Microsoft Readying Partners Ahead of Enterprise Product Launch

Microsoft reports success, but an analyst says the company needs to train more partners to handle the sheer volume of upgrade projects over the next few years.

As Microsoft gears up for the Feb. 27 launch of Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008-the biggest enterprise launch in the company's history-it is aggressively readying its partners to handle the wave of demand it hopes will be generated for these new products.

So important is partner readiness that Allison Watson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's worldwide partner group, headed off on a 45-day worldwide tour to review all partner businesses, returning to the United States on Feb. 12.

And she is upbeat about what she found. "We feel more on top of this launch than for any other launch in our history. This is the biggest launch for the IT professional and the core IT community and it has the potential to reinvigorate and offer new options for both partners and customers," Watson told eWEEK Feb. 13.

This launch has the potential to really change the current momentum around infrastructure across everything infrastructure delivers as value for customers, she said, noting that the launch moniker of "Heroes happen {here}" is meant to reflect the role of partners and customers and how this launch helps make them "heroes" within their organizations or communities.

In order to achieve this lofty goal, the company has a very aggressive training program, with more than 150,000 people already having been trained since the beginning of Microsoft's fiscal year and another 150,000 to be trained over the next few months, Watson said.

But, while Chris Swenson, director of software industry analysis at the NPD Group, said he thinks this number is a good start, given the massive installed base of Windows Server, Visual Studio and SQL Server, Microsoft "clearly needs to train more partners to handle the sheer volume of upgrade projects over the next one to three years as customers migrate to the new versions."

While Watson acknowledged that achieving launch readiness was complicated by the fact that there were three products that all required ISVs and service partner readiness, she said she is confident of Microsoft's preparedness.

"We will have more than 1,200 shipping ISV applications for Visual Studio at launch, more than 1,000 applications for SQL Server and 1,200 shipping applications for the core Windows Server. In addition, our partner training has explicitly touched all of our core infrastructure, networking infrastructure, partner infrastructure, security and systems management," Watson said.

Figures from research groups IDC and Gartner showed there is a $120 billion partner revenue opportunity in the United States alone over the next 18 months, targeting some 3.5 million new server installations, Watson said.

That research also indicated that for every dollar of Microsoft software sold, there was an attach rate of $18 for partners, which is far higher than for previous launches, and that this is due to the value and gains these products unlock for partners and customers, she said.

In the large and growing business intelligence market, the outlook is also good, she said. Between Performance Point Server, which Microsoft launched in 2007, SQL Server and Windows Server, "You are unlocking something significant and which may not have been as evident before," Watson said. "I am very confident that we have a large number of partners who are ready to go and understand the opportunities this launch brings. If a customer needs a qualified partner to help them with these products, they will be able to find them."

However, Watson did caution that not every one of Microsoft's partners were ready and Microsoft's call to action to them was to not underestimate the need to be ready for the opportunities this launch brings.

Swenson said he believes that Microsoft is doing a better job of achieving partner readiness than it has done in the past. "Although I think Microsoft's partner programs have always been good, over the past couple of years they've really focused like a laser beam on how to make their partners more successful, how to improve their training and how to get them up to speed," he said.

An example of this is the "Empower for ISVs" program, essentially a licensing program that enables small ISVs to try out Microsoft software like Windows Server and Visual Studio for two years, easing them into a regular Microsoft licensing program on completion, he said.

"The program has been enormously successful. Clearly, Microsoft is listening to the concerns of its partners and working with them to create more effective programs," Swenson said.