How Do Google, Microsoft Clouds Stack Up?

We weigh reality against rhetoric as Microsoft looks to dissuade customers from experimenting with, let alone adopting, Google Apps.
The "D" for dedicated means that Microsoft will run this suite on your behalf on a server in its data center that's dedicated to your organization. Technically, this is more a hosting service than it is cloud (but this is splitting hairs to some). According to DelBene, BPOS-D is really for very large customers (some small ones take it, too), and the price is negotiated. Since the 2010 version of SharePoint is due to ship in May, Microsoft should be able to offer BPOS-D "2010" at roughly the same time.

The third way to access SharePoint is through the standard edition of BPOS. "BPOS-S," as some call it, is really what Microsoft means when it talks about what it's doing in the cloud. What's not clear in all the rhetoric is that the version of BPOS-S that will include SharePoint 2010's ability to deliver the browser-based applications isn't due for release until the end of 2010. That's because of how much longer it will take Microsoft to bake multitenancy into SharePoint in order to support a truly cloud-based version. What that means is that for the time being, the only real cloud offering from Microsoft for businesses is the version of BPOS-S that's based on the 2007 versions of the servers -- the ones that don't include the browser-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Today, BPOS-S is available for $120 per user per year.

But wait, there's more.

In order to really take advantage of the document collaboration capabilities in BPOS-S, you still need the software for creating, viewing, and editing the documents: Microsoft Office. This of course comes at an additional cost, one that typically varies from $250 to $500 based on how an organization acquires Microsoft Office (via "business retail" or through a volume licensing arrangement). Here at TechWeb, under our current Microsoft Select level, we pay around $280 per copy. The point is that when comparing what Google is offering to what Microsoft is offering, Google Apps costs $50 per user per year. Microsoft's BPOS-S starts at $120 per user per year, and that's before any per-user costs incurred for Office.

Although it's still early (pricing could change), with one small exception, this "model" -- where Microsoft Office is essentially a prerequisite to leveraging SharePoint -- will remain unchanged. In other words, even though SharePoint 2010 (regardless of how you get to it -- on premises, hosted, or through Microsoft's cloud at the end of the year) is capable of delivering the browser-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, users can't legally access those browser-based versions unless they also have a license to use Microsoft Office 2010. (Sorry, prior versions of Microsoft Office don't qualify).

This means that in the Microsoft world, there really is no soup-to-nuts cloud pure play where, for certain users, organizations can provision the browser-based versions of the applications instead of the desktop version. To get the browser version, each user must also have the desktop version (which comes at some additional cost beyond the $120 per user).

There is one exception to this, what Microsoft calls the Deskless Worker Suite. With this suite, users can use crippled versions of the browser-based applications to view documents that are stored on a SharePoint server. "Deskless workers" won't be able create or edit documents. Microsoft will offer this type of access to BPOS-S at a reduced cost of $3 per month ($36 per year).

So which one is more confusing? Google's? Or Microsoft's?

Finally, what does this mean to you? Well, just because it looks more expensive to get the whole enchilada from Microsoft doesn't mean it has to be that way. Based on everything we're hearing here at InformationWeek, Microsoft is quickly gaining a reputation for flexibility on pricing once the word "Google" enters the conversation.