Microsoft Puts SharePoint 3.0 in The Cloud

Microsoft is taking yet another step toward its
vision of a software-plus-services world. Beginning today, online hosting
companies will be able to offer their customers features of Microsoft’s most
recent on-premise collaboration and communication tools, SharePoint Services
3.0 and Exchange Server 2007.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor said that, by updating its two
hosting packages, Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (HMC) and Windows Based
Hosting (WBH), it is helping software providers improve their offerings to
small and medium sized businesses (SMBs).

According to Michael van Dijken, lead marketing manager for hosted solutions
in Microsoft’s communications sector group, hosted services are becoming
commoditized. “Service providers need to be able to differentiate themselves
and deepen their relationships with customers,” he told
internetnews.com.

Version 4 of HMC includes support for new features included in Exchange
2007, including improved interoperability with devices running Windows
Mobile clients, better e-mail filtering, support for more efficient 64-bit
architecture and role-based server administration.

Van Dijken said that HMC will be upgraded again in the fall to support
Office Communications Server 2007, which is expected to ship this summer.

Version 4.5 of WBH will include a SQL Server hosting tool kit; Microsoft
will offer guidance on how to deploy SQL Server in a hosted environment. The
upgrade also allows service providers to offer SharePoint services in a
hosted manner, which van Dijken said gives them “the ability to take
advantage of how the industry has been evolving.”

The hosted version of SharePoint Services 3.0, the underlying foundation of
SharePoint Server 2007, will enable service providers to offer their
customers a variety of “lightweight” versions of Microsoft applications such
as project management, vacation time management, sales and marketing and
customer relationship management (CRM) tools.

The CRM tool is a scaled-down version of CRM Live, which Microsoft is also
marketing to the SMB market as part of its Dynamics line of business
applications. To make matters even more confusing, Microsoft is making CRM
Live available as a service that can be hosted by a third-party host or by
Microsoft itself.

But van Dijken said that the hosted version available to service providers
through WBH does not compete with CRM Live because the two offerings are
priced very differently.

“Different companies will have different needs, and those needs will
translate to price points that they’re prepared to pay,” he said. He added
that some customers “will have heavier requirements for some applications
and lighter weight requirements for others,” and will be able to pick from
among a variety of hosted and on-premise alternatives.

Making those decisions can be challenging, however, because as Greg
DeMichillie, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told internetnews.com, Microsoft has a
history of overcharging for hosted solutions in order to protect its
on-premise business. “They tend to price in a way that doesn’t undercut
their existing software license business.”

Customers should tote up the cost of a license and do things like
maintenance, back-up and security internally against the price of a hosted
solution, he added.

DeMichillie also noted that customers running enterprise resource planning
(ERP) or other business applications on-premise should make sure the service
provider they pick has the wherewithal to integrate those tools with a
hosted version of SharePoint.

Ultimately, predicted DeMichillie, Microsoft will even begin offering
service-based enhancements to their on-premise SharePoint customers. “That
will give them two bites at the apple… that’s undeniably the direction
they want to be going to.”

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