Linux Containers Coming to a Windows Server Near You

Microsoft unveiled a new type of container this week at DockerCon 2017 -- a Linux container that runs on Windows Server 2016.

The move would break down a fundamental wall in deployment scenarios for containers to date. For now, Linux containers can only run on Linux host operating systems and Windows containers can only run on Windows host operating systems. While that's more of a problem for Windows, which is the newcomer to the container phenomenon, a key benefit of containers is portability. The easier it is to deploy a container regardless of the underlying infrastructure, the closer the ideal comes to being realized.

Microsoft is partially solving the issue for its user base with the funky Hyper-V containers that it released to some industry head-scratching with Windows Server 2016. (Why add the management and processing overhead of virtualization to containers?) The rest of the solution is coming from Docker and from Linux distributors, who are committing to building lightweight Linux kernels that will run inside the Hyper-V containers.

This diagram from a Docker blog post in late October, illustrates how Linux and Windows containers could co-exist on one Windows Server. CS Docker Engine stands for Commercially Supported Docker Engine, a version of which ships as part of the Windows Server 2016 license. (Image source: Docker.)

John Gossman, Microsoft Azure lead architect and Linux Foundation board member, took the stage at DockerCon in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday to demonstrate a Linux container running inside a Hyper-V container inside a Windows Server.

Mike Schutz, general manager of product marketing in the Cloud + Enterprise division at Microsoft, described the significance of the moment in a blog post Wednesday. "Yesterday we showed for the first time, a Linux container running natively on Windows Server using the Hyper-V isolation technology currently available only to Windows Server Containers," Schutz wrote Wednesday. (See here for a primer on how containers of different types work across the Microsoft stack.)

Now that the Linux-in-Hyper-V approach is formally unveiled, Gossman presented the Linux support as a logical next step in Hyper-V containers. "When we announced and launched Hyper-V Containers it was because some customers desired additional, hardware-based isolation for multi-tenant workloads, and to support cases where customers may want a different kernel than what the container host is using -- for example different versions. We are now extending this same Hyper-V isolation technology to deliver Linux containers on Windows Server. This will give the same isolation and management experience for Windows Server Containers and Linux containers on the same host, side by side," he said in a post.

The premier of the Linux container on Windows coincided with Docker's big reveal this week around the Moby Project and LinuxKit -- with an emphasis on creating lightweight and secure Linux kernels from Docker and others to run inside containers. One of the problems that approach solves is providing a Linux kernel inside containers on non-Linux platforms, such as Windows Servers, Windows clients or Apple Macs. Those Linux kernels, which themselves are built from swappable container parts, can take up as little as 35MB.

In an official blog post this week, Justin Cormack, a software engineer at Docker, mentioned the LinuxKit work in the context of the Docker-Microsoft relationship that dates to 2014: "The next step in that that all Windows Server and Windows 10 customers will get access to Linux containers and we will be working together on how to integrate LinuxKit with Hyper-V isolation."

Gossman's Microsoft post provides a hint at how excited the open source community is about the opportunity to spread Linux-based containers across the global installed base of Windows Servers. Senior executives at Canonical, Intel, Red Hat and SUSE all provided statements about how they will be working over the next few months with Microsoft's open source integration code to create Linux container OS images for Hyper-V containers.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 20, 2017 at 11:48 AM0 comments

Ingram Micro Expands Tools for 1-Tier Microsoft CSPs, Promises IaaS Orchestration

Ingram Micro, a key distribution partner in Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) business model, on Thursday revealed upgrades to its platforms for both 1-Tier and 2-Tier Microsoft CSPs.

The CSP-related upgrades are part of a raft of platform upgrades being rolled out at the Ingram Micro Cloud Summit in Phoenix this week.

