Microsoft Improves Mobile Device Support in Hosted E-Mail Solution
by Alex Woodie
System administrators and people who download and read their e-mail on cell phones and PDAs are the big winners with the new release of Microsoft's hosted e-mail service announced Monday. With Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration version 3.5, the company includes a new "direct push" synchronization capability, as well as a "remote wipe" for erasing data on lost mobile devices. Microsoft also announced a new partner program for all of its hosted solutions.
Small and mid-size businesses that don't want the hassle of running their own e-mail servers, and that have between 10 and 250 users, are Microsoft's targets with its hosted e-mail solution, which goes by the unwieldy name of Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration. Microsoft doesn't actually run the Exchange server with Hosted Messaging and Collaboration, but works with third-party companies to provide this service.
With Hosted Messaging and Collaboration 3.5, Microsoft has made the move up to Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2). This brings a "significantly improved" ActiveSync experience on Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, as well as additional security and device control. All of these new features require the user to have the messaging and security feature packs installed on their mobile devices.
With Exchange 2003 SP2 powering Hosted Messaging and Collaboration, users benefit from the new direct push technology, which enables an HTTP connection to be used to "push" e-mail, calendar, contact, and task notifications from the server to the device. Previously, this feature required short messaging service (SMS), which is only available with GSM cell phone networks.
Losing a PDA doesn't have to be the security nightmare it once was thanks to a new remote device wipe in Hosted Messaging and Collaboration, 3.5, which enables administrators to erase sensitive data from a lost or stolen mobile device. Likewise, the new policy provisioning features in this release allows administrators to enforce policies, such as minimum PIN and password lengths. It can also be used in conjunction with remote wipe to erase all data after a certain number of incorrect login attempts. But don't fret if you're prone to forgetting passwords--remember, the real data lives on the server.
Mobile users will also benefit from the new capability to use the same log-in information for their desktop workstation and mobile devices. This feature is enabled through integration with Microsoft Identity Integration Server (MIIS) 2003 and Active Directory, the company says. Deploying the hosted e-mail solution is easier thanks to Microsoft's Provisioning System tool, which provides automation for up to 40 deployment tasks with this release, the company says. This release also includes a new customer migration toolkit for upgrading users from Exchange 5.5.
Microsoft Hosting Program
Microsoft is trying to make it easier for third-party providers to start selling its hosted offerings, such as Hosted Messaging and Collaboration, which is composed of Windows Server 2003 SP1, Exchange Server 2003 SP2, SQL Server 2000 SP4, SQL Server Reporting Services SP2, Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 SP1, and Live Communications Server 2005 SP1.
To that end, the company this week unveiled its Microsoft Hosting Program, which is aimed at helping service providers use the Hosted Messaging and Collaboration e-mail service, as well as its Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting (another awkward name that makes one wonder if Microsoft has caught the IBM product-naming flu.)
Third-party service providers that sign up for the Microsoft Hosting Program get free download access to both of the hosted solutions (We're not going to name them again.), subscriptions to a monthly newsletter, and marketing assistance. Participating companies also become eligible for the Services Provider License Agreement, which lets them license Microsoft products on a monthly basis.
The goal of the program is to help third-party service providers increase their average revenue per user. "Hosting providers are clamoring for ways to meet the demands of their customers while keeping a tight rein on costs," says Pascal Martin, general manager of worldwide hosting at Microsoft. "By providing a consistent platform, we give our hosting partners the tools to upgrade to the latest software and thereby differentiate their offerings with minimal effort and cost."
The market for hosted e-mail will grow steadily in the years to come, according to Microsoft, which cites a Radicati Group study that shows the hosted e-mail market will grow from $501 million in 2004 to $788 million by 2008.