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Cloud Move Was 'Scary,' Ballmer Tells WPC Attendees

The 2011 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference kicked off today with a talk by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who recounted his concerns that partners might not have stayed as the company gravitated to the Internet cloud.

"Last year's WPC was, for me, scary," Ballmer explained on Monday morning during his keynote address at the conference, which runs through Thursday. Ballmer confessed to being very afraid at the 2010 WPC, which is when the company asserted its "all in" commitment to the cloud with partners.

He described the year-by-year process of telegraphing to Microsoft's community of roughly 640,000 partners how the company was approaching first Software as a Service and later cloud computing, even as the industry and Microsoft's strategy evolved.

He summed it up the changes, saying that five years ago Microsoft "mentioned" the cloud. Four years ago the company talked about the transition. Three years ago it provided some details and two years ago it provided a little more. However, in 2010, company executives said Microsoft was "all in."

Ballmer effectively admitted that he had worried that he'd be standing at the front of a cloud parade that partners wouldn't line up behind. Microsoft's top executive told attendees at the L.A. Staples Center that he was "relieved" that partners came with him, pointing to the record attendance of 15,000 people at the WPC as evidence of partners' interests in, and support of, Microsoft's cloud strategy.

On top of that comment, Ballmer noted that partners are "independent business people who are coming to work every day cheering for us but also" considering alternatives. "So, you're always pushing us, pushing us, pushing us," Ballmer added.

For partners that commit to Office 365, which is Microsoft's cloud-based suite of applications launched last month, Ballmer vowed that Microsoft could beat Google and any other cloud competitor. With every deal that Microsoft engages in with its Business Productivity Online Suite/Office 365 offerings, the company wins, he contended.

Most of Ballmer's talk on Monday centered on cloud infrastructure solutions, such as the Windows Azure platform and the private cloud.

Reviewing the last 12 months since WPC 2010, Ballmer said, "A couple of big things have happened." Then he went on to list Windows Server's 75 percent market share for new servers and SQL Server's 40 percent market share for new databases.

In the rest of the speech, Ballmer and other executives made some small-bore announcements, including the availability of a July public beta of Windows Intune, a promise that more would be revealed about Windows 8 at the Build show in September, the holiday availability of voice command and Bing integration with Xbox, and that Windows Phone 7 had reached the milestone of 20,000 apps.

However, it was on the topic of Windows Phone that Ballmer got his biggest audience reaction.

"Phone: We've gone from very small to very small, but it's been a heck of a year," Ballmer joked, to big laughs.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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