Regardless of what people may think about the hype of moving most software and services to the ‘cloud’, it is clear that many companies see it as the future of computing, and Microsoft is definitely no exception. In fact, the Redmond company is apparently so convinced about the potential of cloud computing that it has launched a new cloud productivity service suite. Known as Office 365, it combines Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online in an always-up-to-date cloud service.

Read on to find out more.

Cloud computing may still have certain issues regarding privacy and security which skeptics have constantly been calling out on, but it is evident that the hype it has generated has got many companies interested. After all, the idea of being able to store data in an large organization’s servers and making use of its services for a nominal fee without having to deal with its own server maintenance costs is always a good deal for companies looking to shave a little money off its IT budget.

And while many are still skeptical about the viability or practicality of cloud computing, it is clear to Microsoft that the cloud will be one of the key methods of starving off potential threats by Google to sway its current customer base over their side, especially with its popular Google Apps. The result? Microsoft has announced the introduction of a new cloud-based productivity suite which it calls Office 365.

According to Microsoft, Office 365 will differ from traditional web-based office productivity suites in the sense that it will offer more than that. In addition to gaining access to Office Web Apps, Microsoft is also throwing in an impressive service bundle which includes SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online. By combining all the services under the Office 365 umbrella, Microsoft hopes to offer small businesses the luxury of an always-online service contain just about everything needed for a functional Office ecosystem.

Unlike how bigger companies usually maintain their own servers which are loaded with Microsoft’s server software applications, Office 365 follows a ‘pay-as-you-use’ business model. Microsoft cites two extreme cases in its press release, where companies who only need basic email services pay as little as US$2 per head. On the other end of the scale is a package for a fully-featured Office ecosystem which comes with Office Professional Plus along with e-mail, voicemail, enterprise social networking, instant messaging, Web portals, extranets, voiceconferencing and videoconferencing, webconferencing, 24×7 phone support, on-premises licenses, and more, for US24 per head.

The upside to this model for Office 365 is that while companies usually pay more for the software they are using, there are little to no server costs incurred in the process. This is because Office 365 will be backed by Microsoft’s own servers supplying various services such as Sharepoint and Lync, all of which are already paid for with a monthly subscription fee when a company decides to adopt Office 365. As maintaining a server can be prohibitively costly in terms of man-hours and expenses which must be written off, it is argued that Office 365 will help businesses avoid such costs completely, thus lowering the total IT expenditure.

And while Microsoft has confirmed that Office 365 will only be available next year, it has already launched a new website where interested parties may download a beta of the service for testing purposes. However, it should be pointed out that the beta is available only for Microsoft customers and partners.

Last but not least, anyone wants to hazard a guess as to what the ‘365’ in Office 365 means? We are thinking that it refers to Microsoft’s claim that Office 365 will be always available for 24 hours in all the 365 days that a normal calendar year has to offer. Should that be the case, it seems that Microsoft may have forgotten about something known as ‘leap years’. But then again, surely employers will not mind a single day of downtime for workers to take a well-deserved rest every four years, right?

Source: Microsoft via Ars Technica

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