Microsoft used the global stage of its Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles to heavily push its partners toward the software developer’s cloud solutions—even going so far as to earmark incentives to encourage partners to sell Microsoft’s solutions to their customers.

[See related Cloud IT Pro story: Windows Intune 2 Soars at WPC 2011]

Coverage from the WPC 2011 event drives home how critical the cloud is to Microsoft’s future. The Wall Street Journal’s All Things D blog has this to say about the cloud concentration of the event, noting that Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer told partners in attendance “You need to decide if you’re coming with us:”

If Ballmer’s exhortations aren’t enough, here’s another enticement: Cold hard cash. Microsoft said today that it has committed $5.8 billion in incentives, training and tools for members of its Microsoft Partner Network to get accustomed to the new products and services and to encourage them to sell them to their customers. One big place where it’s putting that cash is behind messaging … where Microsoft’s Exchange platform and Outlook desktop software has been under attack lately from the likes of Google Apps, and it’s a key component of Office 365, the new cloud-based version of Microsoft Office.

CNET reported that Ballmer further exhorted partners to make cloud-based education a regular part of their worlds:

Ballmer pressed partners to move with the company to cloud-delivered technology. That’s key for the company, whose fortunes have been built by creating a massive partner network, in its effort to combat Web-generation rivals such as Google, VMware, and Salesforce.com. “The cloud is where things are going and we want you to come with us,” Ballmer said ... “You are going to have to continue to remap and retrain yourselves.”

Microsoft also announced at the event that partners can now sell their cloud-based applications through the Windows Azure Marketplace in an effort to reach more customers, and noted progress made by eBay, Fujitsu and HP in deploying the Windows Azure platform appliance to deliver turnkey cloud services in their datacenters.

The vendor also showcased how partners can use Microsoft’s private cloud solution built on Windows Server, Microsoft Hyper-V and Microsoft System Center to help customers transition to cloud at the pace of their choosing. Microsoft also announced the release of a new beta of System Center 2012 to help customers build private clouds and manage applications across both private and public cloud systems, and gave an early peek at the next version of Windows Server (code-named Windows Server 8)—also purportedly cloud-focused.