Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider Program: What Should the Channel Do?

Two weeks ago, Microsoft unveiled its Cloud Solution Provider program, which will allows distributors, MSPs, VARs, and hosters to bill, provision, and manage Microsoft cloud services for their customers. They will also be able to package or bundle their own services and provide a single invoice for everything. The Microsoft services available will start with Office 365 and Windows Intune, then expand to include Microsoft Azure and Dynamics CRM Online.

On the one hand, this creates a very exciting opportunity for many in the Microsoft partner channel who been advocating for more customer control. On the other, there is a lot of uncertainty about how the services will work and concern about what it really means for partners who participate. So far, Microsoft has been vague about the criteria for eligibility saying that selected partners will need to be able to handle technical support, automated yearly and monthly billing, and other requirements. The expectation is that this program will be limited for the first 9 to 12 months to work through the details.

Having worked with the current Office 365 syndication program since its inception 8 years ago and supporting over 800k Office 365 seats on our platforms, Parallels has a unique perspective and exclusive insights on what this evolution of the program will mean to current Office 365 syndication partners and new cloud solution providers.

Cloud Solution Providers (CSP)

Based on an article from ChannelLine, Microsoft will likely begin to publish new APIs that allow partners to integrate Office 365 provisioning, metering, and management into their own systems in the next six months or so. These APIs will initially go through a few iterations as Microsoft irons out technical details, business rules, and bugs. Of course, they will continue to evolve over time as new services are added or functionality delivered. CSPs will need to make a significant resource commitment to the integration and maintenance that keep the reselling capabilities working smoothly. At the same time, CSPs will need to figure out how to bundle and sell other SaaS, IaaS, and/or their own services with the Microsoft cloud solutions. Then provision and bill for those bundles while delivering a great customer experience. A basic example of the bundling requirement is the need to provision a domain and connect it to the Office 365 service for each customer account. Today, customers using the Parallels platform see an 8x improvement in time to perform this task vs. manually provisioning directly in the Microsoft portal.

These are no small hurdles and those partners who become CSPs will have to be very serious and aggressive to execute successfully. It will also be important for those partners to start preparing now and be ready for Microsoft to launch. Microsoft told IT media outlet Channel Register; “it is targeting partners with systems set up to provide monthly/annual billing, lifecycle management, and 24/7 technical support. Not everyone will fit that bill.” Fortunately, Parallels can help partners overcome these hurdles to becoming a CSP with the Parallels SmartStart for Office 365 program. The SmartStart program includes all the required technical heavy lifting and quickly delivers a platform for billing, provisioning, and managing Office 365 customers at a fixed-cost. It not only ensures that partners will be ready to deliver the Microsoft cloud services as soon as they become available, but they will have the capability to bundle any of the hundreds of other cloud services available in our catalog.

Current O365 Syndicators and Hosted Exchange Partners

For Hosted Exchange partners wanting to move to the new CSP program and begin offering Office 365, the SmartStart program makes sense too. In addition, Parallels can bring to bear its expertise at migrating Exchange customers to Office 365 quickly and without business disruption. As an example, Telefonica used the Parallels platform to migrate 400k Hosted Exchange users to Office 365 in just over 90 days. Being able to smoothly and easily move existing customers to a new service brings tremendous value to both customers and Microsoft.

Current syndicators will have some time before they have to move over to the new APIs and business model, but regardless whether it is 18 months or 24 months, they will have to move and start preparing now. Those seventeen syndicators already using Parallels platform will have the advantage of Parallels close engineering relationship with Microsoft to shield them from the complexity involved and will simply implement the new Cloud Solution Provider “package” that we jointly build. Syndicators not using Parallels platform can and should use this as an opportunity to explore how they get away from manual work-arounds, look at integrating deeply with internal operational and business systems, and how to add real service bundling capabilities. There is even an opportunity to use this point in time to consolidate on a single platform and retire legacy systems that limit business agility.

Parallels model of shared risk, go-to-market support and ecosystem access have already been proven. As Microsoft takes its cloud services to the channel broadly, Parallels is ready to make those services work for partners. Take a look at how we address the challenges faced by cloud providers and who we have helped be successful.