Microsoft will start offering customers free migration services in September when they switch from on-premise software to its Office 365 suite of cloud apps – a service many partners currently charge for.
The changes, which are designed to significantly accelerate uptake of Microsoft's cloud suite, could impact Microsoft partners who've built thriving businesses around providing email migration.
However, Microsoft has said it is all part of a plan to steer partners away from the low-value end of migrations and toward higher-value offerings.
The changes are part of Office 365 FastTrack, a program that aims to give customers a quick way of signing up and using its cloud apps.
Microsoft shared some details about a coming program update last week at its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) at a session that, according to our North American sister title, CRN US, was scheduled for one hour but ended up taking more than two and half hours, with some partners apparently vocal in their frustration.
Sources familiar with Microsoft's plans told CRN US that the company is hiring between 250 and 600 new engineers to provide "on-boarding" services for Office 365, which cover basic tasks involved in switching customers from on-premise to cloud apps, such as Active Directory integration, cloud services activation and provisioning users.
Microsoft is planning to use this engineering team to provide free, basic Office 365 migration services to customers on deals of 150 seats or more.
Tanuj Bansal, Microsoft's director of partner and channel Office marketing, confirmed the new engineering hires in an interview with CRN US on Monday, but declined to provide a specific number. These are engineers and not consultants, he said.
The engineers will work closely with partners and customers around the world to provide Office 365 on-boarding services, Bansal said.
"Microsoft is providing tools and guidance, and we're automating consistent, repeatable tasks," Bansal told CRN. "We're like a pro-active support centre, working with partners and their customers on-site for things that can be automated."
If a customer isn't already working with a partner, Microsoft will try to connect them with one, Bansal said.
Phil Goldie, director of partner business & development at Microsoft Australia, told CRN Australia that FastTrack was limited to the basic steps of onboarding and stock-standard email migration – and nothing more.
He said Microsoft would provide "a current state assessment, making sure the DNS settings are correct, provisioning the users, looking at how to integrate with the identity option the customer is using, and the email flow – making sure incoming email is coming into the service. If you think about the total lifecycle of getting value from Office 365, that is a small set of steps."
However, Goldie conceded that Microsoft could experience partner push-back when it moved into areas traditionally the domain its resellers, saying that partners had been uneasy when Microsoft first launched Business Productivity Suite (BPOS - the precursor to Office 365) three or four years ago.
"But if you look now, we have proven that partners who made that move with us are growing their revenue faster than traditional partners and making more profit that traditional partners," said Goldie.
"I think partners should take a look at this with an open mind. The simple early stages of onboarding represent the lowest profit points for partners. We want to work with local partners around the high-value services," said Goldie.
Once onboarding services are completed, customers have two options: for basic mailbox migration, Microsoft will offer it free of charge; as soon as the requirement gets more complex, the lead will be handed to a partner to provide the migration work, with funding from Microsoft.
In the former scenario, a cookie-cutter email migration will be provided by Microsoft's onboarding centre. "It is the same standard process and procured for all migration, done on a 24/5 set schedule – Monday to Friday – 'single forest' and platform migration for mailboxes only," said Goldie.
For the latter scenario, when the customer is asking for a more complex migration, Microsoft will pay partners $15 per seat for up to 1,000 seats, and then $5 per seat after that, with a limit of $60,000 per customer.
NEXT: What partners think