Microsoft's cloud-based Exchange, SharePoint still stuck in 2007

Microsoft starts upgrades to 2010, but only for largest online customers

Microsoft's upgrade of Exchange and SharePoint Online is expected to last all year and many customers may see only a "preview" version of the technology in 2010.

Microsoft has begun upgrading cloud-based Exchange and SharePoint services to its 2010 offerings, but the migration is expected to last all year and many customers may see only a "preview" version of the technology in 2010.

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Exchange 2010 shipped last November, and SharePoint 2010 was released in May of this year. 

But the cloud-based versions of Exchange and SharePoint, which are part of BPOS, Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, are still running on the 2007 versions.

Microsoft's goal is to offer online customers the same exact capabilities they can expect from the on-premise version of the software, but "it just takes us some time to upgrade the data centers to the new versions of Exchange server and SharePoint server," Chris Capossela, senior vice president of Microsoft's Information Worker Product Management Group, said in an interview last month.

"By the end of this year our largest online customers will have the updated versions, which are powered by the 2010 servers," Capossela said.

When asked again this week about the timing of upgrading Exchange and SharePoint Online to the 2010 versions, Microsoft offered a slightly different estimate, but one that still puts off most of the upgrades until later in the year. Microsoft has begun the process of upgrading BPOS to the 2010 servers, but only for select customers, a company spokesperson said.

"BPOS is updated quarterly with new features and capabilities," Microsoft said in a statement e-mailed to Network World. "We have already started rolling out 2010 capabilities for our largest online customers, and from there, we will continue rolling out the 2010 technology to our broad customer base who can expect a preview of 2010 capabilities later this year."

Customers who are desperate to run Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010 in the cloud can look to third-party vendors, such as Intermedia, which has already launched hosted versions of the latest Exchange and 2010 technologies.

Microsoft has been a little vague about when it will upgrade BPOS to 2010 technology, notes Forrester analyst Ted Schadler. "They keep talking about later this year, in beta at least," he said. "There is a lag here where people will have access to 2010 on-premise before in the cloud."

However, Schadler says Microsoft is not just blowing smoke when it talks about delivering parity between hosted and on-premise versions.

"They want to have parity," Schadler says. "The reason for that, primarily, is they know that in most workloads it's not a rip-and-replace. You're not going to do a forklift migration. You're going to do a staged migration, or keep some apps internal, and some apps external."

In addition to Exchange and SharePoint, BPOS includes Office Live Meeting, a hosted web conferencing service, and Office Communications Online for text, voice and video communications.

At the TechEd conference in New Orleans this week, Microsoft previewed capabilities in the upcoming Communications Server 14, scheduled to ship the second half of this year. Office Communications Online will see the same upgrades next year.

"With the launch of Communications Server '14' later this year, we will begin updating BPOS with Communications Server '14' capabilities, and customers can expect to see those in BPOS next year," Microsoft said.

Microsoft's cloud offerings got another boost this week when it released Office Web Apps, an online service consisting of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.

"People can access Office Web Apps in two ways - via Windows Live at no cost for consumers and via an on-premises SharePoint Server 2010 for businesses," Microsoft said. "In the future, customers will be able to use Office Web Apps through Microsoft Online Services as we update BPOS with 2010 capabilities."

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