Microsoft's CSP program relies primarily on three types of partners using two business models. The 1-Tier CSPs, generally very large Microsoft partners, buy cloud subscriptions directly from Microsoft and resell them in bundled packages to customers. The bulk of Microsoft's CSP partners are 2-Tier CSPs, who obtain their Microsoft subscriptions from an intermediary 2-Tier Distributor, like Ingram.

Ingram plays a role in both business models, however, due to its 2015 acquisition of the Odin Service Automation platform from Parallels Holdings. Odin provides cloud marketplace technology that 1-Tier CSPs can use for storefront infrastructure, sales, billing, provisioning and management of the cloud services that they bundle for their customers.

For 1-Tier CSPs and other hosters, a new version of Odin Automation Essentials entered general availability. That version already supported the CSP's own services, many third-party cloud services and Microsoft services such as Office 365, Dynamics 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security. The latest release adds Azure and Windows 10 Enterprise licenses to the Microsoft cloud services mix, along with the ability to provide shared and virtual private server hosting services.

For Ingram partners who are 2-Tier CSPs or who otherwise use Ingram's Cloud Marketplace, a new feature coming this quarter will allow them to conduct orchestration of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for customers.

The Ingram Micro Cloud Orchestrator will enable automation and orchestration of the deployment and management of private, public or hybrid cloud workloads by partners on behalf of customers. Supported services include Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, IBM BlueMix and VMware.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 20, 2017 at 11:48 AM0 comments

It's Official: SQL Server v.Next Is SQL Server 2017 and It's Ready for Production

Microsoft on Wednesday released a production-ready community technical preview (CTP) 2.0 of SQL Server v.Next, which the company also confirmed will officially be called SQL Server 2017.

Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft, revealed the SQL version and naming news, along with a raft of data platform announcements during a new online event called Microsoft Data Amp.

On track to ship roughly a year after SQL Server 2016, this new version of Microsoft's flagship database is highly anticipated for bringing Linux support to SQL Server. The CTP 2.0 is production-ready on both Windows and Linux. To underscore that the Linux versions are ready for prime time, a demo during the Data Amp event involved running SQL Server on Linux via Docker from an Apple Mac, and Microsoft also revealed a record TPC-H data warehousing benchmark conducted with SQL Server 2017 on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and HPE ProLiant server hardware.

Supported Linux platforms for CTP 2.0 include RHEL 7.3, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server v12 SP2, and Ubuntu 16.04 and 16.10. As demoed, SQL Server 2017 is also available as a Docker image, which can run on Linux, Windows or Mac.

There's parity between the Windows and Linux products on most of the new features in the CTP. The new preview brings to Linux a few features that were previously only available on Windows, such as some SQL Server Agent capabilities and a listener for Always On availability groups.

New for both Windows and Linux in CTP 2.0 are support for storing and analyzing graph data relationships, resumable online index rebuilds and improvements to the automatic processes for keeping database queries running efficiently.

One major new feature available only for Windows is the ability to use the Python language in the database to run advanced analytics. The new capability is called Microsoft Machine Learning Services, and Microsoft positions it as enabling the database to scale and accelerate machine learning, predictive analytics and data science scripts. The in-database use of Python joins the existing capabilities around the R language as a Windows-only feature of SQL Server.

Microsoft's agenda for data covers much more than on-premises database servers, and the SQL Server 2017 updates at Data Amp were accompanied on Wednesday by several major announcements involving other servers, services and Azure:

  • Microsoft R Server 9.1, an incremental release of the Big Data analytics server that hit version 9.0 in early December, is now available. Enhancements to the 9.1 version include supporting the new Python capabilities in SQL Server 2017 CTP 2.0.

  • Several Microsoft Cognitive Services graduated from preview stage to general availability in the Azure Portal. They include the Face API for detecting, comparing and grouping faces; the Computer Vision API for automatically contextualizing the contents of images, tagging objects, landmarks, people and actions and providing a description of the contents in a coherent sentence, and the Content Moderator for text and images, which is a mix of algorithm-based and human-review tools.

