The VAR Guy has completed his time at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2011 (WPC11) in Los Angeles. So what did our resident blogger learn? Plenty. Here are 28 things The VAR Guy heard, saw and learned during Microsoft WPC11.

That facts, figures and guestimates below are based on keynotes from CEO Steve Ballmer, COO Kevin Turner, Channel Chief Jon Roskill, plus interviews with Roskill and other Microsoft executives. Here's the recap:

1. Dynamics CRM and ERP: Microsoft's Dynamics CRM business has generated a 20 percent compound annual growth rate over the past 10 years, according to CEO Steve Ballmer. Dynamics CRM also has an online version and it will gradually meld more closely with Office 365. Meanwhile, multiple Microsoft executives mentioned that Dynamics ERP will be available for the cloud... can't recall if the target date is 2011 or 2012.

Dynamics CRM and ERP are "the stickiest workloads" that keep customers engaged with Microsoft partners, because you can't run the applications without Windows Server and SQL Server, and customers often use Excel for business intelligence reporting, according to Channel Chief Jon Roskill.

2. Lync: Microsoft's unified communications platform is the company's next $1 billion business, according to multiple Microsoft executives. Microsoft is targeting 10 million legacy Cisco VoIP lines for Lync deployment.

3. Xbox Annoyance: Ballmer spent too much time, in The VAR Guy's opinion, talking about Xbox voice recognition during his keynote. Overall Ballmer's keynote was hit and miss, according to our resident blogger. Microsoft's WPC keynotes should only include business solutions that drive partner profits. Xbox doesn't make that cut.

4. Cloud Payments: Microsoft previously cloud revenues on a quarterly basis to cloud partners. The company is now shifting to a monthly payment basis -- ensuring partners get paid in a more timely fashion for their cloud wins.

5. Cloud Billing Policy: Microsoft still won't let channel partners manage end-customer cloud billing. That's not an issue for most partners, The VAR Guy believes. But some very vocal MSPs remain upset because (A) the MSPs have already mastered recurring revenue models and (B) they want to offer end-customers one, simple, integrated monthly invoice controlled by the MSP.

6. On Message: Microsoft COO Kevin Turner spent time in his keynote attacking Cisco, Oracle Siebel and Google Apps, ultimately comparing Google Apps to Pong and Office 365 to Xbox. Overall, Turner nailed his keynote. But please: No more Xbox analogies.

7. Event Expert: Microsoft Channel Chief Jon Roskill used to run Microsoft's presence at Comdex and other major trade shows. Generally speaking, the pacing and logistics at WPC11 were excellent.

8. First-year Milestones: Having completed his first year as channel chief, Roskill offered the following recap to The VAR Guy:
  • When Roskill stepped into the channel chief role the company did not need additional channel strategy. Instead, his first year as channel chief had to be about a solid liftoff for the new Microsoft Partner Network, which went live around October 31, 2010.
  • By January 2011, Roskill and his team were completing a mid-year review. There were some "white-knuckle" times in February and March because that was a major re-enrollment period for Microsoft partners. The early numbers looked like enrollments were running two weeks behind normal pacing, but the end result was strong and met Microsoft's expectations, Roskill indicated.
  • Roskill said Microsoft finished the fiscal year strong because channel incentive programs were successful.
  • Roskill doesn't have major concerns about Microsoft's product line. "The product line is there," said Roskill.
9. The Windows XP Countdown: There are roughly 1,000 days to go before Microsoft ends support for Windows XP. Microsoft wants partners to promote Windows 7 now while preparing for Windows 8 and its tile/touch interface.

10. Windows Intune: The next Windows Intune release has reached public beta. It's a cloud-based remote PC management tool for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems. It includes support for electronic software distribution and other enhancements. Generally speaking, MSPs seem underwhelmed by Windows Intune because it remains so Windows-centric and is gaining features that RMM (remote monitoring and management) software suppliers have offered for several years. Still, The VAR Guy is keeping an open mind. Microsoft says more than 10,ooo partners (individual people, that is) are trained on Windows Intune. f you're a channel partner betting on Windows Intune... The VAR Guy welcomes your feedback.

11. More Free Stuff: Microsoft has been raising its "internal use rights" limits, freeing up channel partners to use more and more free software from Microsoft.

12. More Experts: Microsoft has launched a new Communications competency for Lync partners. There's also a Messaging competency for Exchange partners. Microsoft had previously promoted a Unified Communications competency that combined Lync and Exchange expertise.

