When Microsoft's Small Business Competency launches for partners in June 2012, the competency will "lead with the cloud," according to an April 14 blog from Julie Bennani (pictured), general manager, Microsoft Partner Network. What does that mean for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) partners that grew up reselling on-premises software like Windows Small Business Server? The answer is pretty clear.

Simply put, it's time for Microsoft's partner base to sort out their cloud strategies. In Microsoft's case, that means partners need to master Office 365 and Windows Intune. Yes, on-premises offerings like Windows Small Business Server are part of the new competency.

But Bennani is banging the drum -- loudly -- for Office 365 and Microsoft's cloud strategy. She wrote:
"In order to build a capable cloud partner ecosystem that drives awareness and adoption of Microsoft cloud solutions in the marketplace, the Small Business Competency will be launched in June 2012. The competency will lead with the Cloud and be a key differentiator for partners focused on the small business segment. We believe this competency will be one of the biggest levers to accelerate cloud partner activation in the small business segment and anticipate it will  grow into the largest competency within the Microsoft Partner Network."

Gold and Silver Levels

The Microsoft Small Business Competency will include Gold- and Silver-level partner designations. Bennani described the Gold and Silver levels in these ways:
  • Gold partners will earn a Gold competency logo, eligibility for a named Microsoft contact, internal use rights for up to 30 licenses of on-premises products, cloud license rights for internal usage (IUR), unlimited pre-sales advisory hours for deals valued at more than US$3,000 (50 hours if not deal related or post-sales oriented), bill-on-behalf capability for Office 365, and premier exposure on the Microsoft PinPoint and Office 365 marketplaces.
  • Silver Small Business Competency partners will gain internal use rights for up to 15 licenses of on premise products, additional cloud offering license rights for internal usage (IUR), usage of the Silver competency logo, access to Microsoft, 20 hours of pre- or post-sale technical advisory support, and prioritized exposure to customers on the Microsoft PinPoint and Office 365 marketplaces.

NOTE: Re-read that paragraph about gold partners closely. It mentions a "bill-on-behalf" capability for Office 365. The VAR Guy is checking to see if that means gold partners can bill Office 365 customers on behalf of Microsoft. If so, that's very intriguing -- but let's not jump to conclusions. Instead, The VAR Guy awaits Microsoft's perspective on that point.

Earning the Competency

In order to acquire the MPN Small Business competency, Bennani wrote, Microsoft Partners will need to complete technical exams and sales assessments while earning quality customer references, with Gold requiring additional expertise and customer references when compared to Silver.

Beyond Small Business Server

​Microsoft is maintaining a careful balancing act, continuing to enhance and promote its Windows Small Business Server for on-premises deployment. But Bennani's cloud emphasis to small business partners is well-timed. Small businesses are shifting to the cloud. Microsoft's partners need to embrace that reality.