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Microsoft Enhances Hosting Platform

Microsoft is pushing mobility and security additions on its updated hosted messaging and collaboration suite, launched Monday.

The updated suite, Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration version 3.5, is targeted at small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB) that want enterprise-grade applications but don't have the resources to maintain the applications themselves.

Hosted by service providers, the suite offers online versions of Exchange Server 2003, Live Communication Server 2005 and SharePoint Services. Version 3 was launched in January.

The Redmond, Wash., company also launched the Microsoft Hosting Program, a Web-based resource and download site. In addition to free downloads of the Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration software and its updates, members get tool kits, case studies and marketing resources to land new customers.

Program members are eligible to use the Service Provider License Agreement, which lets them license Microsoft products on a per-user, per-month basis rather than pay for a license up front.

"We think this is a really unique licensing capability that allows [service providers] to keep their initial and capital outlay to a minimum but provide the services on a pay-as-you-go basis to end customers," said Morgan Cole, Microsoft senior product manager.

A direct-push component that synchronizes Windows Mobile 5.0-enabled devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDA) and smartphones automatically is the key new feature in the messaging and collaboration update. Now, mobile users can see up-to-date updated calendar entries, contacts tasks and e-mails as it hits the server.

Windows Mobile 5.0-enabled phones will be available in January, Cole said.

The Redmond company has also added two security features aimed at its mobile devices. A remote device wipe allows administrators to erase data on stolen or lost devices while the policy provisioning component enforces security measures such as requiring a login and password.

Other new features in Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration version 3.5 include: a migration tool for adding new hosted user accounts; automated password synchronization between hoster directories and customer accounts; the ability to use Microsoft Identity Integration Server 2003 to set up a federated account for access to both an end user's workstation and hosted account; and the latest service packs and updates to the key components of the hosted software.

The hosted suite can be seen as the enterprise version to another hosted offering recently launched by Microsoft, Windows Live and Office Live.

The company known for its in-house software has seen a growing demand for hosted solutions in the past year, said Stephan Schirrecker, Microsoft director for hosting, from both large telcos and smaller partners like Web hosters.

A growing number of service providers see the messaging and collaboration suite as an opportunity to deliver another service to its business customers, he said.

"A couple of years ago when we started this business we had a few hosters or partners on the solutions," he said. "Now we have hundreds of partners using either the Windows-based hosting solutions or hosted Exchange. Especially last year, we've seen a huge ramp up in the number of partner deployments."

The update is available for registered Microsoft hosting program members.