Microsoft's on-demand challenge

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Some Microsoft partners are questioning how successful the software maker's hosting business will ultimately be if it doesn't also embrace other third-party solutions. While Microsoft is increasingly looking to provide hosted services to customers, like its upcoming Dynamics Live CRM service and Exchange Hosted Services, some competitors question how effective that strategy will be.

Keith McCall, a former Exchange executive and now the chief technology officer at Azaleos, a Redmond, Wash. company that offers a managed Exchange appliance with remote maintenance and proactive monitoring, says that most customers with more than 100 employees integrate mobile devices, document management systems, and business applications for sales force automation from various vendors into their IT operations.

"Offering a single vendor, homogenous solution to address all business functions does not address the strategic imperative most IT departments have as a goal: to create a competitive advantage by selecting the best technology at the best price that assists employee productivity and thus profitability," he said.

A good example of this is mobile device access as the device selection is typically at the whim of the corporate executive and not usually made by IT. So, McCall says, any hosted or managed solution must offer a way to help IT support devices from a range of vendors, including Apple's iPhone, Rim's Blackberry smart phones, and Windows mobile devices.

For its part, Azaleos has introduced solutions like MobileXchange, a managed environment that helps organizations monitor, manage, report on, and secure device access to Microsoft Exchange and other business critical data.

Azaleos is already delivering what Microsoft has long said it will.

"From any device, anywhere, at any time," McCall says, quoting a much used phrase from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, to make his point.

When asked what he thought about Microsoft's plans to host more of its own applications and content given its core competency of developing software, Mark Welch, who works for Microsoft Gold certified partner New Age Technologies, Inc. in Louisville, Kentucky, summed it up by saying: "I wasn't aware that Microsoft was in the real estate business."