Posts Tagged Google

Office 365 takes control

When Microsoft first launched BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) I had been working for Microsoft New Zealand as a Technology Advisor for just on a year. My experience with cloud solutions pre-dates my time at Microsoft and that gave me some insight as to what this meant for Microsoft as a business. Not only did they make the step into the hosting business, competing against some of their most loyal partners, but they fundamentally changed the way in which they saw their own software. The Office 365 preview was launched this week, and along side it the next version of Microsoft Office, 2013. This falls in line with something I predicted when BPOS was first launched, Cloud will become the way in which you consume Microsoft Software from now on.

The evolution is totally natural and in line with what the industry as a whole is witnessing. Programs have become Apps and more importantly Servers have become a Service. Microsofts licensing model has been playing a game of catchup with this massive change, we have seen a credit card only experience mature into a more traditional distribution model, allowing customers to buy Microsoft cloud services via their regular channels/relationships. http://rcpmag.com/articles/2012/07/09/wpc-2012-office-365-partners-to-get-direct-billing.aspx

Office 365 has become the way in which you buy Microsoft’s Office Suite and all of the associated back office services, Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync. Furthermore it opens up a rich marketplace for partners to show their wares. Office 365 has only been in market for just over a year having had a long gestation period that was fraught with delay after delay (some 9 months or more), its refreshing to see that Microsoft has learnt from its mistakes and with little warning released the beta of the next release of its Office 365 platform known as Wave 15.

Over the next few weeks I hope to share with you some of my observations, covering off some of the improvements to the services and the integration points into your on-premise software. There are many such improvements to talk about, Loryan Strant from Paradyne in Australia has listed a few here: http://thecloudmouth.com/2012/07/17/office-365-wave-15-whats-new/

Hot on my list is the new Sharepoint Experience coupled with Office 2013, this will put out any Google fires within your organisation, along with Lync “click to call” … watch this space New Zealand there are providers working furiously on this capability.

Lync Wave 15 Office 365 Voice Integration

To setup a 9 month trial of the Office 365 beta go here: http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/en/try-office-preview , I suggest that you choose the Enterprise edition and remember that once you create a tenant account you should be able to add the other products bu clicking the appropriate link and using that ID to authenticate again.

Sharepoint 2013 Home

It has been an action packed month for Microsoft, starting with the announcement that they will sell their own tablet device to take on Apples iPad, to the launch of its next generation productivity suite in Office 365 / Office 2013. And if that wasnt enough, Microsoft announced today that Windows 8 will be available on the 26th of October http://windowsteamblog.com/windows/b/bloggingwindows/archive/2012/07/18/windows-8-will-be-available-on.aspx .

A big year ahead for Microsoft and I am betting those working for Google have something to worry about!

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Microsoft previews Office 15 tiles

A screenshot started doing the rounds today of the launchpad for Office 15. It also included the new Office 15 logo which has had a Metro makeover. As mentioned a couple of weeks ago Microsoft now intends to release Office 15 with its soon to be launched Surface tablet, along with support for the RT or ARM based version of Windows 8.

Microsoft Office 15 on Surface

Office 15 running on Surface

Observing the screenshot above (which is not a lot to go on I know) you could come to the conclusion that Office 15 exists within a “sub menu” of metro. A nested app experience that in my opinion lends itself to iOS deployment. It makes sense, if Microsoft have re-designed Office from the ground up for Windows RT it makes sense that there is a version available for iOS as well. I have no doubt that the Windows 8 experience of Office 15 will be the best experience of any platform, but Microsoft must acknowledge that there are other hounds snapping at its heels thanks to Google’s recent purchase of Quick Office for iOS and some 400 Million Customers.

Tight integration with Microsoft’s expanding cloud services, Skydrive for consumers and Office 365 for business and education, is the name of the game. It’s in Microsoft’s best interest to break down the barriers to adopting its cloud services and it shouldn’t matter what device is used. Note the lack of Office 365 or Sharepoint tiles in the screenshot above, but I have no doubt this will be included in future “leaks”.

Microsoft needs to simplify the current 2010 experience, Metro is an excuse to do so, allowing for a completely different design language to be used when addressing one of their biggest revenue sources.

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Is Google in panic mode?

I have owned an iPhone since they launched in 2007 and an iPad from day one. I love Apple products, however I found it frustrating that Microsoft’s attitude towards the device was one of a competitor rather than just another platform to deliver software and services to. I had the desire to edit documents on my iOS device and had a look around for a version of Office, as we all know none existed, however Quick Office appeared to deliver quite a good experience on both the iPhone and the iPad, it had slick integration with Dropbox and Google docs as well as the ability to send files to and from my Mac/PC over Wifi.

