Office 365 Finally Gets its Wings – So what now?

So the stage is now set for a battle royale between the two behemoths of IT – it’s Google vs. Microsoft.  Google, the cloud company vs. Microsoft, late in the game but determined to keep Google out of its primary real estate; the enterprise.  Round One.  ‘Ding!’

So Office 365 has finally launched.  It feels as though it’s been a long time coming, perhaps because BPOS has been around for a while and the hype behind Office 365 has been the long drawn out kind of hype rather than a ‘big bang’.  Having said that, though, the noise level has been stepped up significantly over the last two weeks, primarily as a result of Google’s spoiling tactics.  In the past, Google has avoided this kind of ‘de-positioning’ and attempted to maintain a moral high ground against its biggest rival, but not this time.  The Google marketing teams have been scouring the globe looking for big enterprise defections from Microsoft to Google in an attempt to undermine confidence in Microsoft’s cloud offering.  They have found one or two, but goodness knows what it took to get them to switch.  And on the eve of the launch, the Google Apps Product Manager Shan Sinha, has blogged ‘365 reasons to consider Google Apps’ (he only comes up with four, but point taken Shan).

Actually, for IT decision makers, the most prudent thing to do right now is pour a very large bucket of ice cold water all over the Google vs. Microsoft thing, because it isn’t very helpful.

A few important considerations now we’ve cooled off.

First; the cloud isn’t new.  Google will tell you that, obviously, and it’s fair to say that this is a relatively new game for Microsoft.  But for those of us who’ve built and sold multi-tenant software services for the last few years, we are way beyond ‘early adopter’.  There are some very robust, enterprise-grade cloud solutions out there that are way more reliable, and way more secure, than anything you’d find on premise.

Second; the cloud isn’t flaky.  Cloud outages get a lot of publicity.  On premise ones don’t, for the simple reason that people dislike showcasing failures.  And sure, a cloud failure is very public.  BPOS has suffered some downtime in recent weeks, and the timing has been awkward with Office 365 about to be launched.  Amazon’s much vaunted cloud infrastructure has gone down as (ironically) has Google’s.  And not surprisingly, the media has jumped, and ‘the cloud’ – as if it’s one big amorphous blob – has come in for some stick.  It’s important to keep this in perspective.  Microsoft will learn from its lessons, and Office 365 starts with a clean slate.  And there are third parties like Mimecast offering additional assurances on top of Microsoft’s off-the-peg SLAs.

Third; the cloud is not all or nothing.  This is a story we’ve been telling for some time now.  Many of our customers are looking to upgrade from old versions of Exchange at the moment, and Office 365 is a consideration.  But it’s not a straightforward step to make if you have already invested in on-premise Exchange infrastructure.  Gartner, as it happens, is advising its customers (who are all ‘enterprise’ customers) to carefully consider opting for one more generation of on-premise Exchange – ie, move to Exchange 2010 and allow Office 365 more time to prove itself.  And certainly we are seeing large numbers of companies migrating to Exchange 2010, with Mimecast enabling them to run a very lean on-site infrastructure – we call it ‘Cloud-Ready’. They can move some or all their email to Office 365 when they are ready.

And perhaps that’s the key message here.  In the consumer world, where Google has most of its traction, consumers don’t care about the cloud.  If it works, they will use it.  In business, the risks are somewhat greater, so ‘moving to the cloud’ becomes a major strategic decision.

The way we see it, the business world uses Microsoft Exchange, and very few of them want to change.  Google for an enterprise is a protest vote.  But given that more than 80% of the Exchange user base is on 2003 or 2007, migration is the order of the day.  Google will try to pick up anyone who loses the faith, or feels bullied in one direction or another, and fair play to them if they do.

But the trick is not to see today’s announcement as a revolution in the world of Microsoft email, but an evolution.  The cloud is there for you, and it’s there for you to run a leaner, more cost effective Exchange infrastructure that does not compromise on performance, security or reliability.  You can embark on your journey to the Microsoft cloud at your own pace.  I’ve mentioned ‘cloud-ready’ Exchange 2010 already.  You can also go for Hosted Exchange if you want to move away from an on-site Exchange server.  And Office 365 is one choice of fully hosted options, but again there are choices of third party suppliers to ensure that you get what you need from Microsoft’s cloud solutions.

The one thing all these options have in common is Exchange 2010 which, rumour has it, was designed as a cloud solution from the ground up.  So let’s not get too carried away with Office 365.  Exchange 2010 is the real agent of change here.

p.s. Here's a fun guide to Office 365: