5 Things to Know: Oracle Cloud Office, Google Apps & Microsoft Office 365

The looming SaaS battle between Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 (the forthcoming successor to Business Productivity Online Suite) just got a bit more interesting. Indeed, Oracle has launched Oracle Cloud Office -- a SaaS platform that VARs and MSPs can host on their own. Also, Oracle launched Open Office 3.3, the latest version of the desktop productivity suite. Here are five quick points for MSPs to keep in mind as they mull desktop and mobile productivity strategies for their customers.

1. Oracle Cloud Office: Oracle says customers can embrace Oracle Cloud Office on-premise behind a firewall. Moreover, partners can host Oracle Cloud Office on their own. Over the past few months, we've heard from a growing number of MSPs that have specialized Oracle business practices. We're checking in with those MSPs to see if they're giving Oracle Cloud Office a look. And we're also checking potential pricing models.

2. Google Apps: Stephen Cho, director of Google Apps Channels, says the SaaS platform now has more than 2,000 partners. Interestingly, Google permits channel partners to manage the SaaS billing process with end-customers. So far, Microsoft has not offered that capability. Cho and Google Apps Channel Program Manager Jeff Ragusa describe the strategy on TalkinCloud, MSPmentor's sister site. But we concede: Some MSPs remain wary of partnering with Google because of potential direct-to-customer competition.

3. Microsoft Office 365: Some MSPs worry about Microsoft's super-aggressive pricing strategy for Office 365, the forthcoming successor to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). Still, Microsoft is quick to note that BPOS has more than 16,000 channel partners. And Microsoft has developed special incentives and educational efforts, called Microsoft Cloud Essentials and Cloud Accelerate -- to help partners profit in the cloud. Jenni Flinders, VP of U.S. partner strategy and programs, describes the strategy on TalkinCloud. Microsoft still doesn't permit partners to manage SaaS customer billing. But a Microsoft-Parallels relationship shows that Microsoft is closely examining SaaS billing models for channel partners, particularly large service providers.

4. Hedging Their Bets: Some of Microsoft's largest hosting partners are evolving their SaaS strategies to include non-Microsoft software. Intermedia, for instance, is preparing to launch a hosted Unified Communications channel partner program in January 2011. Intermedia already supports nearly 300,000 hosted Exchange and hosted email users. But the hosted Unified Communications solution will involve some third-party code that integrates with Microsoft Exchange on the back-end and Microsoft Outlook on the front end. Translation: Intermedia plans to compete with Microsoft Lync, the successor to Microsoft Office Communications Server.

5. Don't Forget the Upstarts: A range of companies have launched alternatives to Google Apps and Microsoft BPOS. We frequently hear from HyperOffice, which promotes online business collaboration software. Zoho continues to turn heads with a range of SaaS offerings. And upstarts like ChannelCloud appear to be preparing VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) solutions for VARs and MSPs. In fact, ChannelCloud hopes to help VARs and MSPs transform into cloud integrators.

Of course, the list above simplifies a very complex discussion that potentially involves dozens of additional vendors, plus financial and business model considerations. We'll be back with more thoughts soon.

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