Microsoft's top U.S. channel partners have moved more than 1,000 customers to cloud computing and BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), MSPmentor has learned. The 1,000-customer milestone arrives at a critical time for cloud computing and the Microsoft Partner Network channel program. Here's why.

As Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference approaches in July 2011, it's safe to expect Microsoft to aggressively ramp up its messaging to channel partners. One of the key challenges: When Microsoft announces big cloud computing wins, the news typically involves direct sales to global 2000 companies. Another challenge: Microsoft doesn't allow channel partners to manage end-customer cloud billing, a stance that has alienated some partners.

Even so, Microsoft's cloud partner strategy has its share of defenders and supporters within the IT channel. Look around hard enough and you'll discover Microsoft maintains a list of its top 10 U.S. cloud computing channel partners focused on BPOS, which includes Exchange Online and SharePoint Online.

On the one hand, the list includes potential channel rivals like CDW and Dell. But on the other hand, the top 10 list includes its share of channel upstarts and managed services providers (MSPs). Each partner on the list has migrated anywhere from 65 customers to 390 customers to Microsoft's SaaS applications. Total BPOS migrations for the 10 channel partners now represent a combined 1,040 end customers, MSPmentor estimates. And sources say some of the channel wins involve global 2000 engagements.

Whether you embrace or reject Microsoft's cloud strategy one thing is clear: MSPs can't afford to ignore the growing cloud computing wave, which will surely grow larger as Microsoft prepares to launch Office 365 -- the forthcoming successor to BPOS.

Still, Microsoft will be careful to balance its cloud computing and on-premise messaging over the next few months. Although SaaS and cloud opportunities are growing fast, Microsoft will be sure to reinforce its on-premise efforts as WPC approaches in July, MSPmentor believes.

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