Microsoft has teamed up with cloud email services provider Mimecast to put on a partner event in London promoting what it claims are burgeoning Office 365 opportunities for resellers.
James Akrigg, head of technology for partners at Microsoft (pictured, left), told attendees that businesses are already moving to Office 365, the cloud-based Office productivity suite launched in June, with changes in licensing to follow in early July.
"Our vision is about delivering continuous cloud services for every person and every business," he said. That represents a massive change in attitude and approach for the IT community, meaning customers will need assistance before, during and after adoption.
Akrigg said about 70 per cent of Microsoft engineers are currently focused on cloud or cloud technologies, and that would go up to 90 per cent in about a year. Cloud is gathering momentum, and education will be needed, hand in hand with the development of cloud services provision. Windows phones will drive adoption even faster, he suggested.
Customers will increasingly move to Office 365 or similar cloud offerings in part because of the high potential for cost reduction and increased flexibility, Akrigg said.
Improving the value of the channel
Justin Pirie (pictured, below right), director of content and communities at Mimecast, said cloud services – like other service offerings – are likely to improve the value of channel partners to the customer.
"A lot of people are fed up with hearing about cloud because it is not really real for their businesses. But it is growing really rapidly, and it is not something you can ignore," he maintained.
Pirie indicated that cloud-based email and security could be a way in for many business customers. A lot were already familiar with using personal webmail, and could see certain advantages in a business-grade offering. And security was always key.
"In the US, we ran a survey on cloud adoption," Pirie said. "Seventy per cent said they were considering adoption. In the UK, 64 per cent have said they were considering adoption... Figures from Gartner suggest that 30 per cent [of businesses] will move to cloud email by 2015."
Hybrid offerings could help bridge the gap for many, he added, if due diligence is done.
Nicolas Blank, a messaging architect specialising in migrations, Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory, working for firms such as South Africa-based consultancy Symbiotech, said the technology had to fit the customer need. The channel should not lose sight of that fact.
There are key influencing factors around cloud purchases. Also, messaging is not just about email, he said.
"It is a services layer, with discrete SLAs," added Blank.
Microsoft has awarded Blank the status of Most Valuable Professional and Microsoft Certified Master for Exchange. He said that work around Exchange is likely to remain in demand for at least the next decade, as users slowly migrate to the cloud.
Capture and formalise relevant services
Providers should consider how they can capture and formalise relevant services for their customers, using messaging architecture.
"All I do for a living is Exchange, and I have been doing that for about 15 years. But I have started consulting on private cloud and now I am helping build public clouds," he said. "Some of the opportunities are becoming quite clear."
Sam Routledge, services director at UK reseller Softcat, which has in the past focused intensely on opportunities around software licensing, said the key for it had been balancing the traditional licensing business against its complementary cloud services offering.
Routledge said Softcat felt the opportunities around Office 365 coupled with Exchange 2010 deployments were "really exciting".
"We live in interesting times. It is going to be a really different world out there," he said. "We could supply kit to cloud providers themselves, but that will be a shrinking business model. So we are thinking about providing cloud overlays and so on, and about how you find the investment if you build your own services and the like."
In the meantime, customers will not throw out their existing infrastructure, so resellers will have time to evolve – although they obviously need to stay ahead of the curve so they can properly assist customers. Routledge said Softcat was moving from virtualisation into doing more in the private cloud, then into hybrid cloud.
Public cloud is still potentially years down the track, and then only if the customer is ready.
"Access to HR services is coming in. I think cloud will gradually nibble away at the on-premise infrastructure," he said. "The options for getting involved include build your own, resell or partner, consult for customers, or mix and match."
Office 365 has only just rolled out. Nessa Lynchehaun, UK partner director at Mimecast, said the company has launched some support services for the suite that it believes will minimise the risk to resellers of migrating their offerings.
"Many resellers are concerned about the impact the cloud will have on their businesses. We see the launch of Office 365 as a great chance for the channel to demonstrate how crucial its role will be as organisations move towards an on-demand environment," said Lynchehaun.
She added that Office 365 was "undoubtedly a great product with huge potential" for businesses. Yet most organisations would need "a great deal of advice and support" if they were to adopt the new platform.
"We believe we can help increase revenue for our partners and deliver fantastic value to our customers," she said.
Mimecast's new services incorporate archiving and discovery functionality, and it is claiming 100 per cent service availability, formalised via SLAs.
"Should there be any planned or unplanned outages during or after the move to Office 365, Mimecast will automatically deliver an uninterrupted email service to end users via their Microsoft Outlook mailboxes," the vendor promised in its announcement.
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