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It is a wrap on Microsoft’s annual partner shindig for another year.  Microsoft’s WPC in Toronto was a huge success, even without a good majority of the managed services provider community not in attendance.  This was my first WPC since retiring from active service with IT Matters and Bulletproof Infotech in 2009.

WPC was a must attend for me.  Microsoft was and continues even to this day to be the largest strategic partner all managed services providers have.  Almost every client computer runs a Microsoft product, even my Apple Macbook Air uses Microsoft Office.  I just couldn’t imagine using anything else.

Microsoft WPC lived up to its usual hype for partners, jazzing them up for the upcoming fiscal year.  Microsoft’s fiscal year started on July 1, 2012, and WPC is the first big event every year.  WPC is where managed services providers can get an immediate advantage over the competition, get the inside scoop on what is coming down the pipe and talk it over with many of the executives and channel leaders at Microsoft.

Steve Combs, president of Houston’s IS Support, summed it up as “priceless; meeting the one person responsible for Microsoft’s efforts in our largest vertical market just paid for the entire week in Toronto”.

WPC was not short of new announcements, helping partners to better position themselves in the market.  The biggest announcement in the eyes of my MSPs is the ability for partners to now provide Office365 to their clients without the client having to deal with Microsoft directly.  Coming sometime this fiscal year, it is welcomed across the IT community.

“I can’t wait to bundle this into our managed services offering,” said Evident IT president Roger Miranda.

There are many other smaller announcements and great things for partners to leverage with Microsoft.  BJ Farmer, who provides cloud solutions for businesses in Houston, Texas is very excited about the upcoming Windows Server 2012 launch.

“Windows Server 2012 is the coolest thing in years – 4 years to be specific,” Farmer said.  “Buying Windows Server 2012 as part of the Core Infrastructure Suite will have a 19% savings for our clients and includes System Center.”  These are the eye-opening experiences that partners have at WPC that make it worthwhile for many to attend and get down and dirty with those who can make a difference in the MSP business.

The cloud was the centerpiece for Microsoft.  Even after WPC was concluded, Microsoft announced the customer preview of Office 2013, the next generation of the highly profitable Office suite (This article is being written on Windows 8 and Word 2013. So far, this author is impressed).  Microsoft Office 2013 is also getting a cloud overhaul, available as a subscription service. Microsoft hopes to tie this in with Office 365 and Skydrive services as the company continues its push to the cloud.

“Microsoft is growing the number of cloud partners by 10% per month – which is about 1,000 partners,” Farmer said.

Farmer’s organization CITOC, which won the South Central Area partner of the year award, has been continuously moving clients to the cloud for the past several years and operates an around-the-clock outsourced help desk to support all cloud clients.

“There are still areas of concern with this cloud push in the partner community.  There is a need for guidance for how customers with low speed (DSL/Cable) can embrace the Office 365 solution and how to evaluate and build out their on-premises technology to maximize their productivity with this new technology,” said Genito Isabella from Toronto’s CAT-TEC, which provides small business IT services throughout the GTA.

Overall, those Microsoft-focused MSPs in attendance were pumped about the upcoming year with Microsoft.  There is a tonne of innovation coming with Windows 8, Windows Phone, Office 2013, Windows Server and many other solutions.

Combs concluded “Overall, I would say MS has caught up.  They still have a big hill to climb, but they have the tools to get to the top.”

Only time will tell if the partner community is ready to tag along or be forced to change with them kicking and screaming.