A Bit Cloudy

Systems Administrators, I come in peace. You have nothing to fear from me
– Office 365

Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite recently absorbed a few other services and has been rebranded as Office 365, which is currently in private Beta and NDA-d up to the eyeballs. As Microsoft’s (slightly delayed) answer to Google Apps Premier Edition, it shows a lot of promise; MS has technical expertise, market penetration, and financial capital all going for it. On the other hand, Google has its fair share of brainpower, and is built from the ground up with network uptime in mind. That is, after all, what their business completely relies on.

Office 365 is also an implicit brand promise (backed up by an explicit 99.9% uptime SLA), and it’s already looking like Microsoft might have to work a little harder to honor that promise. Unsurprisingly, I’ve seen it argued that even 99% is still pretty darned good, and that plenty of enterprises with in-house IT support suffer much worse than 90 minutes of downtime in 2 months. This is all true.

It also doesn’t take into account a few points:

  • With in-house IT, downtime doesn’t mean users can’t work, it just means they can’t work online. If you’re using the full Office 365 suite (i.e. with hosted versions of Office itself), then you’ve potentially got a bigger problem.
  • It’s damaging to the Microsoft brand if they can’t honor this promise. They’re presumably trying to sell this SaaS suite to managers and executives, and in that arena, confidence is king.

Speaking of confidence, their support for SME’s seems to be of the “moderated community-based” variety. So, forums and twitter, then. This suite is designed to appeal to smaller businesses who are likely to not have the in-house expertise to recognize bad advice – that’s why they’re going down the cloud route. It’s designed to put them on an equal software footing with larger enterprises, except when things go wrong, apparently.

To add fuel to that particular fire (and it’s a fire that you should draw warmth from), given that they’re supporting IE6 (oh, the humanity!), one assumes that they’re hoping to attract users who are firmly near the bottom of the IT knowledge histogram.

Do SysAdmins need to worry about their jobs? I doubt it. Particularly as this opens up new opportunities to specialize in network administration, or to rebrand yourself as a Downtime Troubleshooter. Either way, I suspect there will be plenty of call for your expertise in the near future.