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Microsoft’s Latest Azure Cloud Partner Push vs. Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Julia White
Julia White
Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will aggressively expand its cloud partner messaging from Office 365 toward Azure cloud services during this week's Inspire conference (formerly Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference) in Washington, D.C.

The Azure cloud partner pitch is expected to come from Microsoft's key executive leaders -- including CEO Satya Nadella and Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster. Moreover, Corporate VP Julia White will weigh in with Azure cybersecurity opportunities, sources indicate.

Microsoft's expanded cloud partner strategy -- across Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Azure -- has been several years in the making. The software giant initially stumbled with Office 365 when that service launched in 2011. But gradually, Microsoft added partner-centric billing and management services to the SaaS platform -- allowing Office 365 to catch on with small, midsize and large customers. By about late 2015 or early 2016, Office 365 was a widespread success in the channel.

The Azure partner push, however, involves several tricky considerations. While Office 365's per-seat SaaS pricing is straightforward math for most partners, consumption-based Azure services can be more complex for partners to effectively sell, manage and monitor in a  profitable manner.

Meanwhile, rival Amazon Web Services has successfully recruited scores of MSPs into its AWS partner program, which is a central point of focus at the annual AWS re:Invent conference. Even Google Cloud Platform has been showing some partner momentum in recent months, signing on MSP-friendly players like itopia to promote WaaS on Google's cloud infrastructure.

FastTrack for Azure Preview

To help jumpstart the Azure partner ecosystem, Microsoft on August 1 will launch a FastTrack for Azure Preview, the company recently confirmed. The FastTrack program will help partners to monetize:

  • Backup and Archive
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Development and test
  • Internal Line of Business Applications (Database Migration, App Modernization, App Lift & Shift)

Still, the Azure preview is a mixed blessing for Microsoft's partner ecosystem. VARs and MSPs may welcome some of those service offerings. But many ISVs that work with Microsoft in the backup sector could wind up alienated by Microsoft's own R&D work in that area. Moreover, the Fast Track effort has a financial barrier to entry: During preview, FastTrack for Azure is available through Microsoft-field nomination to customers that are:

  • Located in the United States, Canada, or Australia (English-only).
  • Have an Azure project of USD $60,000 or more per year or equivalent in local currency, Microsoft says.

Cloudyn for Azure Cost Management Services?

Longer term, partners should track Microsoft's recent Cloudyn acquisition. Cloudyn allows customers and service providers to continuously monitor, measure and analyze consumption, enable accountability, and forecast future cloud spending, the company asserts.

With those features in mind, Cloudyn could become a valuable tool for MSPs that want to help customer optimize their Azure cloud workloads and associated spending.

Meanwhile, distributors also are helping Microsoft to deepen its Azure partner engagements. The Ingram Micro Cloud Marketplace, for one, has increasingly evangelized Azure services for partners over the past six months or so. On a similar note, ConnectWise CloudConsole is expanding from Office 365 to Azure management for technology solutions providers.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.