I have used the version of Office that is baked into Windows Phone 7 as well and it IS better, however Quick Office already addressed a large chunk of the mobile / tablet market with some recorded 400 Million users! That is a Massive number and something that Microsoft needs to be aware of when it tries to use the functionality upsell story of their own product. 400 Million users have decided Quick Office fills the gap that the lack of Microsoft Office for iOS left.

The recent news that Google purchased Quick Office came as no surprise to me. A rich “office” experience on the iOS has been lacking an really Quick Office is the only company in the last 2 years to come close to what Microsoft has already established in the desktop world. I do get the feeling that Google are changing their direction with this purchase, remember Google are the company that until recently were pushing a “browser centric” operating system (Chrome OS). The browser (until now) has formed one of Googles more convincing sales pitches, that is all of your information exists purely in the browser/cloud, there is no need for a client application. I disagreed with this approach, applications accessing cloud services is the best experience in my opinion and it would seem that Google have started to recognize this as well with the purchase of Quick Office.

Expect things to get interesting when Microsoft launch their version of Office for iOS later this year (rumored to be November 10th 2012). Microsoft are the current kings of collaboration, offering a richer integration that what Quick Office offered, however the “good enough” approach may see some users stick with Quick Office and wait for the improvements that arise out of the Google partnership.

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The case for local cloud

I became a systems engineer for an IT firm back in the early 1990’s, back in the good old days when re-installing Windows was a regular piece of advice you would give to your customers in order to solve a software crash. Back in those days it was not uncommon to turn up to a customers site to find software that was installed incorrectly or misconfigured, worse still there was little or no documentation to assist you with restoring the server that had just crashed. Not to mention a tape “backup” that was of little or no value due to lost incremental backup tapes, cumbersome offsite storage or worse still a series of unsuccessful backup jobs leaving the customer with no restorable data.

Those kind of situations were of a regular occurrence and cost customers lots and lots of money. To prevent such catastrophes a customer would be asked to deploy resilient servers with redundant hardware and big capacity backup tapes. More often than not the customer would purchase part of the required solution but not be able to justify the “best practice” solution. Cutting corners was a recipe for disaster but at the end of the day it was what most small businesses in New Zealand could afford.

Technology didn’t come cheap back then, and today at the top end of the market it still isn’t cheap. Resilient server hardware still costs, even though I can buy a 2TB hard drive for under NZ$200 it’s not the same as a high performance RAID system that can cost 5 times as much for the same capacity. Lucky for us that cloud computing has started to take off, companies are now able to access a “best practice” deployment of their favorite software running on the resilient hardware we could only dream of in the 1990’s.

The software companies of today are very different to what they were in the 1990’s, they recognize the fact that their software may be installed incorrectly and cause a customer a great deal of pain. What used to be a few wizards used in the setup process has now become an entire suite of tools focused on management and monitoring. Microsoft is one of the players in the market that provides cloud solutions based on the software they have sold to their customers for many years, allowing them to not only provide the best experience of their software to their customers but also to their partners, IT firms, who also have the ability to run the software in a “best practice” environment. All of the tools Microsoft uses in their data centers in Singapore are now used by partners in New Zealand to run their hosted environments, providing a resilient and efficient service.

Microsoft’s hosted offering is price competitive and, as an economy of scale, it will only get cheaper. Recently Microsoft announced a 20% drop in the pricing of their Office 365 suite. So why would I chose to use a local partner to host my email, CRM or line of business software?

Local cloud providers matter, there are many reasons why you would choose a local cloud provider over a larger provider such as Microsoft or Google. It shouldn’t come down to cost of the subscription alone, there are other important factors to consider when working with a cloud provider.

Location

New Zealand is a very small island in a big ocean and as a result our connectivity to the world is somewhat limited. This will change over time with other connections coming online soon however at this point in time there is only the Southern Cross Cable connecting New Zealand businesses to the internet. This will obviously result in some latency and moreover additional cost depending on the plan you have with your ISP. Local providers are usually connected into the local loop via high speed fiber: think latency of around 10 – 30ms compared to Singapore of around 180ms (what I have seen on a GOOD day). This isn’t a problem for 80% of most businesses and their requirements, such as email, however when you are dealing with applications such as CRM with integration into custom line of business applications the latency starts to have a negative impact on the end user experience. The advice I have is to run a trial of the software you intend to run before you purchase, something all cloud providers offer at no cost.

Size matters

When you think of a local cloud provider don’t be surprised to know that there has been and will continue to be significant investment in large data centers in New Zealand. Over the past 3 years I know of more than three Class 3 data centers that have opened up in New Zealand, these data centers are bigger than a football field and are utilized by your local cloud providers. The photo above shows the inside of one of these data centers just north of Auckland’s CBD. They are built using the same guidelines that Microsoft and Google use and are usually helped along by the various hardware vendors; HP, EMC, Dell etc.

