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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the software giant’s
long-awaited Office 365 cloud-based productivity suite on June 28 along with about
15 hosting partners covering many different geographies around the world.

Microsoft showcased Office 365’s identical look in the cloud
to on-premise Office applications and documents. The company also highlighted
Office 365’s integration with Windows Phone 7, but pointed out that the
cloud-based productivity suite could be accessed on competitive mobile devices
as well.

A for initial hosting partner agreements, the list appeared
to be a small exclusive group. Absent from the initial list of hosting partners were
Microsoft Exchange hosting giants Intermedia and Rackspace, although Intermedia President Michael Gold issued a statement in support of the Microsoft launch.

“Office 365 is a big moment for Microsoft and gives them much deeper online services reach into the mainstream business world, including the companies coming to the cloud for the first time,” he said. “Microsoft’s broad partner ecosystem can refer not only Office 365, but other Microsoft cloud services, giving the company an even bigger advantage versus Google. Companies like Intermedia take Microsoft and other best-of-breed products and tailor them for businesses that need additional support, security, mobility, compliance and other cloud services.”

Back in March, Intermedia executives told Channel Insider that the hosting company was in talks with Microsoft about Microsoft Office 365,. but that the company was only interested in hosting Office 365 if it owned the customer. "If we can’t own the billing relationship we won’t do it," Intermedia’s COO told Channel Insider in March.

Responding to the question today, an Intermedia spokeswoman said that corporate policy dictates that the company does not discuss details about prospective partnerships. The statement seems to indicate that talks are still underway.

For the handful of partners who are confirmed as Microsoft
Office 365 hosting partners a key question has been answered – who will handle
the billing of end customers.And at least for AppRiver, it’s the answer partners wanted.

“AppRiver is handling all Office 365 customer billing needs
within AppRiver’s Office 365 management portal,” an AppRiver spokeswoman told
Channel Insider.

Other hosting partners participating in Microsoft’s Office
365 hosting program include:

  • Atea
  • Bell Canada
  • Central Europe On-Demand
  • Intercall
  • Intuit Inc.
  • Jack Henry & Associates, Inc.
  • KPN
  • Mamut
  • France Telecom-Orange
  • Premiere Global Services, Inc. │ PGi
  • SKB Kontur
  • TDC Hosting
  • Telefónica
  • TeleiSonera
  • Telmex
  • Telstra
  • UPC Business and Liberty Global
  • Liberty Global
  • Vodafone
  • Starhub

For most Microsoft channel partners, however, billing will remain direct, and that just doesn’t work for many Microsoft channel partners.

"While technically interesting, Office 365 doesn’t appeal to partners whose value add is around single point of contact and single point of billing," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies and a Channel Insider columnist. "That’s a non-starter for MSPs"

Still, Microsoft’s Channel Chief John Roskill today used his blog to promote the launch and talk about other potential opportunities for channel partners such as value-added services as well as "a 12 percent  one-time partner of record fees in the first year, and 6 percent in recurring fees."

Roskill promised "You’ll hear a lot more about the exciting Office 365 partner opportunities at the Worldwide Partner Conference."

Microsoft is expected to provide more details during its Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles in July.