Microsoft channel partners attend the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference every year with the expectation they’ll hear a lot about new products. And with a lot of hoopla around the recently announced Surface tablet and the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, last week’s WPC was no different.
But where individual products were the predominant topics of conversation at WPCs in the past, this year I heard – from both Microsoft executives and solution providers – a lot of discussion about how Microsoft’s products are integrated as never before. The buzz this year wasn’t about just any one product, it was about the Microsoft stack.
Other IT vendors have been touting their technology stacks, their end-to-end, tightly integrated product lines, for years. Oracle has been the most notable example in recent years, particularly since its January, 2010 acquisition of Sun Microsystems, promoting its “engineered systems” like the Oracle Exadata Database Machine as a single IT stack from the hardware, up through the database and middleware, to the applications.
“Stack,” however, isn’t a term I can say I’ve heard associated with Microsoft very often. Microsoft has often felt more like a vendor with a collection of products, from its flagship desktop Windows and Office productivity applications, to data center software like the SQL Server database and Exchange Server, to ERP applications like Dynamics GP. Sure, many of those products work together – one of Microsoft’s most successful products ever has been SharePoint, whose core mission is to serve as a central integration point for other Microsoft technologies.
And yet at times even SharePoint has felt like a separate product, marketed for its individual capabilities rather than for how it fits into the bigger Microsoft picture.
This year partners at WPC were clearly as jazzed about the potential to use multiple Microsoft products to create more complete IT solutions as they were about individual products like Windows 8.
One example: Windows 8 will run on desktop, laptop and tablet computers and Windows Phone 8 is being developed on the same core technology. That will allow applications running on all sorts of devices to share workloads and processes.
“The idea of having a common OS across desktop, tablets and phones is compelling from an application development standpoint,” said Sheldon Fernandez, CTO at Toronto-based Infusion, a Microsoft partner. He also described the links Microsoft is building between Windows 8 and its cloud technologies as “a game changer.”
The cloud, in fact, is a core element in Microsoft’s “stack” strategy. While early efforts with Windows Azure, the vendor’s cloud platform, and other cloud-related products somehow seemed separate from the rest of planet Microsoft, partners now get the Microsoft vision that most customers will adopt a hybrid approach to cloud with connections between Windows in the data center and Windows Azure.
And a number of partners at the conference talked about the opportunities to manage private, public and hybrid cloud systems with the new Systems Center 2012 – the first time I can recall Microsoft’s systems management products being a hot topic at a WPC.
One thing I learned during a visit to Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters in April was that after the Windows Vista debacle CEO Steve Ballmer decided he needed to oversee Microsoft’s product development efforts more closely.
Ballmer has come under a lot of criticism for supposedly failing to provide Microsoft with the leadership needed to keep up in new technology areas such as mobile devices and cloud computing. Perhaps there’s vision there after all and we’re now seeing the fruits of Ballmer’s more direct involvement with the company’s product development.
And not just with individual products like Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, but with this whole Microsoft stack I keep hearing about.