MSPs: How to Compete with Google Apps, Microsoft BPOS

At the Intermedia Partner Summit in Silicon Valley, managed service providers and VARs are discussed how to compete with Google Apps and Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). The discussion involved  MSPs that offer hosted Exchange in partnership with Intermedia. Here are the key takeaways.

Curt Mark, manager for Intermedia's partner team, ask several dozen MSPs and VARs what they're hearing from customers on the competitive front. Several MSPs in the room mentioned Google Apps as the top competitive concern in the hosted Exchange market. Others mentioned Microsoft BPOS. At that point, MSPs themselves started sharing key competitive strategies.

This is the second time in recent weeks a noteworthy MSP or SaaS-related conference discussion focused on competing with Microsoft and Google in the cloud.

Taking On Google Apps

In order compete with Google Apps, MSPs pointed to several strategies:
  1. Promoting service level agreements that guarantee five-nines availability.
  2. Promoting Exchange's history as an enterprise-grade email system.
  3. Highlighting Google's core business focus (mining data for search), rather than enterprise-class applications.
  4. Promoting MSP help desks and support lines to customers, a subtle hint that reaching Google for Google Apps support can be difficult.

Countering Microsoft BPOS

In order to compete with Microsoft BPOS, attendees said:
  1. Microsoft BPOS is notoriously weak for BlackBerry customers.
  2. If Microsoft is so great at hosting, why doesn't Microsoft BPOS offer Exchange 2010 Online yet?
  3. Microsoft BPOS requires year-long contracts.
  4. Microsoft doesn't support public folders.

Equal Time for Google, Microsoft

Of course, I must offer some balance: The Intermedia Partner Summit focuses entirely on third-party hosted Exchange partners. So it's hardly surprising some attendees want to learn how to compete more effectively against Google Apps and Microsoft BPOS.

In the broader industry, there are plenty of MSPs partnering up with Google. In fact, Google says the Google Apps reseller program has attracted 1,000 partners, and 22 percent of MSPmentor 100 survey participants are getting involved in Google Apps.

Also of note, a healthy number of MSPs see potential opportunities in the Microsoft BPOS market. True believers include DynTek, an $85 million solutions provider that works closely with Microsoft and Citrix Systems.

How to Sell Hosted vs. On-premise Exchange

Also of note: One MSP in the room asked how to sell hosted Exchange to customers that prefer on-premise email.

Several MSPs offered the following recommendation: Point out the licensing, hardware, and on-premise support expenses associated with on-premise Exchange. Also, point out that on-premise deployments at some point will require additional upgrades. A prime example: Exchange 2007 customers eventually have to go to Exchange 2010. In a hosted environment, that process is handled by the hosting provider as part of the ongoing, predictable monthly fee.

Target Markets

During a later session at the conference, Intermedia's Mark described core target markets for MSPs that want to sell hosted Exchange:
  1. SMBs with 1 to 5000 employees, remote offices and mobile workforces
  2. Entrepreneurs and recent startups with employees who demand enterprise-level accesiblity on the go
  3. Legacy Exchange users that need to eventually move off Exchange 5.5, Exchange 2000, 2003 and 2007
  4. Small Business Server 2000 and 2003 customers
  5. Customers who are tired of pushing patches and maintaining data backups for Exchange
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