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CenterBeam Challenges Microsoft's Office 365

Enterprises wanting to move from using in-house e-mail, productivity and collaboration software to Microsoft's new Office 365 may have to embark on upgrades they don't want to make. For example, to get the most out of Office 365's enterprise edition, shops need to upgrade to Office 365 and be able to provide single sign-on via Microsoft's Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS).

Third-party cloud providers are finding ways to help customers circumvent such requirements.

The latest to do so is a company called CenterBeam. The San Jose, Calif.-based managed services provider this week launched CenterBeam 365+ and has come out swinging at the cloud-based offerings from Google, Microsoft and others.

"We believe most of the players out there are delivering consumer-class services," said Shahin Pirooz, CenterBeam's CTO. "The solutions are vanilla and the intention is they don't offer a lot of customizing. With a lot of the systems, one size fits all. There's a mentality of 'figure it out yourself,' if you will, whether it's through a partner or through a third party."

For its part, closely held CenterBeam has been around since 1999, has 185 employees, serves users in 49 countries and claims it is profitable. The company says it developed the first multi-tenant hosted version of Exchange in conjunction with Microsoft back in 1999. At the time, Microsoft had invested in the company to gain access to CenterBeam's IP, said Karen Hayward, the company's CMO. CenterBeam's services are geared toward mid-sized enterprise with anywhere from 100 to 4,000 PC users (typically distributed) or with revenues ranging from $10 million to $1 billion.

With CenterBeam 365+, customers can use Office 2003, Active Directory 2000 and .PST files, while enjoying greater flexibility for customization versus Microsoft's Office 365, company officials said. CenterBeam 365+ is available with Office Web Apps. And CenterBeam has a 24x7 helpdesk staffed with level 2 engineers, many of whom have Microsoft and other (such as Apple, Cisco, Citrix and VMware) certifications. The engineers are equipped to remote into user desktops, if needed, Pirooz said.

"One of the key differentiators we bring to the table is how cloud can play in a true hybrid environment with integration back into the customer's environment," he said. "This model gives our customers the ability to move at their pace on their timing and move the pieces and parts that they feel appropriate."

Pirooz said CenterBeam 365+ offers other features that mimic the in-house Exchange environment, such as support for public folders, BlackBerry application push, global address list segmentation and the ability to provision users in multiple datacenters. "The solution has all the bells and whistles and advantages of an enterprise-class model that can be customized, but it has the financial and scale benefits of a cloud-based model," he said. "We deliver similar functionality to customers as if they had their on-premise environment."

With the release of CenterBeam 365+, the company is looking to extend its reach. It is doing so by launching its first-ever partner program. CenterBeam is recruiting both referral partners and resellers, Hayward said.

The company's key appeal to partners is it will allow them to control the billing relationship with customers, something Microsoft allows only with its largest partners "We allow the partner to bill the customer," Hayward said. The company handles the onboarding of customers for partners, she added.

Pricing starts at $10 per user per month and runs up to $21 for the highest grade of service.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on October 19, 2011


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