Today in Cloud

Both Google and Microsoft offer cloud-based productivity suites, and both companies are pushing hard to secure adoption in businesses, in government, and in education. Each suite has its own advantages, and it’s limitations, but the process of selecting the right product for each customer typically takes place behind closed doors. Every new customer therefore needs to start the evaluation process from scratch, missing out on the honest lessons learned by those who preceded them. As VentureBeat reports, UC Berkeley decided to do things a little differently. The university has published the assessment matrix it used in eventually selecting Google Apps. Google, it seems, was right for Berkeley. But that certainly doesn’t mean that Google is right for everyone. Institutions coming from an on-premise Exchange setup would probably be more inclined toward Microsoft, for example. Having been involved in supporting clients through a number of these evaluations, I can honestly say that we need to see more of these assessments published, and we need to see them coming from real customers, not carefully groomed ‘real customers’ that the vendors have nurtured and coddled until they write up their wholly unrealistic experiences of the process. Well done, Berkeley. And hopefully the university will revisit its original assessment once the deployment is live… and after it’s been running for 6 months or so.

Today in Cloud

I was bemused to read in this morning’s Financial Times that Yell.com has agreed a deal with Microsoft that will see the indebted publisher of Yellow Pages business directories sell Microsoft cloud solutions to customers in Europe and the Americas. The Register also has the story, but doesn’t really comment on the implications. According to the FT, Yell’s share price jumped 16% following the announcement, so investors are clearly happy. There’s certainly value in Microsoft using partners to sell its services; those partners know their customers and their markets, and can package Microsoft solutions with other services tailored to specific customer needs. But which businesses feel an affinity to Yell.com that would see them buy cloud hosting or cloud-based productivity apps there rather than from someone else? I remain bemused.

Today in Cloud

A Microsoft executive’s answer to a question during the London launch of Office 365 last month has caused a bit of a storm. As Zack Whittaker reported for ZDNet, Microsoft “admitted” that the U.S. company might have to surrender European customer data if required to do so by U.S. law enforcement agencies invoking the USA PATRIOT Act. The problem, which is actually reasonably well known, is that the PATRIOT Act trumps the Safe Harbor agreements in place between the United States and Europe, and that normally provide a mechanism for U.S. companies to demonstrate their compliance with Europe’s tough data privacy laws. Jennifer Baker reports for Computerworld that the European Parliament is now getting involved, concerned that European data may be at risk. It is certainly true that the extreme powers of the PATRIOT Act could be used to sweep aside the Safe Harbor principles, and customers should be aware that it’s legally permissible. It’s also quite unlikely — unless you’re storing data in which U.S. law enforcement might have a legitimate anti-terror interest. Open and informed discussion of the issues is to be welcomed. Blind panic that — “suddenly” — the FBI will start reading European email? Less helpful.

Today in Cloud

Microsoft‘s SaaS offering, Office 365, formally launched today at events in (at least) London and New York. An adjunct to the massively profitable Microsoft Office installed base, and a response to Google Apps, Zoho, and other low cost cloud-based competitors, there’s a lot riding on this product. Comparisons with Google Apps — which can be available for free — are being drawn, and the initial commentary suggests that competition will be fierce. InfoWorld scores Office 365 just above Google Apps in a review, whilst the Financial Times‘ Richard Waters suggests that Microsoft’s relative tardiness in embracing the cloud may not matter to customers who are only now beginning that journey for themselves. InformationWeek highlights Google’s preemptive strike yesterday (doesn’t drawing attention to the competition simply highlight the fact that you’re worried by it?) before going on to flag 10 enterprise concerns in evaluating the competing products. Tim Anderson reckons that Office 365’s similarity to familiar products will ensure its success, while Galen Gruman and Dennis Howlett are amongst those highlighting surprising limitations in mobile support and (less surprising?) failings on desktop operating systems other than Windows. Elsewhere, companies have been quick to announce complementary solutions that may appeal to a broad set of prospective customers. To have a company of Microsoft’s stature make such a potentially disruptive (to themselves, if to no one else) move toward the cloud helps to increase the credibility and visibility of the whole cloud computing proposition. It remains to be seen who this ends up helping most; Microsoft or its upstart competitors.

Today in Cloud

Microsoft’s online adjunct to their market-dominating Office productivity suite has been in beta for a while, and it looks as if a formal launch is now due within the month. Mary-Jo Foley cited sources inside the company last week in suggesting that the product’s code is pretty well finished. Jon Brodkin over at InfoWorld published a piece overnight in which he claims that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer let the date slip in a presentation to an industry group in Delhi last week. Brodkin points to a Microsoft transcript of the speech, in which Ballmer is reported to say “We’re pushing hard in the productivity space. We’ll launch our Office 365 cloud service, which gives you Lync and Exchange and SharePoint and Office and more as a subscribable service that comes from the cloud. That launches in the month of June.” As I noted when the beta became available, Microsoft Office already has incredibly strong brand recognition, and Office 365 will play well with those customers. Whether it will persuade anyone to move off cloud-based competitors like Google Apps or Zoho remains to be seen.

Today in Cloud

Microsoft opened the doors yesterday, letting business customers start exploring the potential of Office 365; a Software as a Service offering that is intended to compete with Google Apps, Zoho and others. Microsoft is certainly late to the SaaS productivity suite market, but has a huge advantage in terms of brand (and feature) recognition from all those locally installed versions of Microsoft Office. Office 365 lacks the free version that Google Apps offers, and is typically more expensive than Google’s premium version. Microsoft may be betting that this simply doesn’t matter, and that business customers looking to go SaaS will not want to risk any loss of compatibility with Office documents coming from customers, partners, and suppliers. In that case, they’ll probably keep a few power users on full-blown Office, and gradually transition from buying install disks for the rest of the organisation to instead paying an Office 365 subscription. In good times that strategy works for Microsoft, but when every penny is being counted the free or cheaper options from the competition begin to look very compelling. With General Availability of Office 365 currently slated for later this year, Microsoft must be counting on continued strengthening in the economy.