Microsoft is expanding the Office 365 FastTrack program to reach smaller businesses with as few as 50 seats. The previous FastTrack minimum had been 150 seats. In some ways, it's the latest shot in the cloud application war between Google Apps for Work vs. Office 365. But in other ways, it's the latest sign that partners need to move beyond Office 365 and into the world of Azure.
First, the big picture: Microsoft FastTrack is the company's "customer success service designed to help you realize business value faster with the Microsoft Cloud." The service includes best practices, tools, resources, and experts across Office 365, Enterprise Mobility Suite, Microsoft Azure, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Microsoft FastTrack Changes
The expanded FastTrack program involves three key areas for smaller customers and partners, notes Gavriella Schuster, general manager of Microsoft'sWorldwide Partner Group:
- The new 50-seat threshold, down from 150. But be sure to ask Microsoft about some of the fine print -- involving digital partners of record and more. Depending on the customer's need, it sounds like Microsoft can connect the customer to a qualified partner through the FastTrack QuickLeads lead generation service.
- New financial offers, terms and deadlines that extend through June 30, 2016.
- Simplified migrations -- including ways to migrate files from Google Drive to OneDrive for Business and SharePoint sites.
Check out Schuster's blog for more details on each bullet point.
Office 365 vs Google Apps for Business
Generally speaking, Office 365 has leapfrogged Google Apps for Business in terms of market share over the past two years or so. Still both Google and Microsoft enjoy rapidly growing customer bases in the cloud market.
Alphabet, Google's parent, may offer some updated adoption statistics during an earnings call later today. Google has also been enhancing and refining its Google for Work partner program over the past year. And Google even made a free migration offer to some Office 365 customers in October 2015.
Now, Microsoft is returning fire with its expanded FastTrack program.
The Bigger Opportunity? Azure, Vertical Markets
While Office 365 and Google Apps provide nice stepping stones into the cloud, most partners merely treat the cloud services as SKUs that they resell. And it's difficult to make a living on low-cost SaaS SKUs -- even as you scale the number of seats under management.
That's why some of the savviest channel partners are pushing hard beyond SaaS platforms and investigating opportunities in vertical cloud markets or IaaS platforms like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services. Much like the railway systems of the early 1990s, those public clouds provide next-generation railways upon which to build, deploy and manage customer workloads.
In recent months, channel partners have been buying up cloud consulting firms -- especially those that know how to deploy, manage and monitor IaaS workloads. The latest such deal surfaced earlier today when BulletProof acquired CloudHouse, an AWS partner, at a valuation of about 10X in EBIDTA (depending on financial goals and outcomes tied to the deal).