"That's probably an under-discussed element of this whole movement to the cloud," said Michael Gold, president of cloud provider Intermedia, in an interview. "It can be painful to move to something new, even if that new thing is better."
That's particularly true for small businesses with minimal or no internal IT staff. Though the cloud is often touted as "easy," getting there can be anything but. While Microsoft, for one, has staked a big bet on small and midsize businesses (SMBs) moving to Office 365, it's not necessarily a matter of flipping a switch.
SMBs looking for an extra level of support to get there will soon have a new option: Intermedia will begin selling Office 365 later this year, including a white-glove service to assist with migration from on-premises servers or other hosted platforms, similar to what it currently offers for its own hosted Exchange platform.
Microsoft itself has acknowledged the potential pain in manual migrations from its own legacy Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) suite to the Office 365 platform, cautioning users that they're better off waiting for the Online Services team's formal transition. The company noted in a recent blog post that manual migrations require in-house expertise in Exchange server migrations and PowerShell scripts; even then, BPOS customers itching to make an early move to Office 365 will likely encounter email outages of 24 hours or more. "Ideally, you would wait to be transitioned by the Office 365 team," the post said. That process begins next month and will last until September 2012.
Some SMBs have that kind of know-how, but the much broader market that Microsoft and others hope to tap will likely need some third-party help. SMBs don't fit neatly into any one genre, and Gold believes that both Office 365 and cloud adoption in general will be driven by a wide range of user and organizational needs. He gave three possible examples of why a smaller company might look to a third party rather than buy direct: help with migration, ongoing support beyond what Microsoft offers, and additional applications or services not included with Office 365. Recent research from AMI Partners indicated a strong preference among SMBs for bundled cloud services from a single source.
The upside for Microsoft in the deal: It puts Office 365 in front of Intermedia's 40,000-plus SMB customers. Intermedia doesn't partner with Google. Today, Intermedia bills itself as an alternative to Office 365 and Google Apps, wrapping a variety of extras such as security, backup, and support around its core hosted Exchange platform. The company has some 350,000 mailboxes under management and has recently started to branch out into a broader range of cloud services. Gold said Intermedia will continue to offer its own hosted products alongside Office 365.
"Office 365 is not the end-all solution for everybody," Gold said. "In our goal to provide solutions for the broader market, we see Office 365 being a very important part of that mix but by no means the only item."
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