Microsoft Sets for Final Cloud Confrontation with Google


When you take a step back from all things related to Microsoft software, the lasting impression one can't help but take away is the complexity of it all. Between caring for the Windows operating systems and trying to manage the feeding of Microsoft Office and Exchange applications, IT organizations are drowning in support costs.

None of this has been lost on either Google or Microsoft, which are both engaged in battle to reinvent the way we think about using software on the desktop by shifting the deployment model for software to the cloud.

Clearly, Google is leading the way here in terms of innovation with GoogleApps. But Microsoft is in the process of accelerating the general availability of Microsoft Office as a cloud service and has begun to more aggressively promote Microsoft Exchange services that it hopes to make available not only directly through Microsoft, but a legion of existing channel partners. Already, Microsoft claims to have more than half a million paid seats for the reference release of its cloud computing service that boasts synchronization with Active Directory and integration with Microsoft SharePoint, Office Communications Server and Live Meeting. The other thing that Microsoft likes to point out is that antivirus software and other security tools are built into the service.

But the Microsoft Office functionality is, initially at least, limited. The issue then is how many customers can Google convert before Microsoft gets its fat client off the desktop and into the cloud. Right now, Google says it has more than 1 million businesses using GoogleApps.

The key issue that Google has been harping on to get customers to convert is that in a down economy, nobody has the time or money to deal with constantly patching the Microsoft environment. Google also drives home the point that not only is Microsoft Exchange costly to manage, the server hardware required to run it is an expense that many organizations just don't need to make anymore.

Google contends that IT organizations in many instances would be better off redeploying precious IT resources to other applications, rather than using them to nurse fragile Windows applications.

None of this argument is lost on Microsoft, which will try to counter with a set of cloud services that it says will offer greater compatibility and integration with the customer's existing on-premise software. There's no doubt that there is a certain amount of cultural trauma in getting users comfortable with a totally different applications environment. So when it comes to battling Google in the clouds, this issue may prove to be Microsoft's ace in the hole.

But in the meantime, Google is converting thousands of customers, especially in the small-to-medium business sectors, to its way of thinking. The question for Google is, can it really get enough customers to maintain a profitable business before Microsoft closes the Office door it accidentally left open?

IT organizations really need to ask themselves if they are ready to give up running Microsoft software locally, and if so, whether to stay with Microsoft in the cloud or shift to Google, or possibly even some other cloud computing service.