Cloud computing seems to be on everyone's mind lately. But for small to midsized organizations, moving to the cloud isn't easy -- or is it? Organizations tend to deploy Web applications to enhance collaboration efforts within and without their internal network.
In the upcoming release of Office 2010, Microsoft is including an added bonus for organizations of all sizes: Office Web Apps. The online versions of applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel might be a good way for small and medium-sized businesses to ease into cloud computing. While Web-based productivity suites are not new -- Google Apps and OpenOffice.org are similar offerings -- having the ability to use the familiar Microsoft Office applications online allows you to capitalize on existing end-user skills and vastly reduce your deployment and maintenance costs.
Office application deployments consume resources physically (the Office package is often several hundreds of megabytes in size, taking up considerable network bandwidth during deployment) and monetarily (new contracts or contract renewals are required to obtain the latest version). Traditionally, organizations test, prepare and package Microsoft Office applications each time a new version is available. Not only is the process time-consuming for administrators, but end users also need to spend time learning and adapting to the new features and interface changes.
But with the release of Office 2010, Microsoft is offering a new twist on the traditional deployment approach. With Office Web Apps, organizations can forego the entire endpoint deployment process and use the applications online.
Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) users will already be familiar with this. With OWA, an application that normally runs locally on your computer is now Web-based. Many organizations have opted for OWA during deployment of new versions of Microsoft Exchange Server instead of immediately obtaining and deploying the latest local version of Outlook. End users also attest to having a near-perfect experience with the online vs. the local version.
The online versions of Microsoft's powerful office suite applications can be used in the cloud, through Windows Live Services such as Windows Live SkyDrive, or within your own data center using Microsoft's SharePoint server-based services to link the updated versions of Microsoft's popular collaboration services to the online versions of Office applications. In either case, end users need just a Web browser and a cloud account to access the collaboration environment and all of its applications.
With Windows Live external services, the account is a Windows Live ID -- Microsoft's Hotmail email users will already have one. This mode is currently available on only an individual basis. For the internal versions, the account is based on Microsoft Active Directory service. Organizations will require Office 2010 volume licensing to authorize the use of the central application repository.
The benefits of deploying Web apps
Office Web Apps will change the nature of suite productivity, management and use in your organization. For one, your IT staff will no longer have to deploy massive Office application packages to each end-user desktop. The cost savings attached to this activity alone will justify the move for many organizations. However, you will need to deploy the appropriate Web browser plug-ins to each client computer.
With Office Web Apps, organizations can forego the entire endpoint deployment process and use the applications online.
End users will also be able to access Web-based applications and documents from any PC, regardless of its location. For applications hosted in your data center, you might want to use Windows 7's new DirectAccess feature to easily link to internal Web spaces from external locations.
Some Web versions of traditional applications also boast some advanced productivity features. For example, the Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote Web Apps all support multiuser editing of the same document. The PowerPoint Web App lets you share a presentation online with anyone who has access to your online spaces. All of the applications support publishing to blogs, social networking sites and other online locations.
Finally, users will also be able to rely on smartphones to access Office Web Apps, providing greater mobility and flexibility in the way they produce information.
The cost savings alone warrant a serious look at the new Web version of Office 2010 and a rethink of traditional approaches to internal application deployment.
Danielle and Nelson Ruest are IT experts focused on virtualization, continuous service availability and infrastructure optimization. They have written multiple books, including Virtualization: A Beginner's Guide for McGraw-Hill Osborne, and MCITP Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-652): Configuring Windows Server Virtualization with Hyper-V for Microsoft Press. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.