Microsoft’s ambition: to be the king of the clouds

3 Apr 2009

With 500,000 subscribers already in place, Microsoft will go head-to-head with and Google when it launches its Software plus Service offering of business productivity tools this month, can reveal.

Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) is the company’s new Software plus Service offering, which enables companies to avail of Microsoft’s core messaging and collaboration solutions via a hosted service by paying a monthly subscription fee.

Kelly Waldher, director of Product Management for Microsoft Online, Microsoft US, told that this will be the first of many steps in the software giant’s Azure cloud computing strategy.

The first products to be unveiled this month under the Software plus Service model will be Exchange Online, SharePoint and Office Communications Suite, which will feature aspects of unified communications (UC), such as instant messaging (IM) and presence.

Microsoft is in the process of building a massive US$500m data centre in west Dublin that will be the epicentre of its Azure cloud computing vision.

Waldher explained that the aim is to bring enterprise-class abilities to SMEs and corporates as part of an economic offering.

“While we started out as a desktop company, it has really been over the past 10 or 12 years that we’ve established ourselves in the enterprise. This is the next step in our evolution from desktop to server and now cloud services.

“Our vision is to take core products today and make them available as hosted services.

“We are uniquely positioned right now to capitalise on our existing software base. There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who are familiar with Outlook, but being able to connect to a rich set of services … that’s how this is really going to play out; you can access the tools you need, whether by a handheld device, a rich client or by web browser.”

He continued: “I would say that being able to provide the services option to customers across all of our products is part of our vision.”

Waldher confirmed that the BPOS suite will be launched to the world this month, and will be available to businesses with at least five seats. A model for serving individuals, he added, is in the pipeline.

He said the model Microsoft is pushing is different to that of software as a service (SaaS). “If you look at the iPod and people using iTunes, it is essentially a device running local software, but connecting to a set of services. has a connector into Outlook, so there’s software running locally.

“Another great example is the Xbox and the success of Xbox Live. Well, take these evolutions in technology and apply them to the enterprise and people working remotely or centrally, even using virtualisation, and you have a good idea of where this is headed.”

Waldher said that, so far, over 500,000 seats are paying for Microsoft’s BPOS model, including Fortune 500 giants Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline and Aviva.

“This is a transformational change that you just can’t stop. It makes a lot of sense for businesses to consume software.

“When you look back at the Nineties, you had application service providers, but what was missing was the big pipe – the broadband to make it happen. The increase in broadband availability has made it possible to apply the software plus service model.

“As well as this, the computing power of devices is going to increase substantially, when you look at the next phase of ultra-mobile computer devices. The onset of netbooks is only just the beginning.” pointed out to Waldher that the success of services such as the Apple Apps Store for the iPhone and the upcoming launch of the Sky Store for Windows Mobile devices indicates a strong future for internet-based software.

“There have been three building blocks to getting there: building the basic technology, developing the storage and utility services for independent software vendors, and the top layer is the finished services, such as Exchange Online.

“BPOS is just the beginning of the next stage in our journey. As things evolve and develop over time, we view this as a compelling opportunity,” Waldher said.

Or, as Victor Hugo once put it: “You can stop an invading army, but you can’t stop an idea whose time has come.”

By John Kennedy

Pictured: this photo belies the fact that Microsoft has no intention of larking about when it comes to its cloud vision. Keeping the clown grounded were Microsoft’s Richard Moore and Kelly Waldher