IT services companies like Ergo have found a role on the frontline of cloud services. In thier armoury is Microsoft Office 365, writes Ian Cambell
For the best part of a decade, Salesforce.com was held up as the SaaS exemplar that pointed the way forward for cloud-based applications. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Microsoft Office 365 is usurping its crown. Not least because it is a compendium of products Exchange Online, SharePoint and Lync - from the largest software company in the world rather than a one-shot CRM system.
Earlier iterations, when it was awkwardly labelled BPOS (Business Productivity Online), struggled to take off, but Microsoft partners in Ireland suggest 365 is starting to stick. "Customers are coming to us wanting the product - it's a really easy sell," said Sean O'Farrell, Office 365 subject matter expert at Ergo. "Putting email in the cloud makes perfect sense, but it's increasingly about having the complete suite, the whole collaboration piece."
Bundling storage with the components, including 50Gb mailboxes for Exchange email users, has strengthened the proposition accruing to O'Farrell, but the biggest selling point is how it uses Active Directory, the Microsoft database management software, to facilitate single sign-on. This means users can access any of the applications seamlessly through the same interface on any device, something that wasn't available in the BPOS iteration.
At the same time, Office 365 Wave 15 is a new enterprise licensing agreement that allows users to access the software from five different devices, making the product much more competitive in terms of pricing. "It means you can access it remotely from home, the office PC, or out and about on a mobile device," said O'Farrell. “It’s a massive selling point at a time when mobile computing is the way things are going."
Software assurance is another selling point, with Microsoft taking care of any version upgrades within the price of the monthly subscription. "When the next version of Exchange comes along, for example, Office 365 users will get the upgrade for free. Microsoft is constantly innovating its products so customers are completely future-proofed. The alternative is to spend €2,000 on a server that has to be maintained while it depreciates in value," he said.
The icing on the cake is service level agreements that guarantee 99.9 per cent uptime. "It's the biggest benefit," said O'Farrell. "High availability with always-on services for 10 or 10,000 employees is unquantifiable, particularly for email - which is business critical for most firms now."
The beauty of the 365 SaaS model is that packages can be tailored to the client's needs where they only pay for what they use. A lot of firms start out with email first, migrating to Exchange Online and switching on other applications later. Office 2013 is also part of the package with the option downloading and installing it on the desktop or running it on-demand through a web browser.
"With a click of the button you can increase or decrease the license count or change the mix your plan. Some allow for Office web applications; others provide enterprise voice services with Lync," said O'Farrell. "Some contracts are renewed annually, while some smaller companies chose to pay by credit card on a monthly basis."
Services companies like Ergo have signed up as a Microsoft Cloud Accelerate Partner and turned a possible threat into opportunity. Products like Office 365 are now fully integrated with Ergo's more traditional managed service offerings, and the company has built up a dedicated cloud support team that interacts with customers on Microsoft's behalf.
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