13. Lync In the Cloud: Yes, Lync is part of Office 365. But it's not yet a full cloud PBX. That capability is still under development.

14. Lync Going Mobile: Microsoft is developing Lync apps for smartphones including Windows 7, iPhone and Android and Nokia devices. RIM is building its own Lync clients.

15. The Ghost of Bill Gates: During meetings, the Lync team mentioned Bill Gates' name multiple times to The VAR Guy -- stating that software-powered Unified Communications was Bill Gates' vision. True confession: The VAR Guy misses Bill Gates' vision.

16. Sounds Familiar: Still on the Lync topic, it sounds like Lync is Microsoft SharePoint all over again. SharePoint eventually became a $1 billion+ platform that gained third-party applications. Lync will do the same. Microsoft claims Lync is the "first and only product on the market that integrates real-time communications, instant messaging, presence, collaboration, online meeting, audio, video and webconferencing in one package. Oh my.

17. True Champs?: Microsoft honored members of its VAR Champions Club and the Cloud Champions Club. The VAR Champions Club represents the top 5 percent of Microsoft's US partners.

18. Checking the Numbers: Microsoft says the company has more than 40,000 cloud partners, up from 16,000 partners last year. However: How many of those partners have 10 or more cloud customers with 500 or more cloud seats? The VAR Guy suspects only a few thousand partners can meet those metrics.

19. Ranger Events: Microsoft continues to host regional Ranger events on a quarterly basis. Each multi-day event attracts about 40 to 50 attendees who want to master Hyper-V, CRM Online and other emerging Microsoft technologies. It sounds like 15,000 people or so have attended such events. The VAR Guy hopes to attend such an event. The certainly do sound educational.

20. Office 365 Interest: More than 50,000 organizations have signed up to experience Office 365 since the cloud suite launched on June 28. But re-read that last sentence carefully.
  • How many of those organizations actually run one or more Office 365 applications? And how many combined seats do the deployments represent? The VAR Guy has no idea.
  • How many of those 50,000 interested organizations will work through a Microsoft partner?
21. Come Together: In Q4 of this calendar year, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Office 365 will start to be available as a single cloud platform, giving customers a single bill and a single sign-up approach for all of those cloud applications.

22. Cloud Phone Support: Office 365 is available in multiple versions -- K1 and K2, E1 through E4, and P1. Phone support is available for the K and E versions, but the P1 release -- designed for small businesses and professionals -- only includes online support.

23. Reliability: Microsoft claims it completely re-architected the underlying servers to improve reliability of Office 365 compared to its predecessor, called BPOS.

24. Still On BPOS?: One Microsoft manager told The VAR Guy that the current Windows Intune production release continues to run on the older BPOS platform.

25. Office 365 Service Provider Partner Program: Big service providers can combine Office 365 with their own bundles to offer end-to-end solutions. It's part of the so-called Office 365 syndication strategy, which frequently leverages software from Parallels.

26. Reality Check: A few Microsoft managers think the media spends too much time pitting Microsoft against Google. In some ways Microsoft is absolutely right. The media should spend more time looking at Microsoft's cloud strategy in its entirety, rather than going for the quick-hit Office 365 vs. Google Apps headline. Still, Microsoft sometimes plays into the headline game. COO Kevin Turner earlier today took plenty of shots at Google while discussing Office 365.

27. Virtualization: The VAR Guy didn't hear much about Hyper-V during the conference -- at least not compared to Dynamics CRM, Office 365 and Lync. One Microsoft manager said Hyper-V has experienced 40 percent growth over the past 12 or 18 months. That sounds impressive. But is it? Hyper-V, after all, is starting from a relatively small user base compared to VMware.

28. Bottom Line: Overall, Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2011 (WPC11) proves that Microsoft still...
  • Maintains momentum in a number of traditional markets, such as Office.
  • Knows how to build a new $1 billion business, such as Lync.
  • Has close relationships with thousands of channel partners.
  • Is being under-estimated in the business applications markets (Dynamics)
  • Needs more executives to manage upward -- pushing Ballmer to stay on message with partners during keynotes, rather than wandering off into Xbox land.
  • Faces steep uphill battles in the smartphone and tablet markets.
That's all for now. A long flight home awaits The VAR Guy. On July 14, The VAR Guy will be sleeping in his own bed for the first time in three weeks.

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