Tuesday 18 November 2008

On Microsoft Online Services (a retread post)

Yesterday, Microsoft did its big launch of Online hosted services, opening it up to SMEs as well as large organizations. These are “in the cloud”, or software-as-a-service (SaaS) implementations of Exchange and SharePoint (not to be confused with Exchange Hosted Services, which is the hosted email security service formerly from Frontbridge).

Microsoft first announced this about 18 months ago, and has been offering it only to large organizations for several months.

The services run in Microsoft’s own datacenters, on shared hardware — or dedicated hardware for larger customers.

In June I saw a demo of the tools to migrate users from an in-house Exchange network to the service. It looks comprehensive. The most useful aspect is that a customer can choose a subset of their users to move to the service, retaining other users on the in-house system.

Naturally, the service allows customers to synchronize their Active Directory (AD) forest between their in-house AD servers and the ones in the cloud.

Of course, this puts Microsoft into direct competition with their partners who are already offering hosted Exchange/Sharepoint — often using market development funds from Microsoft itself. However, this does at least validate the market. Microsoft will also allow partners to resell the Online services, with some attractive affiliate kickbacks.

For the combination of Exchange, OCS, LiveMeeting, and SharePoint Online, Microsoft announced the price would be $15.

$15 is too expensive. Here’s two reasons why:

First, compare that price with Google Apps at $50/year ($4.17/month). At one third the price, the combination of white-label Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Sites, and Google Talk may not provide 100% feature equivalence — but in most cases it will be more than good enough. Don’t forget that Google offers 25GB of email storage at that price, versus Microsoft’s 1GB, which is paltry by comparison. Some organizations may even find the free version of Google Apps is sufficient for their needs, assuming they can live with the lack of a service-level agreement.

Second, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have learned from the mistakes of others. Over the past ten years, we’ve seen vendor after vendor try to offer hosted Exchange — many of them backed by substantial Microsoft resources — but few have survived. Again, the problem is one of cost. Although the vendors would make a coherent, well-argued case that an organization should migrate to its hosted service, few IT managers believed it would save them money.

These vendors would tell potential purchasers that they could provide the service for less money than it was currently costing to run it in-house, but when it came time to actually quote for the service, most IT managers simply didn’t believe it cost them that much.

For fans of Economics 101, the hosted providers were charging more than the market would bear. Looks like Microsoft is making the same mistake. It’s a pity: Exchange 2007 is much more suited to offering the required economies of scale than previous versions.


Anonymous said...

Is the $15 you mention per/user/month? Is there a minimum user number?

>>Exchange, OCS, LiveMeeting, and SharePoint Online

I wonder how many users would take advantage of all those services. Perhaps if they could do Exchange-only for cheaper it would be more reasonable.

Richi Jennings said...

I'm not aware that there's a minimum. At least, I don't believe the Microsoft briefings said anything about that.

In earlier briefings, Microsoft implied that the $15 bundle wasn't the only way to buy it: Exchange service would be purchasable on its own, for example. I don't see any of that in the public materials though.

Note that Microsoft's pricing decisions have been in some flux -- previous briefings mentioned a $20 figure, not $15.

Unknown said...

There us a minumum of 5 users and you can buy Exchange only. Partners do not get to retain ownership of the customer and what happens when you need help?

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