Flavors of Hosted OCS

Offering software as a service (aka SaaS, “in the cloud”, or “Software+Services” as Microsoft calls it) has started to gain real traction, and the benefits and potential issues are well documented (i.e. lower initial and on-going costs, and a pay-as-you-go subscription based cost model).

In the last few years, several options have been made available for service providers to offer OCS as a service that is consumed by on-premise clients (e.g. Office Communicator). Below I recap the 3 major flavors available today for on-line OCS:

1) Hosted – Dedicated

  • A complete OCS deployment is available in a third-party hosted data center for the exclusive use of the consumer (i.e. a company or organization).
  • This is similar to an on-premise OCS deployment, but OCS lives on-line outside the company firewall in a hosted data center.
  • This model doesn’t typically scale well for the hosting provider because dedicated OCS deployments for each customer is costly.
  • A dedicated offering usually offers better service for the consumer because the entire deployment is dedicated to their usage.
  • Dedicated offerings typically require a minimum number of users to justify the cost to the provider. 

2) Hosted – Shared (Multi-Tenant Offering)

  • A shared, or multi-tenant, hosted offering partitions one hosted OCS deployment (along with its dependencies such as Active Directory), into distinct client organizations (e.g. tenants), such that each tenant can be used and licensed to a specific consumer (company). OCS still lives on-line outside of the company firewall, and for the most part appears the same as a dedicated offering to the on-premise clients.
  • Microsoft multi-tenant offerings are build on Microsoft’s Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (HMC). HMC includes a separate Provisioning Framework (MPS) and application specific API’s for managing and provisioning hosted Microsoft applications. Details on the Hosted Office Communications Server Namespace API can be found here.
  • The current shipping version of HMC is 4.5, is the first version to offer support for OCS 2007, including Live Meeting audio and video conferencing. It also includes the ability to offer support for Exchange Server 2007 SP1 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 SP1.
  • OCS with HMC 4.5 cannot provide any QoE data, so your hosted provider will not be able to provide that.

A quick Google search for Microsoft Office Communications Server hosted solutions will give you a feel for OCS hosted service levels and costs.

3) Microsoft Business Productivity Online (BPO)

Microsoft has recently begun offering both dedicated and shared on-line OCS offerings. These are similar to #1 and #2 above, except Microsoft is the hosted provider. You can purchase the service through a re-seller Service Provider, or through Microsoft directly.

a) Microsoft BPO Standard Suite

  • Provides shared hosted Exchange, SharePoint, Live Meeting and OCS.
  • The latest version of the Standard BPO Suite is 9.1, and it offers Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and OCS Online.
  • Currently this is offered for $15 USD per user, per month.
  • Microsoft standard BPO offering today does not include any OCS audio or video features. The primary features are Instant Messaging and Presence.  Support for audio and video will likely be added in the future. The Standard offering does include the hosted Live Meeting functionality however, which including audio and video for Web conferences.

b) Microsoft BPO Dedicated

  • Identical to the dedicated hosted description above, except that OCS is hosted in one of the Microsoft’s worldwide data centers. Directory synchronization is available from the on-premise Active Directory which enables a single sign-on capability.
  • You require a minimum of 5,000 enrolled users.
  • Peer-to-peer audio and video is available. Optional services include Federation, PIC, Content Archiving and Web Access.

Although a hosted OCS solution looks appealing, there are still issues of compliance, content archiving, security, and service level agreements which are organization specific. If you are considering moving to this model, be sure to cover those potential issues beforehand.

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