Bespoke solutions

Most providers of cloud solutions are able to keep costs low because they do not provide any level of customization for the solution. To most small businesses this will not matter however when integration to an existing on premise solution is required or better yet that solution is to be pulled into a hosted environment a local cloud provider is the only sensible option to choose. Recently I worked with www.onenet.co.nz to host a customers CRM solution. The solution required a level of customization that OneNet was able to provide in-house allowing for tighter integration to their line of business applications. Furthermore the location of the OneNet servers gave the end users a snappy response when using CRM from within their Outlook client, this was a client requirement in a heavy use scenario.

Throat to choke

Local providers have one benefit as well that the likes of Microsoft and Google will never be able to provide, and that is a local “throat to choke”. Don’t get me wrong, the support I have had from Microsoft whenever I have had “challenges” with aspects of BPOS or Office 365 has been first class, however 100% of the time I am talking with someone in a call-center overseas. With local cloud providers, they are just that, LOCAL. If I have an issue with the cloud service or I want some customization I am able to visit local premises or have a representative visit me. As mentioned before this doesn’t matter to 80% of businesses but for those who seek comfort for knowing their service is coming from somewhere local its a deal maker.

Cloud isn’t just a product or a price point, to me it is a responsible way to provide computing capacity to businesses. Good riddance to the all night recovery processes to restore a crashed server and hello to reliable applications!

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Cloud concern?

Recently the press in New Zealand and around the globe have been all over a man called Kim Dotcom and his case relating to the “Mega conspiracy” and the Megaupload site. The press the world over love the fact that Megaupload was widely regarded as the place to store your illegally downloaded movies and music.

More recently I watched a discussion on TVNZ Breakfast between Petra Baghurst (presenter) and the editor of Computerworld magazine (journalist) about the Megaupload case and more generally the topic of cloud computing. I watched in disbelief as the editor of Computerworld, Sarah Putt, managed to give what I consider a poor explanation of cloud computing and its associated risks. When I considered people with little or no knowledge of cloud computing would be watching I became concerned that the Megaupload fiasco would have a negative impact on cloud computing uptake within businesses in NZ.

Having built and then sold cloud computing solutions now for over 10 years I thought I would spell out the reasons why Megaupload and its issues couldn’t be further from the truth behind cloud computing.

When Sarah talked about the FBI in the USA deleting the user data from the Megaupload website she failed to talk about a couple of key aspects which would put someones mind at ease. Instead she made a statement which left the impression that everyone’s data could be deleted at any stage by the FBI or any government agency without notice from ANY cloud service. This simply isn’t true.

Lets get one thing straight, cloud computing is a BIG bet for most technology companies and we aren’t talking small companies either. Microsoft, Google, Amazon are some of the leaders in the cloud computing push with many others following. The big companies all have big legal teams, these teams have been working with governments for years to better understand the regulatory requirements when it comes to hosting customer data and understanding complications that arise when its hosted offshore. In short, if there was ANY risk that any of the big players would end up having their customer data deleted by the FBI overnight, they simply wouldn’t have attempted to provide the service in the first place. Furthermore these service providers all spell out in plain english the regulatory requirements for their customers:

http://www.google.com/accounts/TOS?hl=en

http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=13602

I liken it to an owner of a Gallardo holding Lamborghini responsible when they break the speed limit. When was the last time you posted a speeding ticket to the manufacturer of your car?

Understanding your legal requirements as a consumer of cloud services is the first thing you should do before deciding to move.

The other very important thing I was amazed Sarah Putt missed was the fact that in most cloud scenarios a user is able to gain access to their data when they aren’t connected to the internet. Google may currently fall short in this area, however when using the likes of Office365 in conjunction with Sharepoint workspace, a user has an offline cache of their data from which they are able to make a local backup at any time. There are many more cloud services that provide an offline cache such as Dropbox etc. And lets not forget the fact that Outlook provides the ability to work offline, giving users access to their email, contacts and calendars when they aren’t connected to the internet/email service. This serves as piece of mind rather than a requirement of a cloud service and I use the term “dis-mount strategy” to talk about the ability to recall your company data from the cloud should your situation change. Another great product that allows seamless “dis-mount” from the cloud is Exchange 2010. Exchange 2010 has been architected to co-exist with Office 365, allowing customers to maintain a local Exchange server for email while utilizing the cloud for additional email capacity.

At the end of the day as with any business decision due-diligence needs to be undertaken before using a cloud service and this includes what to do in the event that you need to recall your data from the cloud. In most cases the risks will be mitigated especially when choosing to use a product from a reputable brand with a strong market presence and a good roadmap for future releases.

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  • Musings…

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