Within the TalkinCloud FastChat video, Flinders puts Cloud Essentials and Cloud Accelerate into perspective.
Cloud Essentials, she says, provides access to software and training and other free resources to partners. The partners can test the software in a development environment while also gaining various marketing resources.
Cloud Accelerate, she adds, rewards Microsoft's most committed cloud partners. The rewards include branding to that helps identify partners that are leading the pack into the cloud.
Preparing for Office 365
Longer term, Microsoft is striving to prepare partners for Office 365 -- the forthcoming successor to Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite). Office 365 will include Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync (the successor to Office Communications Server), a SaaS version of Office, and more.
Flinders says Office 365 (Twitter: @Office365) will allow Microsoft to reach millions of SMBs with enterprise-class applications, hosted in the cloud. To get ready, Flinders recommends partners subscribe to the Microsoft Cloud Essentials Pack. Then, gain the technical know-how and business support that Microsoft is promoting.
Opportunity or Threat?
As a small business co-owner, I eagerly await Office 365 and I'll be intrigued to see how it compares to Google Apps (which we already use heavily). At roughly $6 per user per month, Office 365 potentially packs a whole lot of power at a super-low price.
But now for the challenges: Small business owners certainly benefit from the Microsoft vs. Google price war, but plenty of partners are worried about Office 365 potentially disrupting the channel.
For some (but certainly not all) partners, Microsoft's SaaS billing model remains a concern. Generally speaking, Microsoft directly bills end-customers for SaaS services. Scores of partners have been calling on Microsoft to adjust that policy, and to allow VARs and MSPs to bill customers directly for the Microsoft-hosted services. (Google already permits partners to manage the SaaS billing process, by the way.)
Publicly, Microsoft doesn't seem to be budging on the issue. But privately, Microsoft is working with Parallels to help massive service providers manage end-customer billing. We'll be watching to see if Microsoft extends the Parallels work towards smaller VARs and MSPs.
In the meantime, we're trying to maintain a balanced view on SaaS applications within the channel. No doubt, Office 365 and Google Apps will disrupt many legacy resellers that hold tight to old PC and software business models. We'll try to identify and track partners the get the new model right.