At last. Microsoft is starting to shine a bright spotlight on managed services providers (MSPs) and channel partners that can assist Office 365 customer deployments. As you may recall, Microsoft greatly expanded the Office 365 beta process this week, allowing anyone to sign up to test the cloud and SaaS suite. At the same time, Microsoft has identified 27 top MSPs, VARs and cloud integrators that are well-positioned for the forthcoming Office 365 deployment wave. Here’s the background.
First, let’s address the elephants in the room. Some channel partners remain upset because Microsoft controls end-customer cloud billing, and Microsoft will promote Office 365 directly to end-customers of all sizes. But give the software giant credit: The company is gradually flashing a larger and larger spotlight on MSPs, VARs and IT consulting firms that can assist Office 365 deployments.
Prime examples: Microsoft is driving Office 365 Enterprise Beta Testers to 27 channel partners, using the Microsoft Pinpoint partner location tool. Many of those partners are U.S.-based MSPs.
Microsoft has also published a list of its top 25 cloud channel partners, which also includes MSPs (though it overlaps greatly with the list of Office 365 channel partners).
A new Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace also directs customers to channel partners that offer professional services and add-ons to Office 365.
Glass Half Full?
Microsoft’s cloud channel partner strategy still has room for improvement, but at least the company is making some progress.
On the downside, some readers tell MSPmentor that Microsoft has been calling SMB customers directly to discuss Office 365. Other readers worry that they will ultimately get left out of the loop, since Microsoft controls end-customer billing for its cloud applications.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is quick to note that VARs and MSPs can remain the partner of record when they sign customers up for Office 365. Plus, the channel partners earn recurring monthly revenues for Office 365 deployments. Microsoft’s latest steps — promoting the company’s most successful cloud channel partners — is a clear step in the right direction. Office 365 is expected to be generally available by July 1, MSPmentor estimates. Microsoft has publicly stated that Office 365 will ship sometime in 2011.