Microsoft overhauls its partner program with a distinct focus on Azure

The company set out new programs for partners that entice them to sell services across six distinct cloud products and service areas.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Microsoft Inspire 2019

The Microsoft Cloud Partner Program will be focused on six areas: Azure data and artificial intelligence, Azure infrastructure, Azure digital and app innovation, business applications, “modern work” and security.

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft is revamping its partner program and setting new recertification requirements for the 400,000-plus companies that sell and support its enterprise products and services and build their own solutions and devices around them.

The changes reflect Microsoft’s investments in the cloud as a strategic growth area and the need to align partners with the evolving requirements and buying patterns of customers, according to Rodney Clark, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Channel Sales and channel chief.

“While we've delivered on this promise of customer value in the past, the reality is that this has shifted, especially in the last two to three years,” Clark said in a press conference Wednesday. “It's no longer us — Microsoft and our [partners] — leading our customers on this tech-intensity journey of innovation and ongoing development. It's very much our customers that are directing us based on their emerging needs.”

On Oct. 3, the current Microsoft Partner Network, which is more than 15 years old, will become the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program. The new program will be focused on six areas: Azure data and artificial intelligence, Azure infrastructure, Azure digital and app innovation, business applications, “modern work” and security.

The new two-level program will continue to be open to Microsoft’s current partners — resellers, systems integrators, managed services providers, device partners and independent software vendors — but Microsoft is changing the way it categorizes them to signal their cloud expertise and experience to customers. Those partners are a critical part of Microsoft’s success: The company previously has credited them with having a hand in 95% of its commercial revenue.

“The scale of our success that we see through our partners drives these incredible results — $28 billion in partner co-sell value in the past four years — and we continue to refine and enhance the sales motion with partners as [evidenced] by the 37% revenue growth,” said Nick Parker, corporate vice president of Global Partner Solutions.

Microsoft is retiring its Silver and Gold competencies that partners could earn to help differentiate their businesses to customers beyond a baseline partner network membership status.

The first new partner qualifying level — a “solutions partner” designation — will validate Microsoft partners that meet specific requirements for each of the six new areas. A new partner capability score will rank partners’ technical skills and performance based on their certifications, new customers added, successful deployments and overall growth. That score will be a telemetry-based calculation based on reporting in Microsoft’s Partner Center portal, and partners must earn at least 70 points out of 100 points to earn the designation. Partners now can access the portal to see their current progress toward that goal.

“From there, we provide technical skilling if there's a gap that we need to close to help them get to 70 points,” Clark said. “There's proactive support to help partners navigate exactly where they need to go and how they need to invest in order to get there.”

The three Azure-related solutions partner designations — infrastructure, data and artificial intelligence, and digital and app innovation — also will be prerequisites for the Azure Expert MSP program beginning Oct. 3.

Microsoft’s second new partner qualifying level will include specializations — renamed from the current advanced specializations — and expert programs. They will recognize partners’ deep technical expertise and experience in specific technical scenarios under each solution area. The solution partner designation will be a prerequisite for earning specializations.

Microsoft stressed that there will be no immediate changes to partners’ business or program statuses, including anniversary dates, prior to October. Partners’ incentive eligibility will not change in the program year that runs from October 2022 to September 2023.

“It's important to know that as part of this evolution, we're not removing any benefits that partners receive today,” Clark said. “In fact, we're increasing investment in our program by more than 25%.”

In addition to renewing benefits they're already using, partners will be able to access new customized benefits packages, according to Microsoft. They’ll also continue to receive internal use rights licenses — which will be called “product benefits” — including on-premises licenses, cloud service subscriptions and Azure credits.

SAP specialist Lemongrass adopted a multi-cloud strategy last October and started partnering with Microsoft and Google Cloud after working as an AWS-only shop. Its acquisition this year of Wharfedale Technologies, which specializes in the migration and management of SAP on Microsoft Azure, jump-started its Microsoft partnership.

“Microsoft has given us a lot of love, and they’ve helped us navigate through what is a very large company,” said Tim Wintrip, chief sales officer. “They’ve given us a lot of help in understanding how they work, understanding their tools, helping us engage in different programs to better engage with their sellers. There’s been good collaboration at the engineering level as well.”

