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Microsoft's Goal: Hosted Everything

Microsoft partners are aware of, and seemingly unfazed by, the software giant&'s application hosting plans.

“Microsoft is a software company, not a services company,” said one hosting partner. “That&'s a tough transition to make.”

CRN reported last week that the company plans hosted implementations of its SharePoint, CRM and ERP apps as soon as next year. Service partners such as Apptix, ePartners and NaviSite now host Microsoft&'s software. What would be new here is customers&' ability to select Microsoft or a partner to run the infrastructure.

Although Microsoft last week declined to give specifics, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates hinted at the strategy to CRN last month. “SharePoint today runs primarily on premises. … We are looking at what our role is in helping people with SharePoint,” he said.

Whether the software runs on premises or “in the cloud,” partners will be needed for implementation and customization, he said.

One partner said the Redmond, Wash.-based vendor “has to play in every playground. That&'s the way of the world.”

SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services are the linchpin for most of Microsoft&'s current and planned collaboration products and services. The Groove Networks acquisition last year brought Microsoft the expertise it needed to bolster the security and reach of such collaboration beyond and between corporate firewalls. But SharePoint and Groove are both infrastructures for shared workspaces. “When they talk hosted SharePoint, will it be SharePoint and/or Groove technology?” this insider asked.

But while Microsoft must explore new delivery models in the face of rising competition from the likes of Salesforce.com in CRM, Microsoft-hosted solutions would compete with partner offerings. Microsoft has told partners that its move will be “revenue-neutral” to them.

Next week in San Francisco, Gates and Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie are slated to talk more about the software-as-a-service push. The company is expected to target the gamut of customers, including small companies that may want to do things like share calendar items but not worry about how that is accomplished.

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