Diversification? Microsoft’s Cloud OS Partner Network mutates to an "OpenStack Community"

At first sight the announcement of the new Microsoft Cloud OS Partner Network sounds indeed interesting. Who doesn’t want to use the Microsoft public cloud directly, as of now can select from one of several partner to access the Microsoft technologies indirectly. It is also possible to span a hybrid cloud between the Microsoft cloud and the partner clouds or the own data center. For Microsoft and its technological extension within the cloud it is indeed a clever move. But for the so-called „Cloud OS Partner Network“ this activity could backfire.

Microsoft Cloud OS Partner Network

The Cloud OS Partner Network consists of more than 25 cloud service provider worldwide, which, according to Microsoft, focuses especially on hybrid cloud scenarios based on Microsoft’s cloud platform. For this purpose, they rely on a combination of the Windows Server with Hyper-V, System Center and the Windows Azure Pack. With that, Microsoft tries to underwrite its vision to establish its Cloud OS as a basis for customer data center, service provider clouds and the Microsoft public cloud.

For this reason, the Cloud OS Partner Network serves more than 90 different markets with a total customer base of three million companies worldwide. Overall 2.4 million server and more than 425 data center build the technological base.

Among others the partner network includes provider like T-Systems, Fujitsu, Dimension Data, CSC and Capgemini.

Advantages for Microsoft and the customer: Locality and extension

For Microsoft, the Cloud OS Partner Network is a clever move to, measured by the distribution of Microsoft cloud technologies, gains more worldwide market share. In addition, it fits perfectly into Microsoft’s proven strategy to serve the customer not directly but over a network of partner.

The partner network also comes towards the customer. Companies who avoided the Microsoft public cloud (Windows Azure), due to data locality reasons or local policies like data privacy, are now able to find a provider in their own country and do not have to dispense with the desired technologies. For Microsoft, another advantage is the fact, not coercively to build a data center in each country, but to concentrate on the existing or the strategically important once.

With that, Microsoft can lean back a little and let again make a partner network do the uncomfortable sales. The incomes come, as before the age of the cloud, over selling licenses to the partner.

Downside for the partner: Diversification

You can find great stories about this partner network. But the fact is, with the Cloud OS Partner Network, Microsoft creates a similar competitive situation you can find in the OpenStack Community. Especially in the public cloud, with Rackspace and HP, there exist just two „top provider“, who only play a minor part in the worldwide cloud circus. Notably HP fights more with itself and is therefore not able to concentrate on innovations. However, the main problem of both and all the other providers is that they are not able to differentiate from each other. Instead, most of the providers stand in a direct competition to each other and currently not diverge significantly. This is due to the fact, that all set on the same technological base. An analysis on the current situation of the OpenStack community can be found under “Caught in a gilded cage. OpenStack provider are trapped.

The situation for the Cloud OS Partner Network is even more uncomfortable. Unlike in OpenStack, Microsoft is the only technology supplier and decides where it is going on. The partner network need to swallow what is set before them and just can adapt further technology stacks which lead to more overhead and thus further cost for development and operations.

Except for the local markets, all Cloud OS service provider are in a direct competition and based solely on Microsoft technologies are not able to differentiate otherwise. Good support and professional services are extremely important and an advantage but no USP in the cloud.

If the Cloud OS Partner Network flops, Microsoft will get away with a black eye. The great harm the partners will carry home.

Technology as a competitive advantage

Looking at the real successful cloud provider on the market it becomes clear that those who have developed their clouds based on an own technology stack and therefore differentiate technological from the rest. These are Amazon, Google or Microsoft and precisely not Rackspace or HP who both set on OpenStack.

This, Cloud OS partner like Dimension Data, CSC or Capgemini should keep in mind. In particular CSC and Dimension Data have big claims to have a say in the cloud.


Cloud storage Box could become a threat for Dropbox and Microsoft SkyDrive

To become more attractive for private users and small businesses, the cloud storage provider Box has expanded its pricing model. Immediately in addition to the existing plans for private, business and enterprise customers a Starter plan can be selected as well, which is interesting for both small businesses and freelancers as well as private customers.

Private customers get more free storage, small businesses a new plan

The offer for private users has been increased from formerly free 5GB to 10GB. In addition, the portfolio was extended with a new Starter plan, which should be target at smaller companies. This offers 100GB disk space for 1 to max. 10 users per company account for $ 5 per user per month.

Box, that addressed large companies in the first place, thus hoped that smaller enterprise customers and consumers increased to store their data in the cloud, rather than save it to error-prone local media. According to CEO Aaron Levie, Box is particularly driven by the issues of information and collaboration. Whether it is a global corporation, a small business or a freelancer, in the end it is important that you are able to share content and access it securely and reliably from anywhere, so Levie.

The new Starter plan is just a hook

To be honest, the new Starter plan is very interesting as it meets the needs of a specific target group. However, these are not small companies, but definitely private users and freelancers. The features that are offered around the storage are definitely on enterprise level. In addition to various safety features (no end-to-end encryption) at different levels, integration options over apps on the basis of an ecosystem of third party developers are available. However, 100GB are far too little for small businesses, especially since this account is designed for 1 to 10 users. 10 GB per user is very scarce very quickly. In addition, many other interesting and important features for businesses are offered just with the next plan “Business” for $15 per user per month. Where at least three users are need to set up. This will include 1000GB storage and other security functions on folder and file level per user, integration into an Active Directory, Google Apps and Salesforce, an advanced user management, etc. So, at the end of the day, the Starter plan just serves as a hook to drum up business customer.

