first look We recently had a chance to test out Telstra's software-as-a-service T-Suite package, which launched in beta mode in early November with hosted versions of Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange, Dynamics and Sharepoint, McAfee's desktop security, MessageLabs' network security products and Telstra's own PC and server back-up products.
(Credit: Brett Winterford/ZDNet.com.au)
Also, see our complete T-Suite screenshot gallery here.
ZDNet.com.au's first impression of the service is that it shows great promise. But users would be wise to note that there are still many bugs Telstra is yet to iron out — hence its 'soft launch' in November and full-scale release scheduled for March 2009.
Upon logging in the first time, users face some notable lag — not exactly the ideal introduction to cloud computing. But this, thankfully, is only a one-off — log-ins from then on prove far smoother.
Telstra Business market development manager Tim Otten says the applications will always be a little slow the first time they load, attributable to the "handshake" occurring between the Telstra provisioning system and the third-party application provider the carrier is providing access to.
"That first log-in needs to establish your credentials," he says. "There is also potentially some caching of graphics and menu options. It's always going to be faster the next time you log-in."
Post that first log-in, the applications run quite smoothly and on a decent connection you might forget you are working from a browser at all.
Among T-Suite's strongest points are that a lot of great quick-start guides and resources are included with the subscription to help users get the most out of the programs. And Telstra says this is only a small fraction of a wider library of resources it intends to make available once out of beta.
On the security front, messaging can be encrypted via a download of S/MIME control onto whatever device is being used to access the web-based application.
All of the programs come with a rich set of functions. The Outlook experience, for example, can be shared to your mobile device and its settings controlled from the browser. Mobile devices can be added and removed from the account, logged and wiped should they be lost or stolen.
Integration is another matter. The value proposition of renting these applications from the cloud, according to Otten, is that organisations won't have to "get systems integrators in to have these apps work with each other."
But integration between the three hosted Microsoft applications currently in beta is far from ideal. Sharing contacts, for example, between Outlook and Microsoft Dynamics still involves the manual copying and importing of CSV files. Errors that can occasionally result from this process are the subject of a Microsoft patch, and will be fixed in the next version of Dynamics.
Among T-Suite's strongest points are that a lot of great quick start guides and resources are included with the subscription to help users get the most out of the programs.
These glitches are an issue for Microsoft rather than Telstra. Otten expects a resolution when Telstra launches the fully-fledged Microsoft Online Services suite (already available in the United States) via T-Suite next year.
The other major dilemma for users is browser compatibility. While Outlook and Sharepoint work in Firefox 3, for example, Dynamics CRM requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 SP1 or later, running on a computer with Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Windows 2000, or Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
Firefox users might be interested in a workaround to this problem available via Mozdev.
Internet Explorer users, meanwhile, would be recommended to allow pop-ups on their browser, or you may find yourself scratching your head wondering why certain features won't open when you click them.
And while some functions may work on Safari, Telstra is yet to offer support to Safari users.
"Support for Safari is on the roadmap for early next year but I don't have a specific date yet," says Otten. "Our experience is that it works well the vast majority of the time, we just haven't had it certified yet and don't run QA due to the time involved for a fairly limited business penetration. We recognise Mac use is growing on the notebook side and are currently trying to push this forward."
Overall the applications run smoothly and there is great promise for Telstra once its library of applications broadens and integration between applications is tighter.
"The idea is to get this right for the March launch," Otten says.