Microsoft has expanded its cloud-computing push with the launch of Business Productivity Online Suite in 19 countries worldwide.
The arrival of BPOS will see Microsoft's enterprise applications sold as a single hosted software package. These include Exchange Online email, SharePoint Online collaboration software, presence and IM product Office Live Meetings and, from later this year, Office Communications Online videoconferencing.
The move expands on Microsoft's announcement in November of Microsoft Online, which saw it sell hosted software services in the US.
As well as BPOS, Microsoft on Monday took the wraps off a new cloud offering: an email and calendaring option, Business Productivity Online Deskless Worker Suite, which includes Exchange and SharePoint.
The Deskless Worker Suite is aimed at workers that aren't normally tied to their PC all day but still need to get email and intranet access every now and again, including retail shop workers, factory workers and flight attendants, according to Microsoft.
BPOS will be available in the UK from 1 April with licences from five seats. Microsoft said that Exchange Online and SharePoint Online are available for trial now in the UK, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the US.
So far, companies including Coca-Cola and GlaxoSmithKline have signed up to use BPOS, after switching from an in-house Lotus Notes set-up.
In the UK, Scottish charity the Wise Group is one of the earliest adopters of BPOS, with some 20 staff already using the suite and the rest of the organisation's 400 or so workers following suit in the coming few months.
Wise Group chief information officer Alan Lee-Bourke said the switch from on-premise to hosted software will allow him to move techies from keeping the lights on to more useful projects.
"My staff spend a lot of time looking after our existing infrastructure so now I can forget about all that, and I can get them to become data managers and data custodians. It's not only cost but our data gets better too — I can redeploy the staff to more interesting things. I don't have to worry about wires and boxes," he told silicon.com.
"My organisation's not used to [cloud computing] at all. Ultimately, the argument was we don't care where our data is. As long as we get timely, accurate and relevant data, that's all we care about," Lee-Bourke added.
Microsoft's archrival Google's hosted productivity suite, Google Apps, has already notched up 10 million users across one million business, including to both the Guardian Media Group and The Telegraph Media Group.
Google Apps users were left stranded last week following an outage that saw Gmail taken offline for more than two hours, prompting some commentators to question the suitability of cloud software for business critical applications.
There is, however, compensation for those caught out by outages: both Microsoft and Google will pay back a portion of the subscription costs if online services go dark.
"I figured out if we got a roughly 48-second outage in one day we'd get £800 back. It's really [Microsoft] putting it on the line and it's one of the things that convinced my finance manager," Lee-Bourke said.
As well as the issue of outages, companies opting for hosted rather than on-premises software will also find themselves with less functionality — voice capabilities are different, for example, and organisations on the 'standard' BPOS suite will have a more-stripped down collaboration environment.
Feature parity between cloud and on-premises software could be introduced from the launch of Office 14, according to Microsoft.
Karen Friar of ZDNet UK contributed to this report.