On the other hand, this plan is a very interesting deal for private users and freelancers who need more features at a cheaper price and a similar performance like Dropbox. Since, although the free plan was extended to 10GB, but the free limit of 50GB has been dropped. Who now needs more than 10GB must buy 100GB for $10 per month. It therefore makes a lot more sense for private users to opt for a Starter plan and only pay $5 per month or $60 per year.

The Starter plan may well ensure that Dropbox and Microsoft SkyDrive losing market share if this renewal gets around. Particular SkyDrive should dress up warmly. Although Microsoft’s cloud storage is well integrated with the Windows operating systems and continues to be the cheapest on the market. However, SkyDrive is very slow and the user experience is below average. Just to highlight a tiny but crucial detail that makes Box simply better. Transparency, what is happening in the background. By way of comparison: Box has a small app for Windows in which the status is displayed. Here you can see: the progress in percent; the approximate time until the upload is completed; the file that is being processed; how many files need to be processed; how many files are processed in total. Microsoft SkyDrive shows nothing of this. The user is completely left in the dark.

Dropbox is known as performance king. Also the ease of use is good. Nevertheless, the Box Starter plan, due to its extended functional possibilities at a cheaper price and a similar performance, has certainly the potential to compete Dropbox.

Note: Due to the current security situation, it is pointed out that Box is a U.S. based provider and the data is stored in the United States. Although, the data is stored server side encrypted. However, Box doesn’t offer an end-to-end encryption (only SSL during transmission). The key for on Box’ infrastructure encrypted data are owned by Box and not by the user. For this reason, Box has the opportunity to decode the data independent to allow third parties access it anytime.


Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office 365: What do the assumed market shares really tell us?

The blog of UserActivion compares at regular intervals the spread of office and collaboration solutions from Google Apps and Microsoft Office 356. I have accidentally become aware of the market shares per industry, thanks Michael Herkens. The result is from July and shows the market shares of both cloud solutions for June. The post also shows a comparison to the previous month May. What stands out here is that Google Apps is by far in the lead in any industry. With the size and general dissemination of Microsoft that’s actually unusual. Therefore, to take a look behind the scenes make sense.

Google Apps with a clear lead of Office 365

Trusting the numbers from UserActivion, Google Apps has a significant advantage in the sectors of trade (84.3 percent), technology (88.2 percent), education (77.4 percent), health care (80.3 percent) and governments (72.3 percent).

In a global comparison, it looks similar. However, Office 365 has caught up with May in North America, Europe and Scandinavia. Nevertheless, the current ratio is, according to UserActivion, at 86:14 for Google Apps. In countries such as Norway and Denmark is a balanced ratio of 50:50.



Do the Google Apps market shares have a significance?

This question is relatively easy to answer. They have a significance on the dissemination of Google Apps. However, they say nothing about what sales Google makes with these market shares. As measured by this, the expected ratio between Google Apps and Office 365 looks a little different. Why?

Well, Google Apps has become such a big market share because the Google Apps Standard version (no longer exists) for a given number of users and the Google Apps for Education could be used for a very very long time for free of charge. The Education version is still free. This naturally leads to the fact that also a lot of users who have their own domain, have chosen a free Google Apps Standard version, which even after the discontinuation of the version may continue to be used. The only limitation are the maximum users per domain.

So it comes, for example, that only I as a single person have registered nine (9) Google Apps Standard accounts over the last years. Most of them I still have. I currently use two of them (Standard, Business) active and pay for one (Business).

The Google Apps market shares must therefore be broken down as follows:

  • Google Apps users.
  • Not active Google Apps users.
  • Active Google Apps users who do not pay.
  • Active Google Apps users who pay.

If this ratio is now weighted and applied to the market share in terms of turnover, Microsoft would fare better. Why?

At the end of the day it is about cash. From the beginning Microsoft has nothing to give away. Admittedly Office 365 can be tested for free for a short time. Subsequently, the decision is made for a paid plan or not. This means that it is assumed that each Office 365 client, who no longer is in the testing phase, at the same time is an active paying user. Surely Google receives from the non-paying active users insights about their behavior and can place a bit of advertising. But the question remains how much that really matters.

This does not mean that Google Apps has not widely prevalent. But it shows that the strategy of Google rises at least in one direction. Give away of accounts for free to get market share pays (naturally). It also shows that market shares are not simultaneously mean profitability. Most people like to take what they get for free – the Internet principle. The fact that Google has to slowly start to monetize its customer base can be seen by the discontinuation of the free standard version. It appears that the critical mass has been reached.

Compared to Google Apps, Microsoft was to late with Office 365 on the market and must catch up once strong. On top of that Microsoft has (apparently) nothing to give away. Assuming that the numbers of UserActivion are valid, another reason may be, that the website and the offer of Office 365 – compared to Google Apps – are far too opaque and complicated. (Hint: Just visit the websites.)

Google copied the Microsoft principle

In conclusion, based on the UserActivion numbers, it can be said that Google is on the best way to apply the Microsoft principle to itself. Microsoft’s way into the enterprise went over the home user of Windows, Office and Outlook products. The strategy worked. Who even works in the evening with the known programs from Redmond has it during the day at work much easier because it is so familiar. Even the recommendations for a Microsoft product by the employees were inevitable. The same applied to the Windows server. If a Windows operating system is so easy to use and configure, then a server can not ultimately be much more complicated. With it the decision makers could be taken on board. A similar principle can be seen at Google. Google Apps is nothing more than a best of the Google services for end users, GMail, GDocs, etc. packed in a suite. Meanwhile, the dissemination of these services is also relatively high, thus it can be assumed that most IT decision makers are familiar with it, too. It is therefore interesting to see how the real(!) market share between Google Apps and Office 365 to develop.