The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC 2011) doesn't start until July 11 in Los Angeles, but the software giant is already putting some key pieces in place to bolster Microsoft Partner Network channel communications. A prime example: Microsoft Channel Chief Jon Roskill's team now includes Senior Communications Manager Adam Carroll, who previously helped Microsoft to build its SQL Server and SharePoint businesses in the U.S. and Europe. So, what's on Carroll's agenda for channel partners? Here are some quick clues...

The VAR Guy is under a gag order (cough, cough) on a few items. But it's safe to say Microsoft will spend the next few weeks and months more clearly articulating the value of its partner program. The idea is to set the table for WPC in July -- rather than depending on that one-week conference to serve up Microsoft's entire channel story.

Carroll shifted from his previous SQL Server and SharePoint product focus to channel communications in November. But he's known Roskill for more than a decade. In fact, it sounds like Roskill hired Carroll right out of college. "I'm in a new role but I'm not new to Jon," quipped Carroll during a lunch meeting earlier today in New York.

Light Meal, Long Discussion

Today's lunch discussion between Microsoft and The VAR Guy lasted more than an hour... but nobody found time to eat. Carroll could be a valuable addition to the channel team, The VAR Guy believes, because he has hands-on experience with some of Microsoft's most lucrative products for partners. Carroll previously helped Microsoft to launch and build the SQL Server business, organizing competitive moves against Oracle and other entrenched database rivals. His SQL Server experience includes positions in New York and London, where he helped to build SQL Server sales in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa).  More recently he focused on Microsoft's successful SharePoint 2010 launch.

Last The VAR Guy heard, SharePoint has been generating more than $1 billion in annual sales for Microsoft, and the vast majority of those sales involve channel partners. That's certainly impressive but Carroll and the rest of the Microsoft Partner Network channel team have their hands full with numerous initiatives. There's the rumored launch of Office 365 -- the cloud successor to Business Productivity Online Suite -- on our around July 1, 2011. And yes, some partners continue to request the ability to directly bill end customers for Microsoft's cloud services.

But perhaps Carroll's biggest challenge involves shifting or expanding the media spotlight from some weak Microsoft areas (i.e., tablet computing and smart phones) to some potentially lucrative partner areas, such as Hyper-V virtualization, SQL Azure and Windows Azure. Carroll must also balance all the cloud hype with on-premise realities -- meaning that the majority of Microsoft's partner engagements will continue to involve on-premise servers, desktops, laptops and emerging devices.

Carroll and The VAR Guy don't see eye to eye on one or two items. But that's what makes the world go 'round -- and keeps blogs interesting. The VAR Guy took plenty of notes during the conversation. Refreshingly, so did Carroll and a Microsoft spokeswoman who attended the meeting. Translation: Even as Microsoft talks about its partner commitment, the software company seems to be doing a lot of listening these days. And that's refreshing.

That's all for now.... until The VAR Guy manages to shake off that (cough, cough) gag order. Stay tuned.

Sign up for The VAR Guy’s Weekly Newsletter, Webcasts and Resource Center. Follow The VAR Guy via RSS, Facebook and Twitter. Follow experts at VARtweet. Read The VAR Guy’s editorial disclosures here.