Office 365 can be most things to most people

But back to the way cloud is being reported, even Microsoft has not been immune to negative press, with reports of BPOS downtime depriving customers of their email.  And the debate is likely to hit fever pitch as Microsoft ramps towards the launch of its new cloud messaging platform(and successor to BPOS), Office 365.

It’s natural and understandable that cloud computing comes under intense scrutiny, not least because it has become the de facto ‘next big thing’ to hit IT since we realised mainframes took up too much space in the living room.  Tim Weber of the BBC has wrote about the subject last Friday, talking about how Amazon’s supposedly indestructible cloud infrastructure has been brought to a crashing halt and Sony has been hit by hackers.  Questions are being asked about the claims that cloud suppliers make with regards to resilience and security, and the suggestion is that the cloud may not be all it’s cracked up to be.  Of course, it would help if we had a common definition of what cloud is, and as my colleague Justin Pirie has forcefully pointed out, Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) is not a cloud solution by any stretch.

There are two important considerations here for businesses considering deploying cloud technologies.  The first goes back to a drumbeat we’ve hammered on this blog for more than a year, and that is that companies need to do their due diligence.  We still don’t have satisfactory standards for assessing cloud technology, despite the best efforts of the Cloud Security Alliance and other bodies, which means the onus is still on the customer to find out how watertight a cloud supplier’s claims are, how verifiable its SLAs are, where and how it stores information and how easy it might be to get your data back if need be.  There are a few assurances available, such as the CESG Claims Tested Mark (CCTM), that guarantee that a cloud service does what it says on the tin.  But they are few and far between.

But the second consideration is that there are always choices available to address specific concerns IT folk might have about moving applications to the cloud.  Office 365 is a good case in point.  Although Microsoft’s shiny new cloud platform, will scale to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes, it has undoubted appeal to the small business.  Get rid of your email server and all the IT clutter that you don’t have the time, expertise or resource to manage yourself, and let Microsoft do it all.  All you need to worry about is Outlook on your laptop.  Do these companies worry about SLAs?   Will they even be perturbed by rare periods of email downtime?  Probably not.  They will buy Office 365 off the shelf, and they’ll love it.

For larger businesses, though, there is no single blueprint that captures their IT priorities.  Far from it.  Some companies will have read about the potential vulnerabilities of cloud infrastructures – not just Microsoft’s, but Amazon’s, Google’s ... and they will be genuinely concerned.  Others will look through the functionality list on Office 365 and feel there are gaps there that need filling.  Perhaps it’s eDiscovery, or long-term searchable email archiving, or granular litigation hold for companies who need to be prepared for scenarios where these features are critical.  Whatever their misgivings will be, they will be equalled in numbers by those that look at the offering for what it is, understand what they will get and what the benefit to their business is and will leap happily to take up the service.

It is wrong to poke holes at BPOS, or Office 365 when it comes on stream, if it can’t be all things to all people.  It’s not designed that way.  It’s designed to be most things to most people, but for those who need extra functionality, or enhanced SLAs in certain key areas, these will be available through an ecosystem of third party suppliers that integrate with the Office 365 system.  At Mimecast we’re very excited about Office 365 for exactly this reason.  We think some people will want our enhanced archiving while others will want an additional layer of services that  ensure that there is absolutely no email downtime, particularly while they are negotiating the tricky path to the cloud.    There may not be one perfect cloud solution out there, but when you think of an ecosystem of interoperable, proven cloud technologies that work together to deliver a holistic and comprehensive service to your end users, like Microsoft Office 365 and Mimecast, you can get pretty close to perfection after all.