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Why You Should Assume Office 365 is Office 364 and Why That's A Good Thing!

The forecast for Microsoft's cloud could not have seemed brighter.  As Microsoft has been ramping up Office 365, beta testers have been providing generally glowing reviews of the new cloud offering. Microsoft changed its licensing to make it easier for organizations to adopt the mix of on-premise or cloud-based Office365 services--the "hybrid model" as Microsoft calls it--that is right for each customer.

What could possibly go wrong?  High profile outages at Amazon, Google, and Microsoft's own BPOS service.

Over recent weeks, there have been outages at several major cloud services. Now plenty have media have covered those stories in real time, so I am not going to rehash the details. What matters most is that these stories freaked out the market, which has already been hesitant, at best, to embrace the cloud. We were reminded that the cloud is just another network which, like all networks, can go down.  And that the cloud is another form of outsourcing which, itself, is not a new concept in IT, meaning we don't have control over it, but we save money, and we can point fingers more easily than at our own mistakes.

So what's the forecast for the cloud? And what are the takeaways for enterprises and IT Pros? Let me share six important take-aways from these events.

 Takeaway #1: The cloud is not infallible. There is no SLA that will give you a 100% Uptime guarantee...  It is not realistic. And corollaries of Murphy's Law ensure that downtime will happen at the most inopportune time!  Assume Office 365 is really Office 364, no different than any other cloud provider or than your own network.

 Takeaway #2: The cloud is not for every enterprise or scenario. Unlike old school outsourcing, the cloud gives you the opportunity--and, in fact encourages you--to align one or more cloud services to achieve a business objective. And if you do your homework correctly, and really identify all of your business and technical requirements, you might find at least a few scenarios for which a pure cloud play is NOT appropriate.

 Takeaway #3: You must continue to consider security and recovery as you move to the cloud. In the end, it is your butt on the line if data is leaked, security is breached, or data is lost. This is one area that I think Microsoft has by far the best story to tell. In my mind, the hybrid model and the "private cloud" options that Microsoft and its partners are enabling give a business the most flexibility to meet the various scenarios for which the cloud is suited, while maintaining appropriate levels of control and recoverability.

Office 365 will be a fantastic service. Of that I have no doubt. I am very bullish on Microsoft's ability to build cloud based solutions and platforms that meet the needs of enterprises, and to effectively message and sell the value of those solutions.

However, Office 365 is really a "version 2.0" offering, on the heels of BPOS, and years of experience have shown me that I can expect some serious limitations and challenges with this release, but that this release will be an exciting and very necessary transition to the next version, which will be more feature rich and scalable.

I believe Office 365 will have enormous value for small and medium sized businesses.  My own business started hosting Exchange in 2002, before BPOS even existed, and we moved to BPOS during beta. It was a great, GREAT service. I know I will be getting a lot of value out of Office 365.  For SMBs but more so for enterprises, Office 365 will be a great solution for certain scenarios, but perhaps not for everything... Yet... Office 365 is not a silver bullet, but it is a critical step in the journey and one well worth taking with your eyes open.

Warning #4: Microsoft is driven internally by adoption of Office 365 and other parts of the cloud. That means that while I and many other independent experts, and even those openly straight-shooting directors within Microsoft will encourage enterprises to move thoughtfully, not blindly, to the cloud, many other parts of Microsoft will be selling the heck out if Office 365. Sip... don't gulp... the Office 365 koolaid.

Takeaway #5: The cloud is outsourcing, yes, but outsourcing with a service model. And that can and should mean something different than old school outsourcing. It means that IT organizations are being pushed further into the business analysis space... They must really understand how to identify requirements, align those requirements with a variety of technical solutions--internal (on premises),  external (cloud) and custom built. I emphasize this cultural shift regularly in my column... Don't get left behind as a pure technologist!

Takeaway #6: The cloud is a rapidly changing environment. Microsoft and other vendors are racing to fill the needs of businesses large and small. There are going to be gaps, so be mindful of those gaps and find resources that can help you discover what you don't know, and then find solutions.  Just this week, it was announced that Microsoft itself--the Microsoft Technology Centers--migrated from dedicated SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 on an internal cloud hosted by MSIT (Microsoft IT), and even the MTCs turned to a third party migration tool(by AvePoint) to migrate content to the cloud while maintaining metadata and configuration.

So let me wrap up this discussion by reiterating that I am very excited about the cloud, and particularly about Microsoft's "hybrid model" and platform approach to the cloud. Their strategy is well thought out and, I would argue, is partly an outcome of their core competencies which are losing value within the enterprise. Their need to move slowly to the could without sacrificing the revenue streams from on-prem software luckily mirrors our own needs as customers to move slowly to the cloud as requirements, capabilities, and costs allow.

Other competitors may be way ahead in consumer or cloud offerings but I think that the game is Microsoft's to lose in the near-to-mid term. And it's our own game to lose, too, if we allow ourselves to expect the cloud to be perfect as a shortcut to not fully thinking through our IT solutions and services, from requirements gathering to implementation.

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