We've been reading about the war of the cloud. We've seen how big companies like Google and Apple and IBM are offering their services and applications online, changing the way people use technology. We've watched how smaller companies, like Salesforce.com and Facebook and Groupon have turned themselves into giants by (literally) starting new cloud based industries. We barf every time we watch those idiots on the Microsoft commercial who forgot to program their TV and are able to do it from the airport by going "to the cloud."
And yet...you know who's going to win the small business war of the cloud? Microsoft. Want proof? All you have to do is visit Paducah, Kentucky.
Paducah (population approximately 30,000) is located about two hours from Nashville and three hours from Memphis, St. Louis and Louisville. The city was founded in 1815, occupied by Union forces throughout most of the Civil War and had a major flood in 1937. The town is known for its annual telethon (Betty White appeared there in 1959) and is one of only two cities named in the famous song "Hooray for Hollywood". Former MLB player Terry Shumpert was born there. Dippin' Dots, the candy maker, is headquartered there. And so is Bradshaw & Weil.
That's where Jared Morgan works. His family bought the 144 year old insurance agency in 1994 and Jared began working there after college. And, other than a two year stint in a youth ministry, that's where Jared's always worked. And the Paducah area is where he's always lived. He married his high school girlfriend.
Bradshaw & Weill has eight employees, each averaging about twenty five years of experience. One employee has been with the agency over fifty years. Jared, at 29, is the youngster. The company is "light years behind in technology," he says. "The smallest of changes can make things very difficult for our people."
Jared's being humble. His company isn't light years behind in technology. In fact, little Bradshaw & Weil, compared to most other small businesses from San Francisco to New York, is a technology leader. For the past few years they've been using Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite, or BPOS, for their email and document sharing. In Paducah, Kentucky for God's sake!
Quietly, Microsoft is adding more and more of its key applications to the cloud. If you visit their online productivity site you'll find a bunch of their products offered, like Exchange Online for email and calendaring, SharePoint Online for portals and document sharing, Office Communications Online for communications, Live Meeting for web and video conferencing, Dynamics CRM for customer relationship management and Windows InTune for PC management.
The cost is pretty low. For example, just renting Exchange costs $5.00 per month per user. Or if you prefer to host your SharePoint system that costs $5.25 per month per user. However, the biggest value is to sign up for BPOS. That costs a total of $10.00 per month per user and includes Exchange, SharePoint plus Office Communications and Live Meeting too.
Of course something's still missing here. BPOS doesn't include any of the standard Microsoft Office products we're used to using every day like Word, Excel, Outlook, Access and Powerpoint. Those applications will be available online, according to Microsoft, in 2011 when the company releases its Office 365 hosted services which is currently still in beta. That's going to be another thing I'll write about when the time comes.
BPOS contains the features you'd expect to find in any 2011 cloud based offering. The security, the uptime, the storage, the quick deployment and the online and mobile accessibility. This is what the cloud's all about.
And it's not like there isn't good competition out there. Google offers its own email hosting, document sharing and voice/communication services (but not meetings). Zoho offers a great suite of hosted small business applications. Box.net is an excellent alternative to SharePoint. Citrix Online has products for hosting meetings and webinars. But let's get back to Paducah. And Jared.
Jared appreciated the benefits of going to the cloud. He saw the potential time and cost savings of using someone else's servers to host his applications rather than do it himself. Being in his 20's he was more comfortable with technology than others in the firm and had the confidence to move things to the cloud with little argument from senior management.
And he tried other cloud services, particular a few offered by Google, who currently hosts the company's website. But he ultimately decided on BPOS - particularly Exchange and SharePoint. Was it for the features? He says he loves the way Outlook works so easily with Exchange. And, with SharePoint, he's helped others create shared files that document the firm's processes for servicing certain clients, scheduling reminders and following up on renewals. But I'm not convinced that Jared is doing anything with Microsoft's BPOS that he couldn't be doing with other cloud based services.
Which is why Microsoft is going to win the war of the cloud. Look, I'm not the world's biggest Microsoft fan. Yes, my company sells one of their products. But I've been brought to tears too many times to mention by Windows freeze-ups. I've watched my nails grow in front of my eyes while waiting for my computer to startup (or shutdown). I show advanced symptoms of Parkinson's every time I have to pay for an Office upgrade.
The cloud up until now was mostly about consumers. Cool apps for their mobile devices. Neat new ways to schedule parties and share pictures. Great websites for storing videos, talking to your friends and finding that perfect new car.
But now the story is changing. Microsoft is moving into the cloud. In a big way. And the company, along with its thousands of partners, will bring with it hundreds of millions of users at its small and medium sized business customers. Like Bradshaw & Weill. And this is why Microsoft is going to win the cloud war.
Because the battle won't be won over products and features and cool apps and gizmos. People, especially small business people, are going to be asked to make a choice very soon. The choice will be about companies and services and who we're going to trust with our data and our business applications. Small business people are nervous about this. Our data is our livelihood and losing it can put us out of business. We're not going to trust it to just anyone.
Whatever people say about Microsoft, we know them and for the most part we trust them. We've been using their applications for decades. We're comfortable with the look and feel of their products. Most of the small businesses around today have survived and prospered in part because of the technology they've used that runs on Microsoft platforms. And even new entrepreneurs are going to have a close look at their offerings. Sure, we've been frustrated with technical issues and problems with their products. But we know that these problems are more technology related, not company related. We know that products from Google, Apple and others like them also come with their technical headaches.
Of course, Microsoft could screw it up. They could make lousy products. They could fall down on support. They could fall behind in the technology. And just because they have a history of getting into the market late and then crushing their competitors (like WordPerfect, Lotus, Netscape) it doesn't mean their current management will be able to do that again.
But they do have a clear advantage: their products are used and liked by millions of small business people around the world. We don't want to change. We don't want to learn new products to do the same things we're already doing. We just want to do things quicker and better. As long as Microsoft makes it easy for us to adapt to the cloud we'll go along with them.