Microsoft's hardline stance on who can resell its Surface tablets is softening. According to sources familiar with matters, Microsoft is prepping to dramatically expand the number of resellers that can sell the Surface tablet here in the U.S. and abroad.
ZDNet reported Wednesday that Microsoft has opened up its reseller program in Australia to all resellers. ZDNet reposted a blog from Australian VAR NewLease, which recently attended a Microsoft strategy meeting with VARs.
"It was confirmed that as of today ALL Australian Microsoft resellers will be able to buy Microsoft Surface devices through distribution channels," wrote Stephen Parker, head of Cloud Strategy at NewLease, in a blog post. The NewLease blog has since been taken down.
Closer to home, CRN has learned that Microsoft is working out the details of an invitation-only authorized partner program as part of the next phase of distribution for the Surface product line.
In July, Microsoft announced a two-tier model, called Microsoft Devices Program, for its U.S. commercial Surface channel. Distributors Ingram Micro, Synnex and Tech Data Corporation were only authorized to sell to Surface resellers: CDW, CompuCom Systems, En Pointe Technologies, Insight Enterprises, SHI International, Softchoice, Softmart, PC Connection, PCM and Zones. On Oct. 1, Microsoft announced a global expansion of its Surface enterprise channel partnerships to include 29 markets where the tablet is currently sold in retail.
Thousands of VARs have irked by Microsoft's closed circle of preferred resellers. Bob Nitrio, president of Sacramento, Calif.-based Ranvest Associates, told CRN in September the lack of access to Surface has been "a really big bur under the saddle."
But despite the lockout of the majority U.S. VARs, Microsoft appears to be quietly expanding the number of U.S. resellers ahead of an official announcement.
New York City-based Kraft Kennedy says it has been working closely with Microsoft to promote Surface among its customers. Marcus Bluestein, chief technology officer for the systems integrator, said he has been deploying the Surface tablet to its clients for about a month. Despite the fact Kraft Kennedy isn't part of Microsoft's original 10 large account reseller (LAR) partners authorized to actually sell the devices, Bluestein said he's had direct access to distributor Ingram Micro.
Rob Moyer, vice president of Synnex's Microsoft global business unit, told CRN that he believes Microsoft will soon open up the Surface to more U.S. VARs. "Surface is going to follow the same Office 365 rollout to the channel. They are going to get it right first and then expand the number of resellers," Moyer said. It took over a year for Office 365 to become available to entire channel.
When asked about any expansion of its reseller program Microsoft said in a statement:
"We are taking a measured and phased approach to expanding commercial channel availability for Surface in an effort to provide the best possible experience for our customers. We are exploring future phases of the program and we have nothing further to share at this time. "
Tirthankar Sen, senior analyst, partners and ecosystems with Forrester Research, said Microsoft needs to open up its VAR reseller program soon.
Microsoft's enterprise-direct Surface sales will depend on building an enterprise sales strategy that incorporates direct sales reps, channel partners, application development services, cross-sales -- for example, of Office licenses at a discount -- and world-class, responsive support, said Tirthankar.
"With the rollout of Surface 2 on Oct. 22, now is the time for them to start talking to partners," Tirthankar said.
PUBLISHED OCT. 9, 2013