Migration Poses Challenge

By Chris Talbot

As vendors build out aggressive cloud strategies, two behemoths are going toe-to-toe for marketshare in the office productivity applications space.
Although Google  beat Microsoft to the punch in the cloud computing world with the launch of its successful Google Docs portfolio of cloud applications, Microsoft has been playing catch-up lately, announcing a stronger commitment to its cloud strategy in March.

Even as Google continues to tempt Microsoft Office and Exchange customers to Google Docs and Gmail for their business needs, Microsoft builds on its both its on-premise, hosted and cloud software offerings. According to David Hoff, vice president of technology at Google Apps partner Cloud Sherpas. Cloud Sherpas has successfully migrated thousands of customers from Exchange to Gmail environments. At the same time, Jamin Spitzer, director of platform strategy at Microsoft, said that many customers that previously switched to Google Apps have made the switch back to Microsoft offerings as its cloud applications have become available.

A choice for either vendor comes with its own advantages. On one hand, Microsoft offers a cloud platform that is already familiar to business users working with Microsoft Office, Exchange and Outlook. On the other, Google provides a strong cloud track record and an already very active and mature applications development platform. Both sides claim better costs and ROI for the customer.

"From a customer's perspective, so many of our customers are looking at Google Apps because they're still on Exchange 2003," Hoff said. "They just don't have the manpower and resources to continually care and feed the existing product with all the time and effort it takes to do the updates."

Hoff said that many Cloud Sherpas customers have chosen Google over Microsoft because they've seen a lack of multi-tenant environment capabilities in hosted and cloud-based Exchange. Exchange Online customers have faced challenges of all being stuffed in the same Active Directory, whereas Gmail was built from the ground up to be highly scalable and multi-tenant, he said. He noted that they're fundamentally different architectures.

Spitzer said the initial driver behind Google Apps three to five years ago was about consuming a pay-as-you-go email environment, which is something Microsoft didn't have at that time. Now it does, he said. Just as Hoff said Cloud Sherpas has seen thousands of businesses migrate away from Exchange, Spitzer said that he's found a lot of companies that originally migrated to Google now returning to the Microsoft fold.

"We've taken a very deliberate and thoughtful approach to what we're doing," Spitzer said.

One of the major difficulties in migrating away from Microsoft productivity and email software and infrastructure is in data migration. According to Hoff, data migration is dependent on decisions made by the customer, and businesses with very strict cultures around message management will likely find the transition difficult.

Particularly with a migration from Exchange to Gmail, the transition can be a challenge. According to Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at Enderle Group, that's an understatement. Businesses switching from Exchange to Gmail to save money always find they discover a whole bunch of new issues they didn't anticipate in the migration, he said. No matter what the cost savings might be, the headaches are generally not worth changing an email system, he said.

There's a core difference in how the two companies are going about their software strategies as well. Google Apps started in the cloud, and so the company has focused exclusively on building out its cloud applications. Microsoft started with on-premise software, a business that is still strong for the company.

In developing its cloud strategy, Microsoft sees a future where a hybrid of on-premise and cloud software will dominate, Spitzer said. That's the world Microsoft envisions. The idea is to make it easy for end-users to get access to everything they need in their applications whether they're in the office or in the cloud. End-users should be able to easily bounce back and forth between the two different types of software delivery, he said.

"In terms of office apps, Google probably has the better solution if you're going to go 100 percent web because they don't have to cannibalize their desktop software," Enderle said. That doesn't mean Google should be the choice for every business, though.

Google doesn't have hosted applications like Microsoft does, and Google falls short in comparison to Microsoft's web services, he said. Google has focused more on the consumer than the business in the past, and the company's business services are still in their infancy.

Microsoft's biggest challenge is that so many of its customers are on its current or past applications and are moving towards the cloud, Enderle said. Microsoft wants to offer cloud in a way that it doesn't cannibalize its own existing on-premise software revenue stream. That makes Microsoft more disjointed than Google because they also have broader offerings, he said. Google is a more cohesive company because of its narrower focus.

If customers are looking to Microsoft or Google Apps for their cloud needs, Enderle offered some insight into how to choose:

  • Microsoft's offerings are robust and enterprise-ready, whereas Google isn't quite there yet in the enterprise.
  • There is no magic bullet where Google is always the right choice or Microsoft is always the right choice.
  • The smaller the business, the more likely it is going to favour Google.
  • Microsoft is more aligned with mid-market and enterprise businesses.
  • Businesses that are 100 percent Linux-based should consider Google.
  • Microsoft cloud apps are designed to integrate with on-premise Microsoft software, so businesses using Microsoft applications will find it easier to migrate to Microsoft cloud offerings than to Google Apps.
  • Google probably won't do well in a Microsoft shop. Likewise, Microsoft probably won't do well in a Linux shop.

"I would keep technology aligned. A Linux environment already tends to be pretty disrupted so you can drop a Google solution in there. A Microsoft environment tends to be very staid," Enderle said.


This article was originally published on 2010-06-24