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Top-performing managed service providers (MSPs) with expertise in providing Azure cloud services can take their business to the next level by applying for Microsoft Azure Expert MSP certification. The program aims to make the most relevant and capable MSPs discoverable to customers. As of writing, there are only 127 Azure Expert MSPs worldwide. Microsoft promotes these trusted advisors to offer customers repeatable, highly automated solutions to support hyper-scale cloud implementations. 

Achieving Azure Expert MSP status is a valuable investment for MSPs who want to differentiate themselves from competitors and make it to the top list of Microsoft referral engine. This article explains the Azure Expert MSP program qualification criteria, application process, and benefits. It also suggests best practices for partners to achieve the certification.

Summary of the Azure Expert MSP program

Azure Expert MSP programDescription 
Purpose Differentiate MSPs who have passed a rigorous audit of their IT service management and demonstrated exceptional Azure expertise.
Benefits for MSPsAccess to Azure engineering teams and subject matter experts for priority support, customized solutions, and technical training.High visibility and recognition from Microsoft, creating new revenue opportunities.
Core prerequisites Solutions Partner designations forData & AI, Digital & App Innovation, and Infrastructure categories.Active CSP contract Existing Advanced Support for Partners or Premier Support for Partners contractListed MSP offer in AppSource or Azure Marketplace and promoted on MSPs websites.Four customer references, including one public reference with a published case study. 
Staffing prerequisites15 FTEs, who each have completed one of the qualifying exams below:Azure Administrator AssociateAzure Developer AssociateAzure Solutions Architect Expert Microsoft Azure Data Engineer Associate
Business prerequisitesDrive at least USD 350,000 of Azure consumed monthly revenue from customer engagement
Realistic timelineAllow 6 to 12 months to complete the application and meet program requirements. 

Program benefits

Azure Expert MSP program helps MSPs gain customer trust and expand their customer base with minimum effort. We give detailed benefits below.

Increased visibility

Azure Expert MSPs are listed in the Azure Marketplace and Azure portal, which provides increased visibility to potential customers. In addition, the listing recognizes their expertise in delivering managed services on Azure and helps to attract and retain more clients.

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Access to resources

Accredited MSPs gain access to exclusive resources and tools, such as technical training, marketing materials, and technical support. You get automatic invites to exclusive events and an opportunity to participate in monthly calls with Azure Engineering.

Improved service delivery

Due to resource access privileges, you can help customers get up and running on Azure sooner. You also get an opportunity to innovate and optimize customer use of Azure due to inside access to cutting-edge services and features. As a result, customers realize the benefits of Azure more rapidly and efficiently.

Clarifying common misconceptions

We respond to some frequently asked questions clarifying misunderstandings around the Azure Expert MSP program.

Just a marketing program?

Some people believe that the Azure Expert MSP program only benefits Microsoft. However, the program’s primary goal is to help end users identify MSPs with a proven track record of delivering high-quality Azure services. MSPs automatically benefit from increased visibility and customer trust.

Only for large MSPs?

While the program does require participating MSPs to have a certain level of technical expertise and experience with Azure services, it is open to MSPs of all sizes. Any MSP with 15 or more full-time engineers can participate in the program.

Replacing other programs?

Azure Expert MSP is a separate program and is not a replacement for any other existing Microsoft partner program. For example, it will not replace the cloud partner or ISV success programs.

Azure Expert MSP qualification criteria

A managed service provider must meet several prerequisites to qualify for this program.

Azure expertise

You must demonstrate expertise in designing, deploying, and managing Azure solutions. Solutions Partner designation is the Microsoft Cloud partner program that scores partners on performance, skillset, and customer success. You are required to have an active Solutions Partner designation for: 

  • Data & AI
  • Digital & App Innovation
  • Infrastructure.

Current managed services delivery contracts

You must have a proven track record of delivering managed services to customers, including proactive monitoring, management, and optimization of Azure resources. For example, you should have:

  • An active CSP Direct Reseller or Indirect Reseller contract.
  • Advanced Support for Partners or Premier Support for Partners contracts covering Azure.
  • Listed MSP offer in AppSource or Azure Marketplace and promoted on your websites.

Customer references

You should have at least four customer references, including one public reference with a published case study. Customer references must be for recent engagements that showcase the partner’s technical capabilities, customer service, and business acumen.

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Staffing requirements

You should have a minimum of 15 FTEs, who each have completed at least one of the following qualifying exams:

Business requirements

You must have a solid financial position and demonstrate a commitment to their Azure managed services business. In addition, you are expected to drive at least USD 350,000 of Azure consumed monthly revenue from customer engagements.  

Once a partner meets these prerequisites, they can apply to become an Azure Expert MSP. The application process includes a technical assessment, a business review, and a customer reference check. Partners who meet the program’s requirements and pass the assessment process receive the Azure Expert MSP badge and an entry in the Azure Expert MSP directory.

Azure Expert MSP program process

After meeting the prerequisites, MSPs must go through the two steps below to qualify for Azure Expert MSP status. 

#1 Submit the evidence

You must provide evidence of their ability to deliver high-quality Azure services to their customers. This evidence typically includes case studies, customer references, and other documentation demonstrating your expertise and experience with Azure services. Microsoft reviews the customer evidence to verify that you have a strong track record of delivering Azure services to customers.

