Microsoft has quietly launched e-mail and collaboration managed services for the general market and said it next plans to offer desktop management, business intelligence, security and BizTalk services.
Exchange, SharePoint and Live Communications Server (LCS) services are broadly available, but Microsoft's desktop management service won't be generally available until its next-generation SoftGrid application streaming and System Center Configuration Manager 2007 upgrades for Windows Vista ship, said Ron Markezich, vice president of Microsoft Managed Services.
However, the desktop management service will be available to a limited number of customers in a bundle with Exchange, SharePoint and LCS services, Markezich said in a meeting at TechEd 2007 in Orlando, Fla.
Microsoft now calls these offerings "managed services" but at one time referred to them as "managed solutions."
Currently, Microsoft's managed services operation has four paying customers -- including Energizer and XL Capital -- and two newly signed customers whose names will be announced later, the company said.
Microsoft is also preparing to launch managed services for PerformancePoint BI, Forefront security and the BizTalk platform for customers that want to fully outsource their BI, security and business process management needs, Markezich said.
Francois Ajenstat, director of SQL Server Marketing, said he knows of one customer piloting the PerformancePoint managed service.
"They are excited about it because they see BI as a critical part of their business, and they want full assurance that they can deliver reports and manage all aspects of their business without having a huge IT staff," Ajenstat said.
PerformancePoint is in beta testing. The managed service will be available soon after the product ships, he said.
Microsoft also confirmed that it will make available a full-fledged managed security service for customers that don't want to deploy security products on-premise.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant recently rolled out its Forefront Client Security product and said it plans a unified Forefront security suite. The suite will be a managed service, Markezich said.
In addition, Microsoft will offer BI and BizTalk Services for federating customers' networks with their partners.
One incubation project, BizTalk Services, consists of software in the cloud that's designed to enable business users to communicate across organizational boundaries. Microsoft had discussed some of the BizTalk Services about a month ago.
"It's taking Active Directory Federation Services to the cloud," Markezich said.
Finally, Microsoft will make its Asset Inventory Service available as a hosted service for Microsoft Optimized Desktop customers. The technology was acquired from AssetMetrix and formerly sold with hardware as an integrated solution, Microsoft said. The service will go into beta next month, but Microsoft declined to provide a launch date for the final service.
Microsoft currently offers Exchange, SharePoint, LCS and desktop management services for Energizer and XL Capital.
Randy Benz, vice president and CIO at Energizer, St. Louis, said Microsoft's managed services allows him to deploy new technology -- such as Office 2007 -- faster than in the past, which gives him a competitive advantage and major gains in efficiency.
Although Microsoft said it will provide services only to customers with more than 5,000 desktops, the company will offer managed application services to customers of any size, said another source close to Microsoft, who asked not to be named.
Microsoft has four major data centers up and running or soon-to-be-launched in the Seattle area and in Texas and Virginia.
Markezich acknowledged that the managed services are for customers that want to buy direct from Microsoft. But he said the company is only targeting big customers and, in some cases, enlisting business partners to fulfill aspects of the managed services engagement as customer needs dictate.
For example, Siemens business services is providing call-center and help-desk support for Energizer and XL Capital. Microsoft has not yet determined how it will position managed services in the midmarket and small-business spaces, the Microsoft executive said.
"There are two models: Customers that want to buy direct from Microsoft and we provide those services, and customers that may want to have only one provider and we'll partner with the vendor that is the prime," Markezich said.
One partner expressed concern about Microsoft's growing managed services portfolio and said he wants to hear more detail next month at the Worldwide Partner Conference.
"Microsoft pushing a managed services offering is more troubling at this interval than any previous occasion," said Stephen Moss, COO of NSPI, a Roswell, Georgia security solution provider. "It will be most interesting to see [Microsoft's plans] in the area of direct offerings of services or Software + Services as the case may be."