Microsoft Dynamics CRM faces all ways

Codenamed Titan, the multitenant next release of Dynamics CRM is available to partners from today in a Technology Access Preview. But can its host-me, host-you architecture please all the people all the time?
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

It looks as though Microsoft aims to catch just about every wave out there with the launch of Titan, codename for the next version of Dynamics CRM. The product's most notable claim to fame is a 'host-me, host-you' multitenant architecture that can either be deployed in a conventional on-premises mode or as a hosted on-demand application. The latter option, known as Live CRM, will be available either directly from Microsoft or from accredited partners. More comment on that in a moment.

Although the product won't be available for purchase (or subscription) until the third quarter,Its 'host-me, host-you' architecture faces two ways Microsoft is making Titan available to 300 of its business partners from today in a 'Technology Access Preview' program, with more than a thousand able to access the program next quarter. According to Microsoft's press release, this will allow partners to build "vertical applications, SaaS mash-ups, integration connectors and other solution extensions," a single phrase that breathlessly attempts to embrace every possible hot trend in SaaS, from verticalization to mashups and integration platforms.

Launched into this buzzword maelstrom (don't you just love the sound of 'SaaS mash-ups'?) Titan has all the hallmarks of an exercise in attempting to please all of the people all of the time. Not only does the product face both ways simultaneously towards the on-premise and on-demand models with its 'host-me, host-you' architecture, Microsoft is also trying to share the on-demand version with its distribution partners at the same time as having its own Live CRM offering — surely a case of attempting to have your cake, pass it around, and eat it yourself, all at the same time.

The trouble with all of this is that it imposes multiple layers of cost. Multitenancy is just part of the process of moving an application online, and one of the most important consequences is the freedom it gives a vendor to hone their software infrastructure to maximize performance and cost-effectiveness. That's not an option when the same infrastructure still has to remain compatible with every possible permutation of on-premises implementation. So anyone offering CRM Live will be doing so with one hand tied behind their back by the compromises the software will have to make to continue to support on-premises deployment.

Then there's the question of partner margins. Presumably Microsoft's own CRM Live offering will be an unadorned 'vanilla' version, leaving partners free to 'add value' in the usual way with their proprietary extensions. But Microsoft will still have to maintain its prices relatively high to protect its partners' margins, and it will have to limit the native configurability of the 'vanilla' version to protect its partners' value-add. So inevitably the product will always be more expensive with less self-service configurability than pureplay on-demand competitors, at the same time as having higher maintenance overheads because of its facing-both-ways 'host-me, host-you' architecture.

Despite all this I know that a lot of diehard Microsoft loyalists will still be mighty pleased with Titan. If you're already committed to the Dynamics family of products or a Microsoft server infrastructure then it means you can deploy an on-demand option without straying off-platform. But anyone who wants real value for money and fully flexible on-demand configurability is going to go elsewhere — because there's no two ways about it; you simply can't please all of the people all of the time.

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