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Gavriella Schuster, vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group.
Gavriella Schuster, vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group. (Microsoft photo)

Microsoft turned to legal issues, the environment and the nuts-and-bolts of selling its wares today as several execs addressed a crowd of partners — among them, independent software vendors and resellers — gathered for the third of five days at the annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. But much of the discussion and exhortations centered on the cloud.

“Microsoft chose to embrace change, and our partners who have embraced the cloud have seen the payoff,” said Gavriella Schuster, vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group. “The cloud is the new normal. Those of you with more than half your revenue from the cloud are earning $5.87 for every dollar of Microsoft services you sell. That’s 40 percent higher than your peers not invested in the cloud. You have higher gross profit and more gross revenue. That’s a business you want to be in. So what are you doing to seize this opportunity?”

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer. (Microsoft Photo)
Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer. (Microsoft Photo)

Selling enterprise technology — even technology as hot as the cloud — relies heavily on efforts from both a firm’s own sales force and its partners. Throughout the conference, Microsoft executives including CEO Satya Nadella have repeatedly stressed how essential partners are to the company’s well-being as it strives to sell its Azure cloud offering, now a distant second behind Amazon Web Services.

“We depend on you. We are deeply invested in you. And it shows,” Schuster said. “Partners doing business with Microsoft are 19 percent more profitable than those working with our nearest cloud competitor, because we’re partner-led.”

To help the best-trained partners distinguish themselves when competing for customers, Microsoft will now permit the use of its logo only to its “gold” partners, she said. She committed to reworking, by year-end, a system that delivers partners more than 1 million referrals a year, promising that they will need to upload their credentials and marketing materials only once to have them appear on Microsoft’s multiple web pages.

Though the cloud market will top $500 billion by 2020, according to Gartner and IDC, only 10 percent of companies today believe they have achieved optimum levels of cloud maturity, Schuster said. That’s a lot of room for growth, in which partners can share, she said.

But the cloud still faces concerns, among them security. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s chief legal officer, detailed litigation the company has brought to ensure the U.S. government can’t reach customers’ emails stored overseas and to fight government secrecy orders that have no time limits. “People want confidence that the rights and protections they had when information was on paper will persist,” Smith said.

One downside of the cloud is the vast amount of power its servers consume and the concomitant pollution. Microsoft’s data centers alone consumer more power than a small U.S. state, Smith said. Currently, 44 percent of the power Microsoft uses is generated by wind, solar or hydro. Within two years, that figure will rise to above 50 percent, he said, and the percentage will increase each year until it reaches 100 percent, he pledged.

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