I'm increasingly seeing signs that tell me that Microsoft and SharePoint are going to secure a dominant market position as the shift toward cloud-based computing accelerates.
Microsoft may be two years behind in the tablet game and grasping at relevancy with Windows Phone 7, but you heard it here first — Microsoft is going to be THE BIG WINNER when it comes to enterprise computing in the cloud. How big is big? I believe their share of the enterprise cloud is going to be equivalent to the virtual monopolies they have around Windows, Office and Exchange. Office 365 is going to dominate, and what we know as SharePoint today will be the "operating system" of the future.
Implied in this prediction is perhaps the even more ambitious assertion that the Cloud Era has finally arrived. I believe that over the next 12-18 months the early mainstream adoption of cloud based solutions will be in full swing. This sector is going to get white hot, DotCom and Web 2.0 hot. To me this feels like more of an observation than a prediction, but I still hear from lots of folks who believe the transition is five years away. There are good arguments to be made that getting off our legacy on-premise infrastructure will be harder and more time-consuming than we hope, but I for one don't share this view. I think companies will simply abandon their legacy systems to avoid cost and save time. Concerns about data security and service availability will fade quickly as users rapidly adopt the superior functionality offered by cloud-based systems.
What's the Evidence?
Sitting here at Bamboo, in the heart of the Microsoft ecosystem, we get a pretty good view of what companies are planning in terms of enterprise technologies. I contend that among Bamboo's 6,000+ global customers, we have a disproportionate share of the most innovative and forward thinking companies in the world. Without naming names, I can tell you that the largest and most progressive companies in the world have either already adopted BPOS, are currently running pilot programs or are already insisting that the on-premise technologies they purchase today will available to them in a Microsoft hosted environment soon.
I don't know that I've heard a formal statement from Microsoft, but I think we all already know that BPOS and Office 365 are going to be a single offering. Personally, I don't love Office 365 as a brand, but I think it will probably stick, and the strength of the offering will be more than sufficient to carry an uninspiring brand identity.
I occasionally hear nice things about Google Docs. Friends who are bootstrapping their one man offices rave about the capabilities. I know there are a few big companies who have rolled the dice on Google, but seriously — what is their current market share? I don't think Google loses a lot of sleep over Bing — but like Microsoft they have major battles on all fronts. Google will be way too busy defending the search business, growing the Android platform, chasing the tablet market to give enterprise computing the attention it needs.
Who else is out there? A lot of us admire Amazon's early cloud offerings, they've done a great job. But Amazon has a platform, not the applications. They're not going to be a factor. That's also the key weakness of all of the pure hosting companies as well. Connectivity and disk space have been totally commoditized. They can't compete with companies like Microsoft that have the applications and the functionality to offer. Microsoft and other application providers will be the king makers in the hosting sector, with the ability to vertically integrate anyone who gets too big.
What about Salesforce, other established SaaS providers and the zillions of SaaS wannabes who will be coming to market over the next two years? Well, Salesforce has done all the right things. They started by specializing in one of the biggest and most crucial horizontal applications. They've begun to broaden the scope of functionality offered and have cultivated a robust ecosystem of ISVs who can help extend their offerings. Strength in CRM is particularly advantageous because it happens to be a soft spot for Microsoft. But ultimately, I think there is a limit to how far they can go. I don't believe they can go head-to-head with Microsoft on email, office productivity apps, and many other key line-of-business systems. They have to hope that they can become so embedded that companies are willing to invest in integrating separate SaaS systems. A lot of companies are going to try to facilitate that "interoperability", but I think it's going to be really hard. Salesforce could enhance it's position by rolling up folks like Zoho and Basecamp, but it really seems unlikely to me that buyers are going to accept Zoho docs over Microsoft Word just because they really like Salesforce CRM. Ultimately, Microsoft's portfolio of big clunky client-based applications — the thing that looked like it might weigh them down and keep them from ever reaching the cloud — is going to be the leverage that helps the win the cloud.
SharePoint is the Replacement for Windows
I've been hearing people say this for the last three years, and it seems clear to me now that this must happen. Once the firmware becomes irrelevant, all an operating system really does is knit together the applications that sit on top of it. SharePoint is well on it's way to serving that function already. It's surely where Microsoft is headed with Office 2013. Integration between Exchange, Office and other critical apps needs to improve quickly, but my guess is that it's already done in the lab. I think SharePoint can be more valuable than Windows. The fact that it does more than just connect applications (like providing social/collaborative capabilities, document management and an app/dev platform) makes it a really appealing ingredient of the future Microsoft stack.
Relevance to the Bamboo Buyer
If you've made a big bet on leveraging Bamboo to enhance and extend your SharePoint deployment, what does this all mean to you? Rest easy. Bamboo is ahead of the curve making certain our products will work in the Cloud. We have a really exciting and unique technology behind our recently introduced Cloud Parts. We are already providing enhanced functionality for customers on BPOS-D. We expect to work closely with Microsoft to make sure all Bamboo technologies are compatible with Office 365 and all flavors of BPOS. We've made substantial investments here, and we'll be ready when you are.
Argue with Me, Please
Personally I don't think there is much in my premise and assumptions that you can argue with. I'm mostly reporting things I'm witnessing right now. But I'd love to hear from others with a different opinion. Help me hone my vision of the future by:
- Providing evidence or testimonial that Google Docs will actually be competitive with Office 365
- Tell me about the legacy infrastructure that simply cannot and will not be moved to the cloud before 2030
- Spin a story about how Salesforce can grow significantly beyond CRM
- Tell me how IBM, Oracle, Google, Amazon, SAP or anyone else is going to assemble anything as competitive as Azure + Office + SharePoint
The one wrinkle here that I really can't account for is the hardware. What kind of device will the average information worker be using by the time this stuff goes mainstream. At the moment, given my the 12-18 month time horizon of my prediction, I think there's a strong argument that many of us will be using tablets. Now Microsoft did go out of it's way to make SharePoint 2010 compatible with Safari, but I don't think Ballmer envisions this incredible enterprise offering being consumed by people with iPads. The Microsoft tablet is reportedly not far away, but seems as tragically late to market as Windows Phone was behind the iPhone. Google will certainly bring an Android tablet to market, and it will probably do well. Still, as much as I'd like to own an iPad just because, I haven't bought one yet. Honestly tablets seem only slightly less clunky than my laptop. I'm not sure on the timeline, but I'm thinking something like Motorola's Atrix, a dockable phone/pc is probably the hardware configuration of the future.
I'm already looking forward to your feedback on these subjects, what do you think I got wrong?
Here's are some related links for your consideration:
Microsoft's Huge Cloud Problem
Microsoft can fend off mobile, cloud competition