  • Azure Analysis Services, a cloud tool based on the on-premises Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services, reached general availability.

  • A GetToSQL Migration Service entered the preview stage on Azure. The tool automates the migration of on-premises SQL Server, Oracle and MySQL databases to the Azure SQL Database.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 19, 2017 at 11:40 AM0 comments

RCP 200 Call for Entries

We're putting the wraps on our second annual RCP 200 list of the top U.S. Microsoft partners, but we wanted to give loyal readers one more chance to throw their hats into the ring.

This is a qualitative list of the Microsoft solution provider companies that demonstrate a laser focus on Microsoft technology and a strong commitment to providing great value for their customers. There are a few requirements -- companies that get listed must belong to the Microsoft Partner Network, must have major end-user service operations in the United States and should have at least one Microsoft Gold Competency.

Beyond that, it's subjective. We're not just looking for the biggest companies or the broadest coverage of Microsoft technologies. Some winners are niche providers, focused on a narrow part of the Microsoft stack, others have a great regional reputation, still others are regular Microsoft regional award winners.

Think your company has what it takes? Fill out the application here by May 9.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 17, 2017 at 11:44 AM0 comments

BitTitan's Expanded MSPComplete Is All About the Playbook

BitTitan is taking another big step in offering prescriptive guidance for Microsoft partners and other IT service providers with the release this week of an overhauled MSPComplete.

The Seattle-area company's suite is shifting from suggesting potential upselling opportunities to offering a full set of more than 100 customizable playbooks.

Those playbooks, or runbooks, are preconfigured sets of standard operating procedures within BitTitan's platform that a partner's service team can step through to perform many kinds of IT service projects, even ones that the engineers may not be completely familiar with at the start. The idea is to expand an MSP's revenue-generating services and improve the quality level and reliability of what engineers do on behalf of the MSP.

BitTitan first released MSPComplete in 2015 as a suite of products to help MSPs transition customers from on-premises servers to cloud services, so the suite included BitTitan tools for e-mail migration, document migration, configuration of Outlook, Azure assessments and other functions.

"Our next version is a platform that orchestrates end-to-end delivery of a project," said Geeman Yip, CEO of BitTitan.

With its close associations to Microsoft, many of those projects are related to Office 365, FastTrack, Azure, OneDrive and other Microsoft products and tools. But the new MSPComplete Service Library also involves migration and turnkey services for Dropbox Business, Amazon, Box and Google G Suite, among others.

Some examples of the out-of-the-box service playbooks available immediately include On-premise Exchange to Office 365, HealthCheck for Office 365, Troubleshoot Restrictions and Limits, Configure Microsoft Outlook, Set up SharePoint Online sites, Perform an Azure ROI Assessment, Perform Public Folder Migration, Generate a Software Inventory Report, Discover Azure VM Utilization, SaaS App Integration with Azure Active Directory Marketplace, Apply a Legal Hold to a Office 365 User, and Office 365 Mailbox Migration.

The suite also permits customization, allowing companies to add their own intellectual property to the workflows that their engineers will step through. For example, one of BitTitan's MSP customers might create a playbook of "FastTrack Onboarding Guidance" or an "Employee Onboarding Checklist" or "Install Office Mobile Apps."

[Click on image for larger view.] In the Feed view of MSPComplete, managers can now quickly see the status of projects across all of their customers. (Source: BitTitan.)

Because an MSP's engineers perform their work through MSPComplete, the platform can provide other services useful to that MSP's management. Managers can gather metrics from the tool about how long each engineer spent on each step in a playbook to get a better sense of how long different parts of projects take or for employee training. Managers can also gain visibility into precisely where each customer's project stands. Finally, by entering information about how much each employee costs per hour, managers can determine how much certain services are costing them to deliver.

Christopher Hertz, former president of two-time Microsoft U.S. Partner of the Year New Signature, consulted with BitTitan on development of this update to MSPComplete and sees two main groups of partners who could benefit from the approach.

