Microsoft's cloud strategy reached another stage Jan. 17 with the announcement of a worldwide launch date for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, the cloud version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. Both on-premises and cloud-based versions of the platform will be available in 40 markets and 41 languages starting Feb. 28.
A Jan. 17 statement by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer emphasized Dynamics CRM's "familiar user experience, enabling greater collaboration, streamlining of processes and access to real-time data." Microsoft finds itself locked in a fierce battle for CRM market share with Salesforce.com and Oracle, both of which have shown little hesitation in both updating their products and sniping at their rivals.
In trying to set cloud products such as Dynamics CRM Online apart from its rivals' CRM platforms, Microsoft is emphasizing how customers who choose its cloud option can leverage it in the context of other Microsoft software such as Office-in effect, creating a software-centric competitor to Oracle's integrated hardware-and-software stack. Microsoft executives also claim that this ability to integrate features from other company software platforms gives its CRM option more functionality than Salesforce.com, whose own CRM focuses on real-time social networking.
According to Microsoft, those "connected experiences" include "Windows Azure interoperability, contextual Microsoft SharePoint capabilities and the new Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace." The company is also touting the offering's real-time dashboards and in-line business intelligence capabilities.
Microsoft's battles in the CRM space have become increasingly vicious. In December 2010, it took a hard swipe at Salesforce.com, posting "An Open Letter to Salesforce.com Customers" in which it dangled a $200-per-user rebate for any organization that switched from Salesforce.com. Earlier last year, the two companies hurled IP-infringement suits at each other, a situation that resolved in August with Salesforce.com agreeing to compensate Microsoft for its patents.
In addition to online CRM, Microsoft's other business-centric cloud initiatives include Office 365, which groups Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online as a subscription service. Microsoft released Office 365 in limited beta Oct. 19, with general availability expected in 2011. Microsoft also competes in the cloud arena against Google, especially over federal and large-enterprise contracts for cloud-based apps.
Ballmer has insisted for months that his company is "all in" with regard to the cloud services. "We have learned a lot through running Windows Live, Hotmail, Bing," he told an audience during a July 12 keynote address at last summer's Worldwide Partner Conference. "These are some of the highest volume services run on the Internet today. When you run a highly scaled, highly dynamic service, you need a whole new approach to running a data center."