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Microsoft unveils Surface channel strategy with Microsoft Devices Program

Microsoft rolls out a distribution and reseller program, the Microsoft Devices Program, for the Surface Pro and Surface RT tablets.

One week ahead of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, Microsoft today officially launched the Microsoft Devices Program, a two-tier program that allows authorized Microsoft distributors as well as a newly designated group of device authorized commercial resellers to sell its Surface Pro and Surface RT tablet. A new commercial app partnership program was also announced.

Ingram Micro Inc., Synnex Corp. and Tech Data Corp. are the first distributors brought onboard with the Microsoft Devices Program.

The first crop of qualified device authorized commercial resellers are CDW, CompuCom Systems Inc., En Pointe Technologies, Insight Enterprises Inc., PC Connection Inc., PCM Inc., Softchoice, Softmart, SHI International Corp. and Zones Inc.

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According to Jenni Flinders, vice president in the U.S. partner group at Microsoft, the first 10 qualified device authorized commercial resellers were selected after undergoing a rigorous selection process that mapped in-house service, support and sales capabilities to what customers would need.

Expect to see additional partners brought into the Microsoft Devices Program in the upcoming months.

Today’s announcement was not unexpected as Microsoft strives to get on the radar of corporate customers as a mobile solution option for their employees.

“Very large direct market resellers are a natural choice to drive volume into the market,” said Tiffani Bova, vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner’s Sales, Strategies & Channel group.

The name of the game for partners is to wrap additional services such as asset tagging, custom imaging, kitting, onsite service and support, device recycling and data protection around Surface product sales to provide a more robust transaction for their business customers as well as to boost their own earnings.

Microsoft would not comment on margins that partners could expect to earn on Surface channel sales.

Reggie Wass, vice president at PenBay Computer Systems Inc. in Hampden, Maine, said that the mobile device of choice for his SMB customers is Apple’s iPad.

“Surface is irrelevant to us at this point, and I wonder if Microsoft is a little late coming to the dance,” he said. PenBay customers include professional services, healthcare, credit unions and insurance companies. Wass said that his customers use the iPad to have Exchange Mail at their fingertips or as a second device while at work or for remote access.

Wass doesn’t resell the iPad. His customers purchase them independently and he helps get them up and running. At this point, Surface is a nonentity with his customers, he said.

Now that Microsoft is offering the Surface RT through the partner channel, it will extend, beginning on July 15, a previously announced one-time $199 offer for the Surface RT to qualifying education institutions.

AppsForSurface is the new ISV or commercial app partnership program from Microsoft, which wants to beef up the number of key enterprise apps for Surface and Windows 8 users.

“The ISV developer program is an absolute necessity to help customers use Surface tablets in a more comprehensive way in a business environment,” said Bova.

The Redmond vendor referred to today’s announcement as the first phase of its expansion of Surface into the business channel with the launch of additional reseller programs in other countries.

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