Cloud message resonates with Microsoft partners

World Partner Conference attendees were more receptive to Microsoft's pleas to change their business models for cloud computing

Microsoft has been screaming "cloud" in many partners' deaf ears for several years, but the company found a more receptive audience at this week's Worldwide Partner Conference.

From CEO Satya Nadella on down, all Microsoft officials at the event told attendees that they need to switch their businesses to the cloud urgently, or else risk obsolescence and market defeat.

"You need to get on this train. This market is being made now," a vehement and adrenaline-drenched Kevin Turner -- Microsoft's COO -- said during a WPC keynote, adding that Microsoft doesn't have enough partners selling its cloud services anywhere in the world.

Partners know the Microsoft marketing pitch can be loud and alarmist, so they take it with a grain of salt, but this time around many arrived at the Washington, D.C., conference having noticed a growing interest in their markets for cloud computing options.

"Last year, I was skeptical, but now I'm seeing more adoption and acceptance of the cloud among our clients," said SA1/4leyman Mert, deputy general manager at Bilgi Birikim Sistemleri (BBS), a systems integrator in Istanbul. In the Turkish market, he forecasts that a substantial shift to cloud services will take about five years.

BBS resells few cloud services currently, but is interested in Office 365 because one of its most popular Microsoft products is SharePoint, whose SharePoint Online version is part of the suite. Mert liked that Microsoft placed more emphasis at this year's conference on cloud and mobile security and IT management products like the Enterprise Mobility Suite, because in his view those need to go hand-in-hand with cloud deployments.

Cloud computing adoption is also proceeding slowly in Argentina, but Diego Harth, an account executive at CEDI Consulting & Training in the South American country likes Microsoft's own transformation from on-premises software to software-, infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service. "I approve of Microsoft's push in this direction," said Harth, whose employer has been a partner for about 20 years.

Dragan Todorovic, a SharePoint consultant with Extreme, a 20-year partner in Belgrade, Serbia, said Office 365 is starting to gain traction among their customers in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, but that Azure is too expensive compared with other IaaS and PaaS options there.

Microsoft's investments in recent years in expanding its SaaS, IaaS and PaaS portfolios have piqued the interest of existing and new partners. That's the case of Revera, a cloud services provider in Wellington, New Zealand. Revera has been a Microsoft partner for about 10 years, but Microsoft-related business has been growing recently, and so has Revera's interest in products like Azure services and Hyper-V.

"Microsoft is a smaller part of our business, but it's having a bigger impact," said Keith Archibald, innovation program manager at Revera.

Versium, a predictive data analytics company, is an example of a new partner attracted by Microsoft's cloud products. Versium partnered with Microsoft about six months ago, after learning about the new Office 365 Power BI and Azure ML (Machine Learning) services.

"What we do as a business is very much in line with the Azure ML and Power BI stuff they're doing, so it's a shared vision," said Chris Matty, CEO of Versium, which is based in Redmond, Washington, also Microsoft's home city.

Then there are those partners who have jumped with both feet into cloud computing, and came to WPC to make sure Microsoft is all in as well and moving in the right direction.

"They're investing heavily [in the cloud] and want everybody to move there, so I just want to see how committed they are to making that [transition] smooth," said Peter Senescu, president of MetaVis Technologies in Exton, Pennsylvania.

MetaVis, an ISV (independent software vendor), currently generates about 60 percent of its revenue from sales of a toolset it developed to help companies migrate to and manage Office 365. His main interest at the conference was Office 365's SharePoint Online and its OneDrive for Business cloud storage component.

"We're optimistic Microsoft will get their customers to move to the cloud and we have tools that help facilitate the [cloud] movement and management, so that'll be a good business for us," he said. "We just have to be clear what their direction is, and that this is going to happen."

That wasn't entirely clear until recently for Dot Net Solutions, a cloud services reseller and integrator in London, which shifted from an on-premises software business model about five years ago.

"It was a big risk when we first did it," said Dan Scarfe, founder of the 10-year-old company. "We spent about four years bashing our head against a brick wall, and in the past year the doors have opened and we're getting a lot of traction. A sea change happened in the past 12 to 18 months."

The partners interviewed all said they feel positive about Microsoft's direction and about their opportunities as partners.

"I'm very optimistic," said Lim Soon Jinn, CEO of Heulab, an ISV and systems integrator in Singapore. He came to WPC seeking more information about CityNext, a partner program focused on local government customers, like cities and counties, and about Azure and Windows, platforms for Heulab mobile apps.

Microsoft is in a much better place today than two years ago, after the rocky launch of Windows 8 and its lukewarm reception in the market, said Dot Net Solutions' Scarfe. "It feels like Microsoft has got its mojo back," he said.

"We're delighted to be a Microsoft partner right now. We feel competent going in and selling Microsoft solutions. We're winning time and again against the competition," Scarfe added.

Asked about the then-rumored layoffs -- now a reality -- partners took the news in stride, saying that the move would be expected considering the significant staff increase from the acquisition of Nokia's smartphone business and that it might yield other benefits.

"It is unfortunate for the people who get caught up in the restructuring, but it will lead to renewal over time," MetaVis' Senescu said. "Microsoft needs to be more nimble and easier to work with, and perhaps a restructuring will help speed the process."

Versium's Matty, who has been involved with various startups over the years in the Seattle area and has thus been exposed to Microsoft's evolution, said he has noticed a change for the better in the company.

"I've noticed in the past five or six months definitely a shift in Microsoft's culture as it relates to working with early-stage companies," said Matty, whose company is only 3 years old. "The group we've been working with has been very supportive and collaborative."

Scarfe concurred. "Microsoft is a more friendly and humble organization," he said. "The arrogance is gone."

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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