I've been over in San Jose this week for the NetSuite user event, SuiteWorld. The annual show is an opportunity for the cloud-based enterprise apps firm to tell its customers and partners about its current strategy, and various new and updated products, but this year the show was stolen by the early, surprise appearance of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Nadella was beamed in by video link to reveal to the assembled crowd that Microsoft and NetSuite have decided to become best buddies and work together to integrate their key business products.
The cloud to cloud partnership will centre around providing a more seamless experience between NetSuite's core ERP product and Microsoft's behemoth Office 365 productivity suite.
As part of the deal, NetSuite has also agreed to promote Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform. This will see NetSuite replace Amazon Web Services (AWS) - which CEO Zach Nelson pointed out was only a small deployment within the organisation - in favour of Azure, and also push developers to use the Microsoft version.
The Azure part of the deal is unlikely to have a huge amount of impact, certainly in the short-term. NetSuite told me that many more of its partners and developers are using AWS, and the firm definitely won't be stopping support for the Amazon infrastructure.
In the longer term, the plan is to look at connecting the NetSuite SuiteCloud platform and Azure, so if a developer wants to create a new application that's an extension of NetSuite, that can be done easier and quicker by building and hosting it on Azure.
For now, the Azure promotion seems to be more a way of NetSuite expressing gratitude to Microsoft for agreeing to work with NetSuite on the Office/ERP integration, which will be of much greater and more immediate value to customers new and existing; and of helping Microsoft gain a slightly bigger foothold for Azure, which has some catching up to do with AWS.
But I think the most significant part of the announcement is what it says about Microsoft as a company. The NetSuite deal is one of a series that the Redmond giant has made recently with firms that are technically rivals. Salesforce, SAP and now NetSuite have all been taken into the Microsoft fold, in a bid to offer better integration between Microsoft's productivity suite and rival enterprise applications like CRM and ERP.
Under Steve Ballmer's leadership, Microsoft would have been laser focused on using its Office dominance to try and force uptake of its own Dynamics enterprise applications. All the NetSuite executives were keen to point out this week that the deal is all thanks to the appointment of Nadella as CEO.
Although clearly helped along by Fred Studer - the ex-Microsoft man of eight years who led the Office business, launched Office 365 and then led the Dynamics business, and who has recently joined Netsuite as chief marketing officer - even Studer gave the kudos to his old boss.
"Satya was compelled about two great cloud companies coming together to drive value and better productivity for customers," he enthused.
"We couldn't be more excited to work with them."
Nelson is of a similar mind. "Frankly Ballmer didn't have the vision," he said.
"Ballmer's thing was devices and services. The first thing Satya said was, we're a software company, how about devices, software and services. He reoriented that company around the cloud very quickly and he was the right guy for that job.
"I don't think Ballmer really had that focus on the cloud and Satya's really moved the ship."
Nadella clearly takes a different, more co-opetitive approach than Ballmer. The CEO has made it clear that he wants Microsoft to be a cloud and mobile company, as opposed to devices and licensing driven, and the firm has a lot of catching up to do in both these core areas, as evidenced by the usage gap between Azure and AWS.
Partnering with rival cloud experts to convert on-premise Office users onto Office 365 is an effective and intelligent way of achieving this vision. Under Nadella, as highlighted by the love for the man on display at SuiteWorld this week, Microsoft has the best chance of changing course.
But that doesn't mean it won't still be a surprise each time Microsoft announces a new strategic partner as it's such an about-turn for a firm built on killing off rather than buddying up to the competition.
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