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How the Microsoft-Red Hat partnership is accelerating partner opportunities

Last week at the Red Hat North America Partner Conference (NAPC), Microsoft and Red Hat celebrated our growing partnership. From running Red Hat Enterprise Linux in Azure to Microsoft .NET apps on Red Hat’s OpenShift, partners were excited about our joint offering and how it can deliver value for their customers.
During the event, Mark Hill, Microsoft VP of Open Source Sales and Marketing, and Mike Ferris, Red Hat Senior Director of Business Architecture, presented a session on “Accelerating partner sales and creating new opportunities” to a standing-room-only crowd.
I had a chance to catch up with Ferris and Hill after their joint presentation to get a behind-the-scenes perspective on the partnership, how it’s been received by customers and partners, and what’s been the most surprising aspect so far.

What was the focus of Red Hat’s North America Partner Conference this year?

Ferris: The focus of NAPC has really been on “being stronger together” with our partners. We have hundreds of North America based partners here. They are very keen to be a part of the transformational journey that their customers are taking towards the hybrid cloud and are focused on working with us to extend the value they deliver through various Red Hat solutions.

Microsoft team sporting their "stronger together" NAPC themed t-shirts

Microsoft team sporting their “stronger together” NAPC themed t-shirts

You just wrapped up a joint presentation here on cloud opportunity—what was the most interesting question from a partner during the session?

Hill: This session was all about starting the dialogue with Red Hat partners about how they can build a business around our joint value proposition to enterprise customers. To me, the most interesting thing was how eager the partners seemed to pick up this business. Their questions were all about “how do I get going?” They wanted training, they wanted to do the certification, they wanted to know how to access the support—they were ready to get in front of the customers!
Ferris: And to extend that, we asked the question, “How many of the Red Hat partners in the room are also Microsoft partners?” And I would say about a quarter of the attendees raised their hands, which illustrated the currently existing depth of this relationship in both our partner ecosystems—and what we can help amplify as part of the emerging relationship between Red Hat and Microsoft.
Hill: These partners were keen to get their two practices [Microsoft and Red Hat] together to build a new revenue stream to address customers who are running both Azure and Red Hat solutions today.

What are you hearing from customers and partners about the Microsoft-Red Hat partnership?

Ferris: There’s been very strong feedback from partners—and by extension, their customers—that they really want to see both companies work together and have Red Hat offerings available on Azure and to find ways to work together across both of our platforms in delivery of the hybrid cloud. This has led to additional projects and discussions beyond Azure to application platforms such as .NET and OpenShift, hybrid management from both Microsoft and Red Hat, and on-premise opportunities for integration. As Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform and Microsoft’s AzureStack get deployed in the market, they are looking for ways that we can better integrate and partner together there as well.

Partnership creates big opportunities. Red Hat NAPC keynote.

Partnership creates big opportunities. Red Hat NAPC keynote.

Hill: I think partners also wanted to see for themselves how deep this relationship was, and being able to stand up in front of a room together and do a joint presentation gives them the level of assurance that this is a serious partnership that can help them. They’re not seeing us being forced to stand on the stage together; they’re seeing a deep discussion, you know, and I think that makes a big difference! I was also very impressed by the keynote addresses by Paul Cormier and Jim Whitehurst. They both spoke about the partnership as well—that certainly gives the Red Hat partners confidence that this is a real partnership and not just a marketing one.
Ferris: Agreed, I think the crux of this really is: how can both companies, together, help partners deliver on the promise of the enterprise hybrid cloud. That’s been a core theme that certainly both Red Hat and Microsoft have been hearing from customers and working together to deliver, and we’re seeing that come to fruition now with this relationship.

What is the most unique component of the partnership?

Hill: Well, without a doubt, the most unique part of this arrangement is the co-located support arrangement we have as part of the partnership. We have Red Hat and Microsoft engineers in the Azure escalation centers on Microsoft’s campus and it’s the only partner we do that with at Microsoft and it’s the only partner that Red Hat does this with. That’s certainly unique.
Ferris: When customers—and their partners—call either company or go online to get resources, we’re able to provide joint resolution at a very, very deep level. From providing customers online access to Red Hat resources the moment that they start consuming resources on Azure to ticketing system integration to ensure continuous information flow, customers can be assured that they and their partners will get the help they need—and the information they need—in a very consistent manner.
One of the core asks that we have seen from the Red Hat customer base is: additional platforms that are trusted destinations for their current enterprise Linux workloads, as well as a platform for future growth into next-generation cloud applications. Certainly, customers’ existing relationships with Microsoft and Red Hat amplified by the relationship between both companies really gives customers a great foundation for achieving their current and next-generation goals.

Has anything surprised you about Microsoft and Red Hat working together?

Ferris: One of the biggest surprises in working with Microsoft is how much affinity they have to work closely on business opportunities. Over the past 16 years that I’ve been at Red Hat, we have had previous interactions out of necessity or convenience for customers. But when we started the recent [partnership] discussions, it was very clear to us that they cared as much as we did about delivering customer value in a meaningful way; it seems really core to their whole mission.
In addition, I would also say that what’s surprising to most of the Red Hat folks is how much Microsoft’s open source positions internally and most importantly, their engagement with open source community has really changed. We’ve also seen a sea change in how Microsoft values open source in the enterprise and how willing they are to engage across the entire organization to ensure success of both Microsoft and the open source community. And that’s very important for Red Hat and our responsibilities back to the [open source] community.
Hill: I would say what surprised me most—although I was expecting it at some level—was how valuable it is to have Red Hat support for Azure in a customer that’s a big Red Hat user. Customers really like the support they get from Red Hat, and having that nod of approval from Red Hat really helps Microsoft when we are talking to the customer about their Red Hat base.

What’s next for Microsoft-Red Hat collaboration?

Ferris: Well, as we continue to educate customers, partners, and our own teams about the relationship, we’re now entering a phase where we are building a more integrated go-to-market strategy including joint engagements by Microsoft and Red Hat teams around the world to meet specific customer needs and demands.
Hill: And that will absolutely include a focus on partners of both companies. As we take these go-to-market endeavors and start to talk about additional offerings, we’re looking at ways of engaging more deeply with the partners for both companies.
Ferris: And aiding those partners and helping them engage with customers to deliver that value. It’s a long-term commitment by Red Hat and Microsoft to enable more partners on more solutions as part of our joint roadmap.
Learn more about the Microsoft-Red Hat partnership at one of our joint “Journey to the Intelligent Cloud” events in April and May. You can give Red Hat on Azure a try for free today.