When I meet with customers and speak at events, I am frequently asked, “What do you think is the secret to Microsoft’s success? And what has enabled the company to keep growing over the years?” While a lot of Microsoft employees contribute to how we scale our products (product development, marketing, sales, etc.)…a source of differentiation is our ecosystem of partners. There are more than 640,000 partners worldwide who build, support and enhance technologies on the Microsoft platform. They are driving innovation, adding value, building local businesses, and growing local economies. These partners are a source of strength and they play a critical role in meeting the IT needs of our customers.

I just got home from New Orleans where the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) took place this week. It’s a great opportunity to meet with our partners who are working to solve the challenges we see in the classroom every day. They are helping technology work more effectively and more seamlessly, and really focusing on making magic happen in the classroom.

Datatel won our Education Partner of the Year award this year. Datatel’s ActiveCampus Portal solution is built on SharePoint technology and the company describes its technology as a powerful enterprise work environment and collaborative social learning platform that serves as a personalized one-stop service center for all college and university constituents. Students, faculty, staff and alumni can easily find information, access learning management systems, registration, calendaring, newsfeeds and virtually any other resource.

We are seeing lots of traction with our partners building solutions for Microsoft Live@edu. Because Live@edu is built around enterprise APIs, partners can easily integrate Live@edu into their offerings and solutions. It’s a great way to extend more value to customers who are already taking advantage of the free resources in Live@edu (email, storage, collaboration, document sharing, etc.) and deliver more options like workflow solutions, integration of security profiles, etc.

Many partners are very much focused on helping schools understand how to use data. Nuventive is one that is leveraging our data analytics platform and business intelligence framework to help schools interpret data, make decisions and drive change. They also have a digital portfolio solution for students to help students assess their progress in school and identify what competencies they need to grow, etc. The technology delivers the data in a much more actionable way instead of just providing charts and graphs.

Infusion is doing great work around Microsoft Surface and building applications to transform learning in the classroom, in particular making Surface a great information gathering place for complex data sets. Check out their blog to see examples of the cool applications they are building. We also announced this week a new Microsoft Surface Partner Program to accelerate the number of partners bringing multi-touch and multi-user solutions to market.

I also met with Neudesic and they are doing great work creating student information systems and incorporating SharePoint into the foundation of how schools use data, connect alumni and students information, etc.  Speaktech also does great work taking the Microsoft technology stack, in particular, Live@edu and SharePoint, and make it really resonate with teachers and students from a design and social networking perspective. They get that students require content and experiences that are visually appealing and dynamic, and they use Silverlight and other technologies in innovative ways to enhance the experience.

We have hundreds of partners delivering education solutions. You can find more at the Microsoft Public Sector Partner Solution MarketPlace.  And if you are one of our partners and weren’t able to travel to New Orleans this week, be sure to read more about our redesigned Microsoft Education Partner Network website. We listened to your feedback and are now supporting a “community” component which supports sharing and discussion between education partners, as well as directly with Microsoft, for product information, sales materials, education research and best practices.