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Concentric to Host Exchange Services

Microsoft announced Monday that hosted applications provider Concentric will offer hosted Exchange 2007 packages to small and medium-sized business customers beginning on July 15.

According to a statement by the two companies, Concentric will provide four hosted Exchange offerings as a lower-cost alternative for customers who cannot afford the high startup costs of setting up Exchange 2007 and hosting it themselves.

The announcement came at the NXTcomm08 conference, which is being held in Las Vegas this week. Concentric has been in the hosting business for more than ten years. However, this is the first time that Concentric has offered hosted Exchange e-mail services, a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) spokesperson confirmed.

Concentric's announcement comes at a time when Microsoft has entered the hosted services for small and mid-sized businesses itself, with its Online Services for Business. That includes Microsoft-hosted Exchange.

That leaves Microsoft and its heretofore partners somewhat at loggerheads in the hosted applications market niche, according to one long-time Redmond watcher.

"I don't see how they're [Concentric] going to differentiate their service from Microsoft's offering," Rob Helm, director of research at Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com.

The best example so far, Helm added, is how Microsoft is handling its latest Dynamics CRM offering. Besides offering CRM 4 for customers to self-host or for third-party hosting firms to host for their clients, Microsoft will also offer a version it calls CRM Live that it will host for customers itself.

"I think it's forced a scramble and the ones who'll do best are the ones who can provide extra services such as applications hosting," Helm said. In fact, Concentric offers a myriad of Web hosting options for its customers.

A choice of vendors

The Microsoft spokesperson, however, said that there are times when a customer might want to have the option of getting a hosted application like Exchange from a partner rather than Microsoft..

"By offering Exchange both direct and through hosting partners, Microsoft is giving small and medium businesses the opportunity to choose what works best for their needs," the Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an e-mail. "Many SMBs may choose to work with a partner because they are able to provide a broader solution, as well as a more tailored offering to fit their specific business and industry needs," she added.

The new Concentric hosted offerings will include four mailbox types that customers can mix and match to achieve the levels of service they need.

The lowest-tier offering, Web Exchange, will provide users with Outlook Web Access – a browser-based client -- for $7.95 per user per month. Besides e-mail, the service will include support for global address lists, group calendars, tasks and task delegation, as well as public folders, junk e-mail and virus filtering, and e-mail aliases, according to the companies' statement.

Next up the service ladder will be what Concentric calls Exchange Value, which adds an Exchange mailbox with full support of Microsoft Exchange's Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI). It also provides Outlook integration and support for offline address books. Exchange Value will cost $9.95 per user per month.

Meanwhile, Exchange Professional adds 1 GB of online message storage to the line up in Exchange Value for $13.95 per user per month.

Finally, at the top end of Concentric's new offerings will be Exchange Executive, which will provide all the features in Exchange Professional. In addition, however, it will also feature support for mobile users via Exchange ActiveSync and Outlook Mobile Access. Executive also includes a premium junk e-mail filter as well as 2 GB of storage per user, at a cost of $13.95 per user per month.