#2 Pass an audit

Once the evidence review is complete, Microsoft will invite you to participate in an audit. The audit process can take more than 300 hours, requiring expertise from across the business. During this step, Microsoft conducts an in-depth assessment of your technical capabilities, service delivery processes, and customer satisfaction. The audit typically involves MSPs systems and process review, interviews of key personnel, and customer satisfaction data review.  

Below are examples of the knowledge, process, and tooling assessments that MSPs need to present and provide evidence for during the audit phase:

  • Knowledge

During the audit phase, the Azure Expert MSP program evaluates the service provider’s knowledge and capabilities in delivering managed services on the Azure platform. This includes assessing their technical expertise and understanding of Azure services, best practices, and industry standards. In addition, the service provider is expected to have a solid knowledge base in Azure architecture, security, performance optimization, monitoring, and automation.

  • Process

The audit comprehensively evaluates the managed service provider’s processes, methodologies, and operational capabilities. For example, the program evaluates how the provider delivers services, manages customer environments, and performs incident management, change management, and capacity planning. The assessment also focuses on the provider’s ability to meet service-level agreements (SLAs) and ensure high availability and disaster recovery for customer workloads.

  •  Tooling

The audit includes an evaluation of the tooling and technologies partners use to deliver and manage Azure services. This involves examining the provider’s monitoring and alerting systems, security and compliance tooling, automation frameworks, and custom-developed solutions that enhance service delivery capabilities. Using value-added third-party tools, Azure-native services, and integrations with Azure management APIs is encouraged.

In  light of the above, below are some audit questions that MSPs should expect to get asked:   

  1. Can you describe your incident management process and how you handle critical incidents in Azure environments?
  2. What mechanisms do you have in place to ensure compliance with industry regulations and data privacy requirements in Azure?
  3. How do you monitor and optimize the performance of Azure resources for your customers?
  4. Can you explain your approach to disaster recovery and business continuity planning for Azure workloads?
  5. What tools or frameworks do you use to automate provisioning, configuration management, and deployment of Azure resources?
  6. How do you ensure security and access control in Azure environments, including identity and access management?
  7. What measures do you have in place to meet service-level agreements (SLAs) for Azure services, and how do you report on SLA compliance?
  8. How do you stay up to date with the latest Azure features, updates, and best practices?
  9. Can you provide examples of successful Azure deployments and migrations you have performed for your customers?
  10. How do you handle change management and ensure proper communication and coordination with customers during changes in Azure environments?

The audit’s goal is to ensure that MSPs have the necessary technical expertise, operational procedures, and customer satisfaction levels to deliver high-quality Azure services to customers. As we explain later in this article, successfully completing the audit process requires credible tooling partners, and it logistically helps to partner with as few vendors as practical that cover as many areas of functionality as possible.

Keep in mind that the outcome of this audit review is either “pass” or “fail.” Also note that Azure Expert MSPs are re-evaluated annually to meet updated technology standards.  

Timing considerations 

The time it takes for MSPs to achieve Azure Expert MSP certification varies depending on several factors, including their recent experience with Azure services, existing technical capabilities, and resources for meeting program requirements.

The evidence and audit phases take several months to complete. Additionally, you may need to invest time and resources to train and certify their team members and implement new processes and systems to meet program requirements.

Microsoft recommends that MSPs interested in achieving Azure Expert MSP certification allow at least six to 12 months to complete the application process and meet program requirements. 

Best practices to achieve Azure Expert MSP

Before applying for the Azure Expert MSP program, you should assess your current capabilities and identify gaps. This may include reviewing your team’s technical skills, certifications, and service delivery processes. Some more tips from our experts are given below.

Invest in training and certification

Microsoft offers a range of training and certification programs to help partners build their Azure expertise. You should invest in training and certifying your team members to ensure they have the technical skills and knowledge to deliver high-quality Azure services. 

Implement best practices for service delivery

You should implement best practices to ensure you provide high-quality Azure services to your customers. This may include implementing ITIL-based service management processes, using automation tools to streamline service delivery, and implementing strong security and compliance practices.

Build customer references and case studies

High-quality customer feedback and case studies are an integral part of the Azure Expert MSP program process. Collecting customer testimonials should be an integral part of your service delivery processes. You must build customer references and case studies demonstrating your experience and expertise. 

Team with credible vendors

Multi-cloud vendors like CloudBolt provide flexibility, comprehensive solutions, and a more innovative approach to automate cloud operations at scale. MSPs can benefit from CloudBolt’s years of experience integrating with Azure and undertaking projects jointly. Its depth and breadth of supported functionality make CloudBolt a superior partner to complete an Azure expert MSP audit because its platform supports cloud governance, security, FinOps, and automation in a single integrated framework.

Engage with the Azure community

You should engage with the Azure community to stay up-to-date on the latest developments and best practices for delivering Azure services. This may include attending Microsoft events, participating in online forums, and networking with other Azure MSPs.

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Final thoughts

The Azure Expert MSP program is a rigorous and valuable program designed to help customers identify MSPs with the expertise and experience needed to deliver top-quality Azure services. The program includes several prerequisites, such as a minimum number of customer references and certified staff members and an extensive application process comprising customer evidence and audit phases. 

MSPs that successfully achieve Azure Expert MSP certification can benefit from increased visibility and credibility with customers and access to Microsoft’s technical resources and support. Investing in their technical capabilities, implementing best service delivery practices, and building customer credibility can increase your chances of successfully achieving Azure Expert MSP certification!

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