Why Office 365 will push more to the cloud

Cloud in the shape of a question markSo you’ve heard about this cool “cloud” thing and how Microsoft is “all in.” Chances are, you’re nervous about making that leap of faith. Microsoft has just given you another reason to consider it.

Their flagship product Office is now going to be available through the cloud as well. Office 365 is Microsoft adding more functionality, applications, and a better experience for end users.

Office 365 will replace present day BPOS (Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite), and then some.  What you get is a complete solution that is highly scalable (think adjustable user counts), backed by robust security and a 99.9% (financially backed) up-time guarantee.

It is set to release sometime near March, 2011 and combines the familiar Microsoft Office desktop suite with cloud-based versions of Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync.

Is this simply next generation BPOS?

Yes and no. You can still get the full functionality that current BPOS customers have grown accustomed to but now you have multiple options – options that mirror the users that a typical organization might have in their environment. There will be different levels of services and applications bundled together to offer customers more flexibility.

For example, there is a very basic email option that works out to a couple of dollars a month per user. On the other hand, you can pay $27 / month for a user to get access to the entire Office Pro Plus offering, use all kinds of services and forms on Sharepoint, get better inbox management in Exchange as well as allow you to replace your PBX (that was just about ready to die on you anyways) with an IP-based solution.  You can read a separate post on the capabilities of Lync here.

Are all the cool kids doing it?

The beta offering has spiked a lot of interest to the point that customers are only being allowed into the beta program in stages but on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Office 365 product Manager’s blog is getting busier by the minute. The city of New York has already signed up and will save $50 million over five years as a result. You’re probably wondering if the move is right for you though. The answer: it depends.

Are you looking at an Office upgrade? Do you have users that perhaps don’t need the full functionality of Office Pro Plus? Do you want to free up resources to focus on higher priorities rather than Office updates? Will it give you the same cost savings that it’s given the Big Apple?

Once you’ve decided that this is the way forward for your organization, there are further options that you have. Do you want a hybrid approach that allows a mixture of on-premise and cloud? Microsoft promises to be as helpful as they can be through this process – they’re allowing Enterprise Agreement customers to try it out without paying for it in the year that they decide to transition. There’s even a transition center (system requirements and all). They’re also actively engaging their partner ecosystem to help answer the many questions that are being asked.

Share your plans for the cloud, or ask us your questions in the comments section below!

About Faisal Mumtaz

Faisal manages Softchoice's Microsoft Business Development team for US West. He has an in-depth understanding how best to leverage Microsoft’s licensing agreements and technologies.