The cloud is obviously everywhere, and many IT shops have been spending cycles kicking the BPOS tires. That’s Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite, their relatively new SaaS offering for email and collaboration. For those closely in tune with Microsoft, yes, it’s truly Software plus Services – not SaaS, but that’s for a different post. For now, just know that it includes SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, Live Meeting Online, and Office Communications Online.
What can we make of BPOS? Should we migrate? What does it do well? What does it not do at all?
I generally boil these loaded questions down to a pretty simple and concise answer. The offering itself is large and complex, but at this time it’s pretty easy to compartmentalize the decision making process by looking at two target audiences. Note that this story changes in early 2011 when each platform will be upgraded to 2010 resulting in much more customization capability and greater feature parity with the on premise versions. But for now, it’s pretty simple.
Audience 1 – Small Organizations or Branch Offices
If you fit into this model, you most likely have a smaller IT budget, a relatively straight forward business model, and fewer customization needs. In this case, the entire BPOS offering makes sense for you. While it has some limitations which are discussed in the “Audience 2” section, it does offer very robust functionality while adding little strain to your IT organization. It is a cost effective offering that will allow you to host collaborative websites, online meetings, IM, and it does an excellent job of email. We recommend BPOS for nearly all of the small organizations that we meet.
Audience 2 – Medium to Large Organizations
You typically have a more complex organizational infrastructure and business process which often lead to more customization requirements. Today, except for branch offices, forget about going Online for SharePoint and only consider Office Communications Online (“OCO”) if you want to standardize on IM. OCO does not offer true unified communications at this point.
Live Meeting is a commodity service and offers great value. If you have an online hosting need, the value proposition is amazing at $4.50 per month.
That leaves us with Exchange Online which is an excellent place to start a cloud initiative. The current offering, based on Exchange 2007, includes the core on premise features with few limitations. For the moment, I’ll assume that you are already running Exchange on premise. Dip your toes in the cloud by running an Exchange Online pilot. Exchange Online has the option of working in a hybrid environment as well (some users on premise and some online) so it makes sense to begin with a few IT users by having them switch entirely to Online. They will continue to use Outlook (back to Software plus Services) and they will be oblivious to the fact that the Exchange services they are using are not on premise (less change management). Once a minimum comfort level is reached take the pilot to a small group of non-IT evangelists. Those users that are eager for new technology, open to change, and who will let everyone know when solutions are truly adding value make the best candidates. Assuming the pilot is successful, there is virtually nothing holding you back from an enterprise deployment. If your organization is not currently on Exchange, the process would be very similar, but the hybrid model would be irrelevant.
Before you start, you must understand that there are a couple of pain points with Exchange Online. The current offering has a shortcoming in the area of single sign on (“SSO”). And this holds true for the entire suite. BPOS requires you to run a client app and log into it before using any of the BPOS features. Additionally, when you change your Active Directory password you will have to change it in BPOS as well. There is one way synchronization for new account creation, but passwords do not stay in synch.
Exchange Online also does not support custom code. This is not a problem for most organizations, but if you have need for custom Exchange forms or custom OWA styling, this may be a show stopper for now.
We recommend that all organizations look at how they may leverage the cloud to their advantage. And if true SSO and customizations are not requirements, an Exchange Online pilot is an effective place to start.
Basic monthly retail pricing for BPOS standard is as follows:
· BPOS Suite (access to all of the below apps) $10
o Exchange Online $5
o Office SharePoint Online $5.25
o Office Communications Online $2
o Office Live Meeting $4.50
· Exchange Hosted Services (optional)
o Forefront Online Protection (included with Exchange Online) $1.75
o Exchange Hosted Archive $4.50
o Exchange Hosted Encryption $1.88