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Microsoft's cloud ERP plans get mixed reactions

Chris Kanaracus, IDG News Services | April 12, 2011
Microsoft's announcement this week that it would begin offering its Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning) software via the Azure cloud platform drew significant interest from attendees of the Convergence conference in Atlanta, but some users and partners have questions Microsoft has yet to answer about its plans.

Microsoft's announcement this week that it would begin offering its Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning) software via the Azure cloud platform drew significant interest from attendees of the Convergence conference in Atlanta, but some users and partners have questions Microsoft has yet to answer about its plans.

With Azure, Microsoft said it can deliver ERP at scale for lower cost, through means such as multi-tenancy, an architecture that differs from traditional hosting by allowing many companies to share the same instance of an application, while keeping their data private. This approach enables vendors to apply upgrades frequently and more easily to customers, and is more economical.

Microsoft is not expecting all customers to adopt the Azure model, and anticipates many hybrid deployments.

That outlook is reflected in the attitude of users like Lee Weiner, chief financial officer of printer parts supplier Bradshaw Group in Richardson, Texas. The company currently runs Dynamics NAV on-premises.

"I have one IT guy, so it's not like I'm going to save a lot of money by outsourcing that," said Weiner, who also chairs the Dynamics NAV User Group's advisory board. However, he added, "I'm interested in following the technology."

"The other question is how much flexibility do you lose?" Weiner said. "The loss of flexibility, does it outweigh the cost that you save? Every company's going to see that a little bit differently."

Weiner also doesn't see a burning need to mess with success.

The NAV system replaced one from Sage that had been problematic. Thanks to the added efficiencies in NAV, Bradshaw has seen a significant return on investment. "We're doing more with less. There are less bodies to do the same amount of work. I can have one person in purchasing instead of three," he said.

He is concerned about potential downtime due to a system failure in the cloud. "I live and breathe on the fact that I have my systems up." Right now, Bradshaw is achieving nearly 100% uptime with the in-house deployment, he said.

Ryan Connolly, director of enterprise solutions at the American National Standards Institute in New York, said he is interested in cloud deployments, but it likely won't happen. ANSI uses Dynamics GP and CRM, among other Microsoft products.

"My boss isn't into the cloud thing. He likes having everything on-site, on-premise," Connolly said. The company's higher-ups are particularly afraid of customers' information being exposed, he said.

Connolly can see pushing ANSI's SharePoint and Exchange implementations to a cloud service. ERP would also be possible because ANSI's system has a small footprint, focusing on basic accounting functions and not more complex areas like manufacturing, he said.

 

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