Microsoft Introduces Cloud Deployment Program

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Microsoft announces the Cloud Deployment Program, a new on-ramp to deploying Microsoft services built around the Office 365 ecosystem. But will unusual partner requirements make it difficult for Microsoft to recruit a foundational base for truly cloud-oriented partners?

Microsoft Corp. is recognizing partner demand for hosting and cloud capabilities by launching the Cloud Deployment Program. Built around Microsoft's Cloud Services, the program is designed to help partners train, sell and deploy a Microsoft cloud solution portfolio centered around Office 365.

According to Josh Waldo, Microsoft's senior director of new markets and emerging channels, the Cloud Deployment Program will "build upon the foundational tools and resources that partners are entitled to in Cloud Essentials and Cloud Accelerate including free Office 365, Windows Intune and CRM Online licenses for use to run your business, online services/advisor incentives, delegated administration tools, and training."

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The program has prerequisites. Existing Cloud Accelerate partners are already eligible to enroll, but partners without this certification need to earn it before gaining access any partner tools or Microsoft support. Once partners are engaged, they will be privy to specialized support structures needed to navigate the cloud-based intricacies of planning, building and deploying Microsoft's solution.

Microsoft denotes these as cloud "phase benefits," which include break-fix support amid traditional partner incentives. However, there are caveats. Partners that wish to engage today must do so within the "initial period," which lasts through Feb. 28, 2013. After this, Microsoft will tack on more requirements to join the program. Those requirements will have to be met by all initial enrollment partners by June 30, 2013.

Microsoft's Cloud Deployment partner portal provides details on the exams required to satisfy the requirements, which are primarily focused around Exchange server solutions and exchange administration. Additionally, partners "must provide evidence [of] three successful cloud deployments for a minimum of 250 seats," with maintained enrollment in Cloud Accelerate and Microsoft's Messaging competency.

Microsoft's approach makes the initial on-ramp an easy process for as many partners as possible. Over time, though, Microsoft wants to encourage partner refinement for services within the program. With a host of competitive cloud programs hitting the channel, Microsoft may be impeding its ability to rapidly build out the best way it can deliver its cloud solution portfolio. Although the company may be trying to recruit partners well-versed in the Microsoft universe, it may do more harm then good. Such steep requirements may create a sustainability issue in the long-run.

Amid the tepid response of Windows 8, Microsoft's focus on the services sector (and software-as-a-service, in general) has never been a more important strategy, especially for a company that has somewhat fumbled into the cloud world. Without exception, Microsoft needs to embody its promise for a "new era" as quickly as possible.

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