Microsoft’s partner program overhaul follows controversial changes associated with its New Commerce Experience platform that included adding a premium on monthly Microsoft 365 subscriptions purchased through partners in its Cloud Solution Provider program.

Partners have until Sept. 30 to decide whether to join the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program or renew their legacy Microsoft Partner Network benefit status for another year.

“We are engaging with our ecosystem and giving plenty of time for our partners to understand where and how they should be investing,” Clark said. “We want to make sure that our ecosystem, who contributes so much to our commercial success, is set up for success — that we don't allow competitors to come in and basically, through their set of offerings or their capability, impact the value that we deliver to customers.”

This story was updated to add comments from Lemongrass and to correct the age of the Microsoft Partner Network.

Elon Musk's influence over Twitter was clear at its annual meeting

Even though executives tried not to talk about Musk's deal to buy the company, they couldn't help but address his agenda.

Elon Musk loomed over Twitter's annual shareholder meeting.

Photoillustration: Getty Images; Unsplash; Protocol

In his opening remarks at Twitter's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, CEO Parag Agrawal said he wouldn't discuss the pending acquisition bid from Elon Musk, which wasn't on the agenda. That didn’t matter much: Musk’s fingerprints were all over the event, even overshadowing the expected if still-emotional news that Jack Dorsey would step away from Twitter’s board at the meeting's conclusion.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.


Netflix’s layoffs reveal a larger diversity challenge in tech

Netflix just laid off 150 full-time employees and a number of agency contractors. Many of them were the company’s most marginalized employees.

It quickly became clear that many of the laid-off contractors possessed marginalized identities.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

After Netflix’s first round of layoffs, there was a brief period of relief for the contractors who ran Netflix’s audience-oriented social media channels, like Strong Black Lead, Most and Con Todo. But the calm didn’t last.

Last week, Netflix laid off 150 full-time employees and a number of agency contractors. The customary #opentowork posts flooded LinkedIn, many coming from impacted members of Netflix’s talent and recruiting teams. A number of laid-off social media contractors also took to Twitter to share the news. It quickly became clear that similar to the layoffs at Tudum, Netflix’s entertainment site, many of the affected contractors possessed marginalized identities. The channels they ran focused on Black, LGBTQ+, Latinx and Asian audiences, among others.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.


Crypto doesn’t have to be red or blue

Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand are backing bipartisan legislation that establishes regulatory clarity for cryptocurrencies. This is the right way to approach a foundational technology.

"Crypto doesn’t neatly fall along party lines because, as a foundational technology, it is — or should be — inherently nonpartisan," says Diogo Mónica, co-founder and president of Anchorage Digital.

Photo: Anchorage Digital

Diogo Mónica is president and co-founder of Anchorage Digital.

When I moved from Portugal to the United States to work at Square, it was hard to wrap my head around the two-party system that dominates American politics. As I saw at home, democracies, by their very nature, can be messy. But as an outsider looking in, I can’t help but worry that the ever-widening gap between America’s two major parties looms over crypto’s future.

Keep Reading Show less
Diogo Mónica
Diogo Mónica is the co-founder and president of Anchorage Digital, the premier digital asset platform for institutions. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from the Technical University of Lisbon, and has worked in software security for over 15 years. As an early employee at Square, he helped build security architecture that now moves $100 billion annually. At Docker, he helped secure core infrastructure used in global banks, governments and the three largest cloud providers.

What downturn? A16z raises $4.5 billion for latest crypto fund

The new fund is more than double the $2.2 billion fund the VC firm raised just last June.

A16z general partner Arianna Simpson said that despite the precipitous drop in crypto prices in recent months, the firm is looking to stay active in the market and isn’t worried about short-term price changes.

Photo: Andreessen Horowitz

Andreessen Horowitz has raised $4.5 billion for two crypto venture funds. They’re the industry’s largest ever and represent an outsized bet on the future of Web3 startups, even with the industry in the midst of a steep market downturn.

The pool of money is technically two separate funds: a $1.5 billion fund for seed deals and a $3 billion fund for broader venture deals. That’s more than other megafunds recently raised by competitors such as Paradigm and Haun Ventures.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Latest Stories