Microsoft Office 365: What's on tap for big businesses, federal users?

While Microsoft has begun detailing some of the planned packaging and pricing for its Office 365 suite of cloud-hosted applications, a few details still remain murky -- including when, how and whether dedicated and federal versions will be available.

While Microsoft has begun detailing some of the planned packaging and pricing for its Office 365 suite of cloud-hosted applications, a few details still remain murky.

One of those is whether Microsoft will carry over from its current Business Productivity Online (BPOS) suite the "D" (dedicated) and "F" (federal) SKU options.

I've heard from some of my contacts that Microsoft is poised to offer a public beta of Office 365 the week of April 18, in anticipation of its early June launch of the Office 365 suite. So maybe we'll hear more about the company's SKU plans next week. Or maybe not....

Check out Office 365 in pictures: 70 slides showing SharePoint Online, Lync Online, Exchange Online and more

Office 365 is Microsoft's successor to BPOS, its bundle of hosted SharePoint, Lync (unified communications) and Exchange services. It is Microsoft's head-to-head competitor with Google Apps.

With BPOS, Microsoft currently provides users with a choice of "S" (standard, i.e., mulitenant); "D" (dedicated); and "F" (federal) SKUs. The BPOS-F option is a highly locked-down bundle of Microsoft-hosted SharePoint, Exchange and Communications Server. (“Physical access to those (BPOS Federal) systems is limited by biometric access controls to a small number of individuals who, in compliance with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), must be citizens of the United States who have undergone rigorous background checks, including fingerprinting,” according to the Microsoft press release announcing BPOS-F last year.)

When Office 365 ships, those three SKUs may not carry over, from what I'm hearing from some of my contacts.

When I asked the team whether there'd still be S, D and F options with Office 365, I received this rather vague response from a spokesperson:

"There will definitely be an offering for those government organizations that have additional regulatory needs, like ITAR-compliance (included in the FAQ on the Office 365 website), but Office 365 for enterprises works well for most federal, state and local governments, because the services have been certified as compliant with ISO 27001 standards, completed SAS70 Type I and II audits, and achieved the EU Safe Harbor seal. Microsoft has also added controls for helping customers comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)."

So does that mean there will be an Office 365 D offering or not? Your guess is as good as mine. I (kind of) think there will be some kind of F option for Office 365, but again, I am not 100 percent sure.

BPOS-D currently requires a minimum of 5,000 seats and requires an automatic three-year licensing agreement. It offers users more options for customization. BPOS-S has a minimum requirement of five seats and is the version of BPOS that Microsoft targets at SMBs.

Any customer out there care if Microsoft does away with the Dedicated option for Office 365?


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