Capgemini, Infosys and Tata.

Go-To-Market Benefits Packages

Microsoft said it's also seeking to help partners build a marketing practice that's more targeted. Partners with competencies will have a choice between four benefits packages based on their business focus later this year.

Partners can choose from Modern Workplace, a package for partners that deliver services on Microsoft 365; Apps and Infrastructure, for partners who build and deliver services on the Microsoft stack; Artificial Intelligence, for partners with a focus on PowerBI and SQL Server solutions; and Business Applications, for partners who build services on Dynamics 365.

New Apps And Technologies For Azure

Microsoft Thursday revealed several new cloud apps and technologies that will be available through the channel. The first, Azure Data Box Disk, has been spun out of the Azure Data Box appliance introduced last year. Azure Data Box Disk, unlike its predecessor, is an SSD-disk based option that businesses can use move data, regardless of where it lives, into Azure. According to Jason Zander, executive vice president for Microsoft Azure, the offering is well-suited for a recurring or one-time data migration of up to 35 TB, or for data transfer from multiple remote branches or offices.

Another new technology, Azure Firewall, is a cloud-native network security service that protects Azure Virtual Network resources. The offering is highly available and has unrestricted cloud scalability, which can be used to centrally create, enforce, and log application and network connectivity policies. Azure Firewall policies can be fully integrated with customers' DevOps model and help businesses hit their compliance requirements.

Also introduced Thursday was Azure Virtual WAN, a networking service that gives businesses optimized branch to branch connectivity and connection to Azure using last mile internet. Users can also build a "hub and spoke" network in Azure to route traffic to virtual appliances, including firewalls and Azure network security services.

Microsoft 365 Updates

Launched one year ago at Inspire 2017, the Microsoft 365 suite brings together Office 365, Windows 10, device management and security into a single comprehensive offering for businesses. At Inspire 2018, Microsoft is announcing that one application in the Office 365 suite, the Microsoft Teams collaboration app, is now available as a free version. The free Teams version can serve up to 300 people and offer unlimited chat, video and audio calling, and file storage. The free offering "provides a powerful introduction to Microsoft 365," the company said in a blog post.

In other updates to Microsoft 365, the company unveiled a new Workplace Analytics feature that uses data from Office 365 to help teams "discover challenges like meeting overload, minimal time for focused work, or high after-hours workload." The feature will provide "nudges" in Office 365, which will provide alerts to users with tips such as not sending an email to co-workers after-hours or delegating a meeting to a co-worker when your schedule is busy.

Meanwhile, Microsoft Teams users will also now be able to launch events on-demand, which will be viewable both in real-time and as recordings. These events can range from webcam streams to high-quality formal events, Microsoft said.

More Updates: Azure IoT, Power BI, Windows Server

Microsoft also unveiled updates to its Software-as-a-Service IoT solution, Azure IoT Central, which will introduce support for Power BI and Microsoft Flow as a way to enable visualization of real-time intelligence. Also, Cloud Solution Provider partners will now be able to include provisioning and management of Azure IoT Central applications in subscription offerings.

In other Power BI news, Microsoft said that Power Query will now be available for big data ingestion and integration in the Power BI web service. The capabilities will make it easier to connect and manage disparate data sources, and will be launching in preview in July.

Meanwhile, as support for Windows Server and SQL Server 2008/2008 R2 comes to an end in the next several years, Microsoft said it will provide a time extension with security updates for free to customers that are working to migrate the workloads to Azure.

New Partner Playbooks

For helping partners to build practices in new areas, Microsoft is expanding its library of free playbooks with two new additions. The company is adding a "Cloud Migration and Modernization" playbook along with a playbook entitled "Grow Your ISV Business with SaaS" in connection with Inspire 2018. Other playbooks include Cloud Application Development, AI Practice Development, Security Practice Development and Cloud Infrastructure and Management. The playbooks aim to serve as blueprints for developing and managing cloud practices, Microsoft said.