One group is smaller partner companies who aren't offering managed services yet, but are getting pressure to transition into MSPs from Microsoft, whose help comes in the form of overwhelming, 200-page guides.

"If I don't have managed services today for Office 365, and I'm worried about how do I price it, and how do I talk to my customers about it, and marry that with the ability for my team to actually deliver against that, this does all those things," Hertz said.

The other group is existing MSPs who want more reliable delivery but struggle to maintain up-to-date processes.

"It was always expensive to maintain playbooks or checklists because the world shifts pretty rapidly in cloud services. One problem is those were expressed in Word documents. A few things would happen. They would inevitably go out of date," Hertz said. "If you're a small MSP or even a midsize one, trying to maintain a comprehensive list of these best practices and putting them into standard operating procedure guidance is almost impossible to do when you think about how broad and how deep and how complex it is today with cloud services. You can get scale in that way with BitTitan in a way you just can't do as an individual partner."

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 06, 2017 at 1:30 PM0 comments

Uila Adds End-User Monitoring

A year after unveiling its first software release, Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup Uila Inc. on Tuesday connected the application-aware infrastructure performance monitoring dots by bringing end users into the process.

Designed for datacenters running mission-critical applications, Uila (pronounced wee-la) relies on small virtual machines on physical hosts to listen to network traffic and send metadata to a controller on-premises or in the cloud. With intelligence allowing it to auto-discover more than 4,000 applications, the company's tool aims to create a performance dashboard for the entire stack, including application response times for compute, storage and the network.

The new end-user component helps with one of the main use cases of the whole toolset -- quick troubleshooting for IT operations staff in complex environments.

"When the end user complains, you don't know where to start," said Uila CEO Chia-Chee Kuan in an interview. "This is not a new problem, it's just made worse by everything being highly virtualized, plus cloud, as well. Applications are getting a lot more complicated than before with multi-tier, and it's not only just within your datacenter. A lot of times the application pulls in data from the Internet, as well -- for example Salesforce integration for some business applications."

The new end-user experience monitoring provides proactive alerts that would ideally identify and allow IT operations teams to address performance degradation before the user notices. Per-client transaction histories help IT dig into the root causes of issues. Additionally, IP addresses can retroactively be grouped into sites, allowing IT to define, visualize and compare application performance at different locations even after a performance issue arises.

With a $5 million Series A funding round completed in mid-March, the 4-year-old company thus far has raised $8.3 million to enter a crowded field. Yet Kuan positions Uila as a key complement to existing enterprise performance management tools for datacenters, applications, virtual infrastructure and the network.

"How we're different from them is we add application visibility and bridge the virtualization and physical and networking into their tools' visibility. We don't want to replace them. You use us as a catch-all solution. We catch everything in troubleshooting, and a lot of times we show exactly the root cause," he said.

With about two dozen named customers and 10,000 production application servers under monitoring, Uila plans to use its new funding for continued product development and reseller recruitment.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 04, 2017 at 3:04 PM0 comments

Internet Milestone: Android Overtakes Windows

When it comes to overall Internet access across all device types worldwide, Microsoft's long reign as the dominant operating system has come to an end, according to researchers at StatCounter.

The independent Web analytics company, which tracks OS usage, on Monday reported that Android overtook Windows in March for the first time as the world's most popular operating system.

For now, Android's lead is very slight. Android's worldwide OS Internet usage market share hit 37.93 percent compared with 37.91 percent for Windows.

[Click on image for larger view.] Worldwide OS market shares (all devices) from March 2012 to March 2017. (Source: StatCounter)

How stable is a lead based on two hundredths of a percentage point? Based on current trends, it's not likely that Microsoft will grab the worldwide title back any time soon on the metric, which includes mobile phones and tablets along with desktops and laptops, according to a statement from StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen.

