MSPs Push Beyond SaaS, Hosted Exchange

What comes after hosted Exchange and software as a service? Managed service providers like Azaleos Corp. and Intermedia Inc. continue to offer new answers to those questions. Here's what to expect from both companies heading into Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2009 (WPC09) in New Orleans.

Azaleos this week launched Azaleos Managed Hybrid Services -- which blends on-premise Exchange Server with Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and Exchange Online). And in a sign of the times: Azaleos has adjusted its corporate branding and tagline ahead of the  Here's why.

Back in 2007, Azaleos positioned itself as "the the managed Microsoft Exchange and messaging company." But times have changed. Additional Microsoft applications -- particularly SharePoint and now Office Communications Server -- are gaining critical mass in hosted and/or SaaS (software as a service) configurations. Microsoft BPOS is a single umbrella under which all of those SaaS applications live.

Keeping pace with the times, Azaleos now positions itself as "the managed unified communications services company." Instead of pushing customers to move all of their applications into the cloud, Azaleos has launched a hybrid push.

Rival Hosted Exchange specialists have also diversified their offerings. Intermedia, which says it manages more than 325,000 mailboxes for customers, has  introduced hosted Microsoft Office Communications Server and also is beta testing Hosted Unison -- an emerging unified communications platform. I expect to meet the Intermedia folks at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2009 (July 13-16, New Orleans), and I will offer more details on the company's strategy at that time.

Meanwhile, Computer Sciences Corp. a few days ago agreed to resell Microsoft BPOS -- though it sounds like the agreement calls for Microsoft to do the actual application hosting.

Defining Hybrid Services

Back at Azaleos, the company explains its hybrid services in the following way:
Azaleos Managed Hybrid Services enable organizations to select on-premise or cloud-based e-mail services based on the roles & responsibilities and/or regulatory requirements of individual employees, workgroups, departments, subsidiaries, and more. According to Gartner, Inc., “a mixed environment will be the norm for most enterprises for many years. A hybrid environment will make a mixed environment more flexible and will enable movement more easily between on- and off-premises implementations.”
I was also impressed to see Julia White, diirector of Exchange marketing at Microsoft, quoted in the Azaleos releae. It's a subtle but important quote, lending credibility to the fact that Microsoft can't host the entire Exchange customer base on its own. Translation: Partners welcome.

The Azaleos press release mentions at least four scenarios where customers may find the hybrid SaaS/on-premise approach attractive:
  1. Split Worker Model: can be used to provide knowledge workers with on-premise Exchange e-mail service, while provisioning Microsoft Exchange Online for Desk-less workers
  2. Acquisition Model: to allow for a more orderly integration of two e-mail infrastructures following an acquisition, the on-premise Exchange service can be used by the acquirer while Exchange Online can be used to support the company being acquired
  3. Transition Model: to enable a smooth migration from another e-mail platform or upgrade to Exchange 2010, the core population of a company’s users can be on the on-premise Exchange service, while specific departments or workgroups involved in proof of concepts and/or Exchange 2010 pilots can use the online service
  4. Regulatory Model: for organizations where a subset of users must comply with regulatory compliance requirements, the on-premise service can be provisioned for these employees while users outside of the regulatory umbrella can use the online service
No doubt, BPOS and SaaS will grab the spotlight during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Stayed tuned for coverage from the conference.

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