Microsoft taps StarHub to deliver Office 365

Redmond's cloud-based productivity suite, which went into open beta Monday, will be bundled with Singapore telco's broadband services to enterprise and SMB customers, announce executives.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Microsoft will bring its cloud-based Office 365 productivity suite to Singapore-based users through a partnership with local telco StarHub, executives from both companies revealed Tuesday.

According to Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, StarHub has agreed on a syndication partnership deal with the company to bundle Office 365 together with its broadband services to the telco's base of enterprise and small and midsize businesses (SMBs). This is the second such partnership for Microsoft in the Asia market, the COO added, but he did not disclose the other business partner.

Office 365 is Redmond's "next-generation cloud productivity service for businesses of all sizes", which comprises Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online, Turner noted in a media briefing held here. Singapore aside, it will also be open to users in six other Asia-Pacific markets including Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia, he said.

Elaborating on the partnership, StarHub's COO Tan Tong Hai explained that while customers can go directly to Microsoft to sign up for its cloud services, signing up with a telco offers them added assurance of broadband service uptime. This, in turn, provides assurance that they can always access Redmond's suite of products, he noted.

When quizzed further on the service level agreements (SLAs) it will be offering customers, Tan said StarHub is working with Microsoft to iron out kinks during the open beta period and making sure its bandwidth is able to support all subscribers.

Turner added that Microsoft is offering 99.99 percent availability on its end and, by commercial launch targeted for "later this year", StarHub would be able to provide "what customers expect".

StarHub, according to Tan, has over 1,000 SMB customers using its services currently, and these users now have a "compelling story" to jump onto the cloud computing bandwagon with Microsoft's well-known office productivity products now available on top of StarHub's cable access.

The telco is also leading by example by adopting Office 365 internally, he said. One of the reasons for its adoption is that Redmond's Office 365 servers for the region will be housed in Singapore, "so there are no auditory or compliance issues", he pointed out.

Growing user interest
On Office 365's adoption rate, Turner noted that since the suite was introduced in a limited beta last year more than 150,000 organizations have signed up to test it. He identified the suite's revamped pricing scheme, which can go as low as US$6 per user per month, as a key draw.

SMBs will be drawn to its competitive pricing and flexibility to scale, and this is a key demographic that Microsoft is targeting, the COO highlighted.

Turner added that about 5 million users globally have signed up for Office 365, with deployment complete for 2.8 million. Going forward, the COO expects that Office 365 will displace approximately 5 million Lotus Notes--IBM's e-mail client--seats as Redmond continues its drive to "bring legacy installations" into today's work environments.

In Singapore, Jessica Tan, managing director of Microsoft Singapore, shared that about 230 SMBs and enterprise customers have signed up for the company's online services since November 2009. Notable users include Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS), and the number of seats provisioned can vary from a few up to 11,000, she added.

Sindicatum Carbon Capital (SCC), a Singapore-based climate change and sustainable resources company, is one of the 230 that have subscribed to Microsoft's online services. Company CTO Bobby Jimenez cited cost savings as a key attraction for the company's decision to sign up for Microsoft's Exchange Online.

The executive told ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the briefing that at US$5 per user, Microsoft's online e-mail client was cheaper than Google's or Rackspace's Web mail offerings. This works out to about US$70,000 to US$80,000 savings a year in terms of licensing, maintenance, planning and integration costs for both hardware and software, he explained.

Additionally, the company was using Microsoft's on-premise Exchange server previously, and the employees' experience in using Exchange was another factor that swung the vote to Microsoft's favor, he said.

Jimenez revealed that the migration took under two months to complete--about a week to prepare the company's backend IT infrastructure to provision Exchange Online to its 160 employees, and a further 45 days for deployment.

"The familiar user experience and easy migration process, together with the cost savings we received, have made the move worthwhile," he added.

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