"This is a milestone in technology history and the end of an era," Cullen pronounced. "It marks the end of Microsoft's leadership worldwide of the OS market which it has held since the 1980s. It also represents a major breakthrough for Android which held just 2.4% of global internet usage share only five years ago."

By segment and geography, there are several areas where Microsoft retains its lead. First is worldwide PC and laptop Internet access, where Microsoft built its dominant position and which Windows still leads by a healthy margin, with an 84 percent share in March, according to StatCounter.

[Click on image for larger view.] Worldwide OS market shares (for PCs and tablets combined) for March 2017. (Source: StatCounter)

Then there is the lucrative North America market, where Windows still holds a lead across all platforms (40 percent share), and where Android (21 percent) has yet to surpass iOS (26 percent). Microsoft's advantage remains even more pronounced in Europe, with Windows leading Android 52 percent to 24 percent.

But alongside incremental gains in those important markets, Android has built a dominant position of its own in fast-growing Asian markets. On that continent, Android is a 52 percent to 29 percent leader over Windows.

Posted by Scott Bekker on April 03, 2017 at 9:53 AM0 comments

Dell Stuffs a Quad-Core into Entry-Level Wyse Thin Client

Dell refreshed its Wyse thin client line on Tuesday with a new device that sports the first quad-core processor in one of its entry-level devices for virtual workspace environments.

The Wyse 3040 has a lot of the specs you'd expect in a refreshed line -- lower weight at just over half a pound, about a quarter less power usage than previous models and a smaller overall size.

But Jeff McNaught, vice president of marketing and chief strategy officer for the Cloud Client Computing Unit at Dell, says the quad-core processor was a key enhancement to ensure lifetime value and flexibility for the little box.

"We selected a quad-core processor because one of the big tenets that we have with thin clients is delivering a device that can work for 8-10 years," McNaught said in an interview. "What we had found in the past with some other designs was that customers were [in] great [shape] as long as they didn't change their software strategy."

Specifically, the Intel Atom X5 1.44GHz quad-core processor with as much as 2GB DDR3 RAM and 8GB flash will help the 3040 support light multimedia activity and local application processing.

Dell's new Wyse 3040 thin client. (Source: Dell.)

The Dell team focused on a future Skype for Business use case, which is emerging as part of more and more business scenarios.

"With that quad-core processor, we licensed some key technology from Citrix and from Microsoft to be able to handle products like Skype for Business very effectively. Virtual environments have challenges -- called the trombone effect and the back-on-itself effect, where you have multiple video and audio streams operating simultaneously. This product is designed to be able to use the server to set up the call; but then once the call is set up, it operates with the target in a peer-to-peer manner, and that reduces the amount of bandwidth that's needed by a lot," McNaught said. "We needed to use a processor that had a tremendous amount of performance, and we needed to be able to have encode and decode handled separately from everything else you see on that screen delivered by Citrix, Microsoft or VMware."

With a starting price of $329, it's in the same price range as Wyse's current starter entries -- the single-core 3010 and the dual-core 3020 and 3030. The 3030 will remain on the market.

The Wyse 3040 will initially ship with the Wyse ThinOS software. Starting in June, Wyse will offer a new thin client option called Wyse ThinLinux. McNaught described ThinLinux as a thin-client-focused and hardened version of SUSE Linux that expands the use case for a thin client: "[You will] be able to have a local browser and to embed specific Linux applications right into that thin client. A lot of our customers like to do that because they might be replacing a PC with that thin client."

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 28, 2017 at 10:30 AM0 comments

Survey: Trusted Advisers Still Have a Role in the Cloud

A refrain among channel advocates musing about IT's future in the cloud is that even for customers interested in assembling best-of-breed collections of cloud services, they still want a trusted adviser to put it all together for them.

The other way of looking at it is that customers want a single throat to choke when things don't work.

In the form of a commissioned study by 451 Research, Microsoft added some survey-based buttressing for that argument. Microsoft released the hosting and cloud study, "Digital Transformation Opportunity for Service Providers: Beyond Infrastructures," during its Microsoft Cloud and Hosting Summit last week.

