In my recent post, I discussed how software distributors and vendors are still going to be have a place in Microsoft’s inexorable move toward a Windows Azure dominated market.  However, how does one currently go about finding the right purveyors to provide the training, support, and scalability for both cloud-based and enterprise-class initiatives? Perhaps the hands down resource for locating independent software vendors (ISVs), system integrators (SIs), and value-added resellers (VARs) and apps, all in one place, is Microsoft Pinpoint. Pinpoint is an online directory, made up of mostly Microsoft Certified Partner companies, for listing Microsoft technology professional services and certified/non-certified shared-source and paid applications.

Getting your search started with Microsoft Pinpoint is a fairly intuitive experience. Simply browse by category under the landing page, and navigate to the Cloud Computing and/or Servers, Hosting, Network items below the Business Need, to find a multitude of companies who can help with anything from a simple Web Role deployment, to something more complex; like migrating an on-premise Windows Server to a VM Role.

When evaluating company pages under Pinpoint, one might find it useful to first hit the Apps + Services tab, as this is probably the best place to get a understanding for a company’s specialization, or the scope of the company’s experience with Windows Azure and cloud-related products (i.e., Dynamics CRM, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, etc.). If being in close proximity to your vendor is a must, take notice of the company page Location tab, as well as Pinpoint’s various location search features, as with its Location search tool found under the Refine Results left navigation bar (seen after initially searching for a category), and Bing Maps tool.

If competency is a concern, you can browse Pinpoint by its Cloud Accelerate and/or Cloud Essentials competencies, to review only those Microsoft Partner Network companies who have a proven track record, or have at least shown a deep commitment to Microsoft’s new cloud technology. Microsoft Cloud Accelerate and Cloud Essentials companies are, generally speaking, one and the same. From a consumer’s perspective, they both concern companies who have been given free licenses for pre-sale use of various Microsoft cloud products. Although Cloud Accelerate companies can offer more added-benefits, depending on your organization’s individualized need, both types of partners can be highly useful assets when simply venturing into the prospect of using a service like Azure, or wish to trial a company, before pledging any cash to a serious undertaking.

As mentioned, aside from profiling ISV and SI companies, Pinpoint also hosts applications. Although there aren’t too many apps listed for use with Windows Azure just yet, most applications can be either demoed or trialed before purchasing. Furthermore, certain apps are guaranteed/backed by Microsoft as “Certified” (notice blue label within application results page listing below).

Figure A

However, this type of certification is generally limited to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and has yet to be extended, at all, to Windows Azure.  Therefore, using Microsoft’s Product Marketplaces, such as with the Windows Azure, Microsoft Dynamics, and Office365 Marketplaces, might serve as better resources, when looking to manage a solution in-house.