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Microsoft Expands Its Online Services Markets

Microsoft today announced the expansion of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) to 17 new markets.

The expansion of Microsoft's hosted application service follows Monday's announcement that Microsoft has broadened the availability of its Windows Azure cloud computing platform to "20 countries and regions." The two services currently are not housed in the same datacenters, according to veteran Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley, although she noted the countries described in Microsoft's two announcements tend to track.

Microsoft runs its BPOS services from two datacenters each in North America, Asia and Europe, according to Kayvaan Ghassemieh, a senior technical product manager for Microsoft Online Services. He described some of the work being done on BPOS in late February prior to Microsoft's March BPOS update. The updates include beefed-up mailbox storage to 25 GB (matching Google's Gmail storage), plus Mac OS X Snow Leopard sign-in support and Live Meeting enhancements, among others.

BPOS offerings tap into Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting using datacenters run by Microsoft. Customers can purchase a multitenant hosting offering under the "standard" plan or they can pay for "dedicated" hosting (BPOS-D). Microsoft also emphasizes its "Software plus Services" approach, enabling a combination of on-premises and hosted services.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that its U.S. BPOS-D customers now have access to Internet telephony via the Microsoft Office Communications Online service. Users can call anywhere from their PCs via a broadband connection. The new Office Communications Online service doesn't eliminate the private branch exchange (PBX) in offices quite yet, although Microsoft has predicted the demise of the PBX in its past market positioning statements.

"BPOS-D can reduce the load on customers' existing PBX (private branch exchange) investments by moving some workers onto a cloud based solution, but is not intended to replace all PBX functionality at this time," Microsoft explained in its online services blog.

The new U.S.-based voice-over-IP service also depends on having a Session Initiation Protocol trunking provider in place. Microsoft identified just one such provider -- Global Crossing.

For those IT pros working in the on-premises server world, Microsoft announced this month that Office Communications Server 2007 R2 can now be deployed on Windows Server 2008 R2. However, the deployment comes with lots of caveats. The group chat feature doesn't work, although Microsoft is planning a hotfix for that in mid-April. Speech Server 2007 isn't supported on Windows Server 2008 R2. Also, there are Windows Server 2008 R2 upgrade warnings and a note about the lack of support for some 32-bit OCS tools.

Microsoft also is working on a successor to OCS code-named "Communications Server 14." It will integrate with the upcoming Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 products, as well as Exchange 2010, which is currently available.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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