Office 365 Open: Microsoft Cloud Attracts MSP Interest

Office 365 Open: Microsoft Cloud Attracts MSP Interest

Microsoft Office 365 Open, which allows partners to manage end-customer cloud billing, is starting to attract interest from managed services providers (MSPs). During Schnizzfest, an MSP conference today in Philadelphia, Microsoft was busy answering questions from MSPs. Many of those MSPs are giving Office 365 a second look now that Microsoft has vowed to address the customer billing debate. Still, some key questions remain.

As you may recall, Microsoft Office 365 (SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, Lync Online) launched in June 2011, but Microsoft designed the original system to manage all end-customer billing. Some partners felt left out of the loop and worried Microsoft would gradually take Office 365 customers direct.

Defining Moment

At Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2012 (WPC12) last week, the software giant finally said partners will be allowed to manage end-customer billing if they so choose. That statement continues to echo here at Schnizzfest, hosted by TruMethods, an MSP coaching organization.

During private conversations here, several MSPs told me they are now planning potential customer migrations from on-premises Microsoft Exchange to Office 365 in Q4 2012 -- assuming the cloud billing service for partners is activated at that time. Still, some MSPs say they will remain with third-party hosted Exchange providers like Intermedia because of proven partner service levels.

Microsoft hasn't said much about how the Office 365 Open cloud billing system will work. It could  take a full year for the billing system to be fully available to partners worldwide, a Microsoft spokeswoman has confirmed. In the meantime, MSPs and cloud integrators should be asking at least 10 key questions about Office 365 Open, I've noted on Talkin' Cloud (MSPmentor's sister site).

Windows Intune: Wait and See

Meanwhile, some MSPs here also are discussing Windows Intune -- Microsoft's cloud-based PC management service. Generally speaking, Windows Intune supports Windows-based PCs and laptops, plus tablets and smartphones (Windows, Google Android and Apple iOS). It also includes anti-malware capabilities and a licensing scheme that allows enterprise customers to more easily move from older versions of Windows to the Windows 7 and, soon, Window 8 release.

But the lack of Mac OS X, Linux and server support has limited Windows Intune's appeal to many MSPs, most of whom already have cross-platform RMM (remote monitoring and management) software in place.
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