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Microsoft Cloud Services

Using Cloud for new Microsoft SaaS delivery models

Of course Microsoft has their own Cloud hosting services, Azure, but there are still other scenarios where Microsoft software can be Cloud deployed, and these offer a fertile product development area for web hosting providers.

These 'Microsoft Cloud Services' (MCS) offer the ideal way to move into more of an MSP mode, providing a fuller range of IT outsourcing services and growing recurring revenues accordingly, but without having to stretch too far from their core web hosting product set.

Most organizations already have apps like Sharepoint and Exchange deployed internally, so hosted versions don't offer any pain-solving solutions. In contrast new, Cloud-based services that add value to these existing installations are very well targetted niche opportunities.

Collaboration Productivity
Microsoft is positioning 'Application Platforms' as the ideal way to package their technologies for rapid business solutions.

The underlying 'xRM' development toolset is specifically intended to engineer portable and modular software ideal for distributed Cloud environments, and so catering for this and providing database replication between data-centres are the kinds of ways service providers can offer value add to these projects.

Furthermore, today's world demands a level of security and legal compliance capabilities that traditional IT methods can no longer cope with, which Cloud Storage can, and via plug-ins to apps like Sharepoint and Exchange can be applied in a practical and very productive manner.

Microsoft positions Sharepoint as a key enabler of staff productivity. In their white paper People working together (13-page PDF) they describe how it can help achieve numerous organizational benefits.

The essence of the modular Application Framework approach is that this collaboration capability can then be further embedded into other apps like Dynamics CRM, as described in the Relational Productivity Application white paper (19-page PDF), and also into solution accelerators. Their 'Innovation Process Management' solution is a combination of Sharepoint and PPM.

Compliant Cloud Storage
However as the Aberdeen report Securing Unstructured Data (33 page PDF) highlights these tools bring with them increased security risks.

Unstructured data refers to Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, multi-media and all the other raw files that are proliferated across users laptops. The IT organization might secure Sharepoint in terms of technical security, hosting a central server behind the corporate firewall and restricting VPN acess to it, but this does nothing to secure the documents that are then downloaded and shared promiscuously via email, Instant Messanger or USB key.

Ultimately enterprise systems like HP-Trim are used for storing these records, but prior to this step there is considerable workflow and collaboration using tools like Sharepoint. If this 'work in progress' data is stored on user laptops and on single Sharepoint servers, without adequate security measures, then it's at risk of being lost or stolen, impacting both Business Continuity and Security and affecting IM compliance accordingly.

Since these files can also contain sensitive structured data, like customer records, it must be protected as if locked in the central database behind the corporate firewall, although obviously it's not, it's running around wild on users laptops. With an EMC report predicting a x44 factors explosion in this type of data the problem is only going to grow bigger and uglier.

The Aberdeen report author offers a technology bundle to tackle this issue which in a nutshell can be "baked into" Cloud Storage. A Cloud platform will manage the intelligent automation of dynamically provisioning data-centre resources to meet user needs, uniting them into a single service fabric that can achieve very high availability and high performance, and this can include software to encrypt and replicate their data across multiple centres so that it's secured according to the highest of standards.

By further linking in other Cloud services like time-stamping of data for authentication purposes, then data is 'Business Continuity approved' and also legally compliant via the same process. Information can live on unaffected in the event of a disaster in one data centre, and can be simultaneously certified in line with record-keeping legislations.

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