To The Cloud

Office 365

I’m sure you’ve seen the Microsoft television ad where a frazzled mother is trying unsuccessfully to get a good family photo. Suddenly she has an epiphany and says out loud… “to the cloud” where she deftly cuts and pastes from different family photos until she’s compiled the perfect family photo – the one nature couldn’t give her but the cloud can!

Or how about the young couple delayed at the airport who suddenly logs in “to the cloud” using Windows Live and their Windows 7 Laptop to watch a recorded TV program from their home collection.

What’s all this “cloud talk” all about? Let’s say it’s Microsoft “wetting our collective whistles” and attempting to in-grain the term “to the cloud” into our brains.

These particular commercials (there’s a link to them at the bottom of this article) are aimed at the consumer and small business users but Microsoft has far bigger plans for “cloud computing” in the works.

Late last year, I wrote about Office 365, and my belief that this new “cloud offering” is all about making Microsoft’s most popular productivity servers and applications available on a subscription payment plan and in some instances, I think this makes sense.

Office 365 is being made available in a wide range of product versions, but Microsoft neatly divides them into two main categories, Office 365 for Small Businesses and Office 365 for Enterprises. The small business version is aimed at businesses of one to 50, though most businesses will want to consider the upper-level enterprise-oriented options after they exceed 25 employees or so.

For some small businesses, Office 365 could be a pretty compelling offer.

  • hosted Exchange 2010 with 25GB of storage space for each mailbox
  • self-service team collaboration websites via hosted SharePoint 2010
  • IM, presence, and online meetings with audio- and video-conferencing through Lync Online 2010
  • private versions of the Office Web Apps (web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote) as well as Outlook Web App for email, calendar, tasks, and contacts management (and if employees have desktop versions of Office 2010, they’re free to use those applications as well)
  • a simple, central web portal, with no IT maintenance required
  • a 99.9 percent uptime SLA

The cost for this service is $6 per user per month. Google’s small business offering is a bit less expensive, about $4.20 per month, though you must pay for a year at a time. But Office 365 provides you with real Exchange, real SharePoint, and Lync-based conferencing capabilities that Google just can’t touch. There’s no comparison.

Office 365 for Enterprises is actually several different product versions, and businesses are free to mix and match, providing different employees with different levels of service, functionality, and, of course, pricing. The basics are the same as the small business offering, but enterprise customers also get 24×7 phone support, single sign-on (SSO—and, optionally, federation) with on-premises Active Directory (AD), and the current (2010) version of Office Professional Plus, which includes desktop-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, OneNote, Publisher, Access, InfoPath, SharePoint Workspace, and Lync (client).

This version costs $24 per month per user, but there are many other enterprise offerings, including a kiosk offering (for light email and SharePoint usage). The prices vary accordingly, with some coming in even below the Small Business version: The kiosk offering is just $2 per user per month.

Office 365 is proof positive of Microsoft plans to move “to the cloud” Is it a good one? What do you think? Send me an email and let me know your thoughts.

If you want to learn more about or play with Office 365, there’s still time to get in on the beta test:

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