The 9 Biggest Microsoft Announcements At Inspire 2019

Microsoft is unveiling a wide range of partner-focused enhancements just ahead of the Inspire conference, including around Azure, Dynamics 365 and Teams.

Fresh Inspiration

Microsoft has gotten off to a bumpy start with partners in its new fiscal year, following the disclosure that the popular internal use rights benefit is on its way out. But the company has plenty of news in store for the Inspire 2019 partner conference that should get a warmer reception. Just ahead of Inspire 2019--which is being held next week in Las Vegas--Microsoft on Thursday made a number of partner-focused announcements across Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, security and specializations.

The announcements come just as Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) partners have been seeing 38-percent growth in their customer base and 40-percent average revenue growth per partner during the past year, compared to the previous year, Microsoft said. "The cloud has fueled a new era of opportunity across our partner ecosystem, leading to deeper and stronger levels of partnership," said Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president for Microsoft's One Commercial Partner organization, in a blog post. "And the Microsoft Partner Network is evolving to allow partners to capitalize on this opportunity."

What follows is our roundup of the nine biggest Microsoft announcements at Inspire 2019.

Azure Lighthouse

As the Azure cloud platform continues to grow as a partner opportunity, Microsoft is using Inspire 2019 to introduce a new control plane for managing Azure, dubbed Azure Lighthouse. It will allow partners to view and manage Azure deployments at scale, and across all customers, Microsoft said. Lighthouse provides an improved managed Azure experience--offering enhanced automation and efficiency, and ultimately resulting in better visibility and security, the company said.

Azure Lighthouse's capabilities will enable cross-tenant management of customers with improved visibility and control, enabling partners to service more customers and larger workloads, according to Microsoft. "This marks the first time Microsoft has architected a solution at this scale, with partners and for partners," the company said in its announcement.

Microsoft is making Azure Lighthouse available to partners starting in July.

Azure Migration Program

Microsoft is also targeting faster customer migrations to Azure in its announcements at Inspire 2019. The company is using the conference to launch the Azure Migration Program, which aims to provide assistance with common risks and issues involved in migrating workloads to the Azure cloud platform. "Through the Azure Migration Program, partners can accelerate their customers’ migration to Azure," Schuster (pictured) said in her blog post.

The Azure Migration Program will include specialized advice and tools, ultimately providing "prescriptive guidance" for a step-by-step path to cloud migration, Microsoft said in its announcement.

The Azure Migration Program will be available July 15.

More Azure Updates

Microsoft outlined a number of additional Azure-related updates including news about Azure Data Box, a solution for moving large data volumes to Azure when the network can't be utilized. Microsoft announced the general availability of Azure Data Box Heavy, which offers up to 1 PB of storage capacity (and which gets transferred to Azure by shipping the device to an Azure data center, where the data is uploaded).

In other Azure updates, Microsoft unveiled new capabilities for the Azure Migrate tool. They include ISV integration--to help with choosing the ideal tool for each migration--as well as an "integrated migration journey" for apps, data and servers.

Meanwhile, the new Azure AI Accelerate Program launching at Inspire will empower partners to more quickly bring AI solutions to market, Microsoft said. Managed partners will be eligible for the program as of July 14.

Teams Updates

Microsoft announced at Inspire that its Teams workplace collaboration app now has 13 million daily active users. It's the first disclosure of daily usage metrics for the Teams app, which launched two years ago and competes first and foremost with Slack (which reported having 10 million daily active users as of late January).

Microsoft also unveiled new Teams features at Inspire including announcements (for drawing attention to a particularly important news in a channel); channel cross-posting (for posting a message into multiple channels and different teams simultaneously); priority notifications (which alert recipients to messages that are time sensitive); and the addition of moderators to manage posting in a channel.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said it is also looking to better support partners in helping customers move to Teams, with the debut of a new partner-led Teams trial. Microsoft 365 partners will be able to launch six-month trials providing Teams for customers that only use Exchange Online, as well as non-cloud customers. The trial will be available through CSP partners as of Aug. 1, Microsoft said.

Microsoft Security Competency

Microsoft has been doubling down on its security push with a number of big moves recently, many of them focused around cloud security. Now, at Inspire 2019, Microsoft is announcing a way for channel partners to stand out for their Microsoft security capabilities, with the general availability of the Microsoft Security Competency. The competency is for partners that demonstrate abilities to deliver Microsoft 365 and Azure security services, in order to protect customers' identities, data, apps and endpoints from cyber threats. Along with helping partners to better market their expertise, the competency "provides access to a range of benefits designed to enable business growth and profitability," Microsoft said in its announcement.

Advanced Specializations

Microsoft is ramping up its efforts around offering advanced specializations for partners looking to differentiate. Advanced specializations "allow partners to demonstrate deep knowledge, extensive experience, and proven success in implementing their capabilities beyond a gold competency level," Microsoft said. Five new advanced specializations are debuting at Inspire 2019: Windows Server and SQL Server Migration to Azure; Linux and Open-Source Databases Migration to Azure; Data Warehouse Migration to Azure; Modernization of Web Applications in Azure; and Kubernetes on Azure. The new additions follow the introduction of the SAP on Azure advanced specialization in May, while Microsoft also said that a new Teams advanced specialization will be arriving "in the coming months."

Dynamics 365 Updates

Dynamics 365, Microsoft's combination cloud CRM and ERP system, is getting a handful of advancements that are relevant to partners, the company is announcing at Inspire 2019:

-- There's a new version of the Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator, a suite of solutions for enabling nonprofits to deliver programs, now in public preview. The update "aims to cut costs and boost efficiencies for nonprofits through increased data transparency, streamlined implementation of solutions and increased operability across systems," Microsoft said in its announcement.

-- There are new financial services integrations for Dynamics 365. "Working with Veripark, Wealth Dynamix, Fiserv and others, we have laid the groundwork for partners to quickly build financial services solutions that can interoperate, and banks are able to view their customer journeys," Microsoft said.

-- There are also new automotive industry integrations for Dynamics 365. "With the automotive accelerator, we’re working with industry leaders Annata, Oxlo and others to help ISV partners quickly develop customer experience management (e.g., marketing, lifetime engagement, etc.) solutions that can serve, for example, franchised dealer networks," Microsoft said.

New ISV Program & Technology

At Inspire 2019, Microsoft is launching the new Business Applications ISV Connect program. The program is aimed at accelerating the path to market for ISVs, while also helping ISVs with simplified publishing of solutions to Microsoft's marketplaces (AppSource and Azure Marketplace) and with promotion of their solutions. The Business Applications ISV Connect program, which includes a revenue-sharing model as well as technical, marketing and sales enablement benefits, according to Microsoft. The company is also adding co-selling and co-marketing benefits "to harness the selling and marketing power of the Microsoft field on behalf of participating ISVs," Microsoft said in its announcement.

In terms of technology upgrades for ISVs, Microsoft said it's debuting new pre-packaged elements such as APIs, business logic, entities and workflows for Dynamics 365 and PowerApps. The upgrades mean that ISVs will be able to connect line-of-business apps to core business data, without the need for building new integration points, Microsoft said.

Marketplace Updates

Microsoft is rolling out a number of enhancements this month around its AppSource marketplace, which targets business buyers, and the Azure Marketplace, which offers solutions for IT professionals and developers. The enhancements are focused on partners that publish "transactable offers"--solutions and services that are repeatable across customers. The offers can also be made available through Microsoft’s reseller channel, "creating a net new route to market that helps publishers reach more customers," the company said in its announcement. Microsoft is rolling out new marketplace pricing models to enable monthly and annual SaaS billing, custom pricing options, standard contracts and free SaaS trials that can convert to paid arrangements.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is launching a new marketplace rewards program at Inspire 2019. The program will let publishers "unlock sales, marketing and technical benefits as their business grows – helping them grow their business even more," Microsoft said in its announcement.