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6/4/2007
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Microsoft Paves The Way For Exchange Live and SharePoint Live

Energizer disclosed its participation in a pilot program with Microsoft, where the software company provides hosted software and security solutions for the battery company's 9,000 users.

At least one Microsoft customer, Energizer Holdings, is moving full bore with the software company in a pilot program for extensive hosted services, and indications are that there's more where Energizer came from. Energizer CIO Randy Benz says Microsoft is ready to move forward with these services on a much wider scale -- think SharePoint Live and Exchange Server Live. However, Microsoft remains mum, declining comment on any such plans.

Microsoft hosts Exchange and SharePoint in Microsoft data centers for the battery company and its 9,000 users, and is also remotely deploying Office 2007 and managing Energizer's security, all over the Internet. It's previously been reported Energizer had enlisted Microsoft to remotely deploy software to and manage security for Energizer, but this week's TechEd meeting marks the first time Energizer has spoken publicly about the program. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had mentioned in February that it was testing a service to "help host" Exchange, SharePoint, and Office Communication Server, but this is the first time any of the test customers have been confirmed or spoken publicly.

Energizer's Benz says the major benefit he gets out of Microsoft services is agility. Since Energizer's users are scattered over about 130 countries, it's a struggle to keep pace with technology change, he says. For example, before the project with Microsoft started, Energizer was two generations behind on Office. Now, with help from Microsoft, it's in the midst of an Office 2007 deployment and will begin Vista deployment in six months. The software company is remotely managing the deployment and delivering software over the Internet.

In terms of SharePoint and Exchange, Benz no longer has to think about just keeping the lights on. Now, instead of focusing on rolling software out and figuring out how to manage it, Benz says he can focus on training and functionality. "When you're managing the technical things, that consumes you," he says. "We're moving away from worrying about that and towards developing a better user experience."

Energizer has been working with Microsoft for about three years on the program and has been operational for two, according to Benz, first approaching Microsoft, rather than the other way around. "We looked at conventional hosting and outsourcing and economically it wouldn't work for us," Benz says. "So we asked Microsoft, it's your product, why don't you just do it?"

In the three years to get to this point, Benz says, Microsoft and Energizer have been working out kinks on scalability and security. "There were just a whole lot of details to be worked out to get to a truly scalable service model, and being first has its challenges in the sense that the end business model doesn't exist yet," he says. Energizer's paying for these services on a per-user, per-month basis and says the return on investment has been break-even, but that it's also added the ability to roll out applications much faster, which in turn, Benz says increases productivity.

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