Microsoft took the wraps off a new Office 365 cloud-computing platform Tuesday. The platform is rolling out in beta test mode to selected customers in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The goal is to provide individuals, businesses, government agencies, and organizations with up-to-date access to Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online applications, the software giant said.
If Microsoft can combine its considerable Office assets with the right mix of capabilities, service levels and pricing, the software giant will likely make money on the venture, observed Al Hilwa, director of application software development at IDC. He also noted that compatibility with existing document assets in the is a big deal.
"Organizations are likely to draw a fair amount of comfort from a Microsoft offering in the cloud in a way that other players will find hard to match," Hilwa said.
Big-Business Capabilities for Everyone
Office 365 provides individuals, small businesses, and companies with fewer than 25 employees with access to the same software tools already in the hands of professionals at significantly larger organizations. Moreover, Few customers have the resources to deploy Office, SharePoint, Exchange and Lync together, observed Kurt DelBene, president of the Office business division at Microsoft.
"Because the cloud takes advantage of the scales of economy and the skills of economy," DelBene said, "technology built for the largest businesses becomes accessible to the smallest businesses."
Moreover, in a few clicks a small business can have 20 football fields of data-center capacity and a highly experienced IT team at its fingertips. "It's not feasible for any single company to acquire these resources on its own," DelBene explained.
Moving to the cloud also means individuals won't have to change the way they work because Office 365 works with the most popular browsers, smartphones and desktop applications, DelBene said. "With the cloud, we can bring technology together for customers in a way they have never experienced," he added.
A Far-Reaching Impact
Microsoft says Office 365 customers can have their applications and an external web site up and running in a fraction of an hour and for as little as $6 per month for each user. What's more, larger enterprises and government agencies also will be able to deploy Office 365 for as little as $2 per user per month for basic e-mail.
Larger companies and organizations also may elect to access Office Professional Plus software in the cloud, together with e-mail and other capabilities such as voice mail, enterprise social networking, instant messaging, web portals, extranets and videoconferencing. Still, Gartner Vice President Michael Silver advises businesses to carefully compare their needs to what Microsoft's Office 365 has to offer.
"Remember that this is first and foremost hosted e-mail and SharePoint, so that's the entry point," Silver said. "Office itself is not cheap here, and organizations need to make sure they can live with the subscription licenses."
Microsoft expects Office 365 to become generally available in 40 countries next year when the new cloud-computing platform also will include Microsoft Dynamics Online. Additionally, the software giant plans to introduce an Office 365 platform for students, faculty and school employees next year that will feature technology specifically tailored for educational needs.
"The impact of Office 365 will be far-reaching, because we can bring enterprise-class applications to everyone," DelBene said. It will enable Microsoft to reach "customers who don't have the IT resources to manage enterprise-class software, and we can help customers stay up to date with the latest versions of our products."