Microsoft Unveils Exchange and SharePoint as Services

Microsoft exec Stephen Elop on Monday announced two hosted solutions from Microsoft -- Exchange Online and SharePoint Online -- which are now available to organizations of all sizes in the U.S. market. The software, paid for by annual subscriptions, is hosted on Microsoft's servers and supported by Microsoft's channel partners.

The services previously were accessible at the beta level. Microsoft is now spotlighting their general U.S. public availability as part of its overall software plus services strategy. The company has already sold "more than half a million seats for Microsoft Online Services" in the past year, according to Microsoft's announcement.

This public launch comes after Microsoft's announcements of the Windows Azure cloud operating system and Azure Services Platform at its Professional Developers Conference late last month. Those announcements suggested a company shift by Microsoft toward building up its services capabilities.

Elop, who is president of thee Microsoft Business Division, told an audience at the San Francisco launch event yesterday that "Eventually, all Microsoft Web-based technology will be delivered from this foundation [Windows Azure and Azure Services Platform]."

Despite the buzz around Azure, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online currently are not offered from the Azure Services Platform, according to an article by veteran Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley. Moreover, she cited a Forrester Research study indicating that what Microsoft is offering today is not full-featured versions of Exchange or SharePoint. Users wanting the full solutions can get the on-premises installed versions running on a server.

Elop told the launch audience that cost is the main reason why people would adopt online versions of Exchange and SharePoint.

"It is our estimate that between 10 and 50 percent cost savings can accrue to organizations that take advantage of this form of online services from Microsoft," Elop said.

Pricing for the online services is based on "pricing levels" associated with the number of users in an organization. Microsoft is promoting a "Business Productivity Online Standard Suite" that starts from "$15 per user per month." The suite includes "Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online (coming soon), and Office Live Meeting," according to a Microsoft Online Services pricing page.

Alternatively, a free 30-day trial is available for those who will sign an agreement. Trial information is available here.

In addition to providing partner support, Microsoft has some automated tools to help organizations assess their planning called "Solution Accelerators for Microsoft Online Services."

Microsoft partner support is growing. The company counts "more than 1,500 companies" that have enrolled since July as online services partners.

Microsoft plans to offer new online solutions next year, including one that will add "IT management and security capabilities for businesses." More information is available at the Microsoft Online Services page here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.