Aziz Benmalek, vice president for Worldwide Hosting & Managed Service Providers at Microsoft, blogged about the 1,700-respondent survey:

Half of all organizations surveyed consider service providers as vital for future digital transformation projects. Even better, 60% of those would be willing to pay twice as much as they currently spend to have a single trusted advisor solution to manage all their digital transformation-related sourcing, implementation, and management needs.

Additionally, the new research shows that 62% of cloud/hosting infrastructure spending comes bundled with value-added services, rising to 84% for the next hosting/cloud infrastructure engagement. By owning the customer relationship end to end it provides the perfect platform for partners to build value-added services for their customers that will create stickiness and differentiation from the competition.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 27, 2017 at 11:01 AM0 comments

Cloud Distributor Pax8 Streamlines Operations

Cloud-focused distributor Pax8 on Monday unveiled new processes, organizational enhancements, roles and a key executive all aimed at streamlining its operations.

The 5-year-old Denver-based company offers a curated line card of cloud offerings to its 1,100 partners. Products offered from Pax8 come from BAE Systems, BitTitan, CloudJumper, DataMAPt, Double-Take, IBM MaaS360, Infrascale, Microsoft, ProfitBricks, Symantec and Veritas. Office 365 is one of the distributor's anchor products, and a new relationship announced last month with BitTitan centering on the MigrationWiz technology and MSPComplete deepened Pax8's focus on Microsoft Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs).

Pax8's moves Monday included naming John Walters to the new position of vice president of Service Operations, with responsibilities for directing service delivery and technical support. Walters' resume includes positions at Wipro, Level 3 Communications, AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies and Avaya.

The company is implementing a companywide project management tool to help with departmental interaction to free up resources for partner enablement and creating a new entry-level, marketing position, called Cadets, dedicated to partner recruitment.

In a statement, Ryan Walsh, senior vice president of Partner Solutions, said, "The addition of John and the new processes we have put into place will help us further enable our partners to gain new leads, add monthly recurring revenue and ensure they are getting the highest level of support."

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 27, 2017 at 9:26 AM0 comments

LinkedIn Integration Continues with Hoffman Named to Microsoft Board

While the technical integration of Microsoft and LinkedIn awaits significant movement, the cultural integration took another step forward with the naming of LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman to the board of Microsoft this week.

A member of the "PayPal Mafia" alongside Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, the 49-year-old Hoffman brings a Silicon Valley insider's perspective to the Microsoft boardroom. He is currently a partner with Greylock Partners, and his other board positions include Edmodo, Convoy, Blockstream, Wrapp and

"We continually evaluate opportunities to bring fresh thinking and new perspectives to our board, and Reid's appointment reflects that," said Microsoft Chairman John W. Thompson in a statement. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called himself a longtime admirer of Hoffman's.

Hoffman had been rumored to be headed to the board since the $26 billion merger was announced last June, but the move took effect on Tuesday. One sticking point had reportedly been his membership on the board of Mozilla Corp., which has been engaged in a long-running war over browser market share and sometimes philosophy with Internet Explorer, Edge and Microsoft generally. He left the Mozilla seat after 11 years on Jan. 31.

The board placement is the third major mixing of high-level LinkedIn personalities into the Microsoft corporate stew.

The first move was to keep Jeff Weiner as CEO of a LinkedIn business unit, with the idea being that he would continue running LinkedIn's existing business to drive revenue and profit.

A longer-range move, with an eye toward the eventual, promised integrations of Microsoft and LinkedIn technologies, was to name LinkedIn Senior Vice President of Engineering Kevin Scott the chief technology officer for all of Microsoft in late January. Nadella's first task for Scott is to integrate the Microsoft Graph with the LinkedIn Graph.

