To the cloud! Over 14,000 Microsoft partners set to descend on Toronto

Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) will be taking over a chunk of downtown Toronto this summer when its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) comes to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from July 8 to 12, with satellite parties and events spilling out into the downtown core.

It will be a very visible Microsoft presence in the downtown, but the city survived the G20 Summit, and WPC promises to be a much more benign experience. And one with a strong Canadian flavour as well.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere (with the entertainment district) and there’s a lot of great Canadian talent,” said Jon Roskill, corporate vice-president of Microsoft’s worldwide partner group. He said Microsoft is lining up Canadian musicians and comics to provide entertainment at conference parties and keynotes, and he’s impressed with the talent they’ve recruited so far.

One of the key talent recruits isn’t Canadian though: author, physician and spiritualist Deepak Chopra will deliver a keynote address to WPC attendees, and Roskill promised more announcements are coming.

Roskill and the organizing committee are hoping to set a new bar for attendance at WPC 2012, and surpass the total from last year’s event in Los Angeles.

“We had over 14,000 partners in Los Angeles last year and our goal is to beat that,” said Roskill, adding Microsoft Canada also has a goal to deliver 1,000 of those partners from Canada – which would be a new record for Canadian attendance at WPC.

So far, registrations are on pace to meet or exceed those goals. Early bird registration is open until April 5, with a $300 savings available until that date. There was a worry that the requirement for U.S. citizens to have a passport to enter Canada may dissuade American attendance, but Roskill said that hasn’t been an issue so far. Some Latin American partners have had issues obtaining Canadian visas, but Roskill said the Canadian government has been helpful working to expedite and resolve those requests.

Planning for WPC is furiously underway on both sides of the border, and in Canada, local partners have been clamoring to get involved said Microsoft Canada channel chief Corinne Sharp.

“Our partner advisory council for WPC has close to 100 partners talking about logistics and content, recommending speakers and even the bands at the parties,” said Sharp. “It’s just been incredible to see our Canadian partners wanting to really own the event.”

With the event in our own backyard, Sharp said more Canadian partners are coming than ever before, and many SMB partners are increasing the sizes of their contingents. In addition to saving with early bird registration, Sharp said day passes are also available to allow partners to be more flexible with their attendance.

The goal of 1,000 Canadian partners would be double the size of the Canadian contingent at WPC in Los Angeles last year, said Sharp.

On the content front, there will be a number of tracks ranging from management to product sales and a number of key product and program announcements, particularly with Windows 8 due to launch later in the year. The term cloud computing may also be heard once or twice.

“Our theme this year is winning together, and for so many partners this event is as much an opportunity to network, with other partner and with Microsoft,” said Sharp.

And to party. With the event in Toronto, the whole conference is in effect one giant Canada party, but Sharp said Microsoft Canada will still host its own regional party, which is always a sought-after ticket.

“We’ve set the precedent; we absolutely have to have a Canadian party,” said Sharp, although she was coy on the details. “We have the venue booked and a band; an exciting Canadian band that’s familiar to everyone. And it’s a much bigger venue because there will be a lot more partner. It’s always one of the highlights (of WPC) and a challenge for us because it’s so popular, a lot of partners from other countries want to go.”

To help truly make WPC a Canadian party, Sharp said she’s also encouraging all Microsoft’s Canadian partners to submit to the vendor’s global awards program. The winners will be announced at WPC, and Sharp said she wants to see lots of Canadians on the stage as winners. Nominations are still open for what Sharp calls “the Oscars of the partner ecosystem.”

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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