I’ve received a few messages from those I’ve worked with in the SBS community over the years, and while I can understand some of the emotional responses that are taking place, I still see this move as inevitable based on what I previously posted. I want this post to be seen as more of a what to do next discussion starter, because if you haven’t started working with cloud solutions, even in a limited or test environment, you have some catching up to do.

From Server To Services

I’ve discussed this at events previously, but if you are an SBS partner, and you aren’t sure how to start changing your pitch to customers to embrace cloud solutions there are a number of approaches, but my personal preference is to shift the conversation from servers to services. Don’t talk about Exchange Server, talk about the services that Exchange offers. That slight change means you are setting the stage for the right type of solution for that customer across various stages of the customer’s technology requirements. If on premise Exchange delivers these services best today, but Office 365 or Hosted Exchange offer a better solution for that customer in the future, you haven’t painted yourself into a corner.

Don’t Be Seen As Anti-Cloud

Again, you don’t want to paint yourself into a corner with your customers, and you also don’t want your online brand being tainted as the anti-cloud person on the internet. The chances are your customers are already using some cloud services, whether it be consumer based or business based. You will end up looking like Wile. E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, holding up an umbrella while boulders come crashing down around you.

There are going to be other cloud focused partners and vendors targeting your customer base, so if you aren’t presenting a balanced view of the market offerings your customers will notice. A major problem with this is that what you think of as a balanced view could be seen as extreme by some others, and if it gets to the point where you are the only technology provider working with that customer that isn’t providing cloud options you are going to stand out in a not so

You Don’t Have To Force Customers Off Products They Are Happy With… Immediately, Anyway

Yes, your business model will need to change, but you still have one SBS Standard upgrade cycle left for most of your customers. Use it as a way to bring business forward if possible. Your revenue stream will be protected as you investigate the most suitable offerings for your customers.

Welcome To The World Of Enterprise Level Technologies

When SBS started out, there were no Enterprise versus Standard editions of Microsoft technologies. Wolfpack clustering wasn’t on the horizon, yet alone the array of high availability capabilities coming in Windows Server 2012. Trying to get SBS to run in a fault tolerant, highly available configuration, while remaining in the realm of supported and appropriately licensed was never going to be on the radar for Microsoft.

With Office 365, Microsoft is providing an amazing scalable, replicated back end service. Sure there is still going to planned and unplanned downtime, but there is a financially backed uptime guarantee. The weakest link is going to be the internet connection in many scenarios, but temporary use of 3G and other solutions can help to address this.

The other thing worth noting here is that with Office 365 you are now getting Lync and SharePoint for SMB customers at extremely good per user pricing, something that just isn’t achievable with on-premise solutions.

Make Sure You Don’t Just Look At The Office 365 P1 Plan

I am not suggesting you look at Google Apps as an alternative, you still want to provide a high quality product with similar or better capabilities to what you are already delivering. Instead I am suggesting to make sure you look at what the other Office 365 plans offer. The Office 365 P1 Plan does offer great bang for buck, so I would always consider it the starting point, but be aware of the limitations.

Prepare To Be Overwhelmed

One of the things that SBS did well was protect us from many of the background details of getting certain products and technologies running well together. If you are going to be looking at going down the on-premise path for solutions such as Exchange, you will have a learning curve.

If you are looking at integrating with Azure Directory Services and federating with other organisations, you will also encounter new technical challenges. Over the years I’ve seen the SBS channel mature immensely, from gung ho early adopters, to cautious, and much more meticulous. If you’ve enjoying in your SBS comfort zone, this is going to shake things up for you.

Embrace The Existing Resources

The good news for anyone just approaching the world of Office 365 now is that the available educational resources are going to help you adapt very quickly. You will have benefitted from the early adopters and teething issues that others have faced.

Download the Office 365 Jumpstart training series to kick off your learning, and then you can focus on areas where you need more information.

Out Of Office is the New Office

Take a look at the number of devices that users are connecting to email with today, and what percentage of them are using them outside of business hours, and outside of the business premises. Microsoft made it easy to connect different types of remote devices to Exchange, and we all saw great benefits from this. Most organisations that have embraced mobile devices are seeing more of their traffic generated from outside of the network, and for many there will be a tipping point at which point it really does make more sense to host services externally.

Sign Up For Cloud Essentials

This is the best way to get entry into the world of Office 365 for Microsoft partners. You get internal usage rights to get familiar with the offerings from Microsoft so that you can speak with authority on the products.