The Microsoft Graph is Microsoft's single API for accessing data from all of Microsoft's professional cloud services and also for applying machine learning to data in those services. The initial rollout in late 2015 covered users, files, messages, groups, events, personal contacts, mail, calendar, devices and other directory objects and documents. Microsoft has gradually been rolling other services and targets into the Microsoft Graph.

The vision for the LinkedIn Graph is to create a virtual representation within the LinkedIn platform of nearly the entire global business community -- with listings for 3 billion members of the global workforce, 60 to 70 million companies, all job availabilities and all skills requirements.

Even quick-hit technical integrations have been relatively slow in coming, though, perhaps due to Nadella's publicly stated view that the problems that have dogged some of Microsoft's earlier merger integrations emerged from moving too quickly.

For more on where partners are hoping to find opportunity in the LinkedIn merger, check out the cover story in the latest issue of Redmond Channel Partner here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 15, 2017 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Survey: Managing Office 365 Can Nearly Double the TCO for Smaller Organizations

A new survey by one of Microsoft's largest cloud solution providers (CSPs) takes a crack at quantifying the total cost of ownership (TCO) of Office 365 for organizations of different sizes.

In a report posted Monday, Champion Solutions Group of Boca Raton, Fla., detailed the results of a survey of 101 Office 365 administrators from organizations ranging in size from 1-50 users to more than 500 users.

The survey found that for small organizations, the costs of managing Office 365 can nearly double the per-seat cost of Office 365. Mileage varies dramatically in Office 365 deployments, but for a 50-seat deployment at an average cost per seat of $10 for a $500 per month bill from Microsoft, Champion found management costs would tack on an average of $469 more. The cost for a hypothetical large organization with 501 seats is proportionally much lower -- a $1,235 management cost on top of $5,010 in Office 365 subscription costs -- but still substantial.

[Click on image for larger view.] Source: Champion Solutions Group. (Click here for the full version of this infographic.)

"The end-user community is spending a good amount of time on managing this endeavor, which is probably not the most strategic thing for an end user," said Chris Pyle, Champion's CEO, in an interview. "Small businesses are spending more time on it than large businesses because they don't have knowledgeable staff."

Champion, and its MessageOps business unit that specifically handles Microsoft cloud products, asked survey respondents to estimate how much time they spent on 10 administrative tasks. Those tasks were reconciling billing and invoices, as well as managing users and subscriptions, Active Directory and Active Directory Groups, compliance, mail flow, mobile platforms, permissions, protection, public folders and recipients. Management costs were calculated by multiplying hours spent against a $36/hour average salary for an Exchange administrator.

Pyle said he was most surprised by the amount of time smaller businesses spent on billing and invoice reconciliation. "I would think that people with larger implementations would be the ones most critical of the invoice, but it's the opposite," he said.

Even with all the management costs quantified, Pyle believes Office 365 is still a much better buy than on-premises Exchange Server, as it eliminates a lot of other questions. "How much time do you spend backing up your mailboxes? How much time do you spend retrieving a mailbox that's been deleted? How much time do you spend on failover testing a quarter? How much time do you spend on server performance? How much time does accounting spend, worrying about the depreciation cycle of the hardware?"

For Pyle, and Champion/MessageOps, the survey is an end-user selling tool, helping the company make the case to end users that they should outsource management of Office 365 to a partner who can do it more efficiently at less expense. But by releasing the survey, and its accompanying charts and data, Champion is giving end users and other partners some tools.

The sample size is too small to provide reliable data about size segments or vertical segments, but the report does give end users some broad benchmarks to start thinking critically about the whole cost of managing Office 365 and to compare their own cost estimates against peers.

Microsoft partners will also be able to use those numbers for benchmarking of their internal operations and for determining pricing on Office 365 management services. At the same time, the report gives partners some data points for marketing collateral as they build out their Office 365 practices and make the argument to customers for saving money by going with a partner as opposed to going it alone.

Posted by Scott Bekker on March 13, 2017 at 11:39 AM0 comments

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