Google Apps broker exploits enterprise concerns about Microsoft's Office changes

Pitches Google's cloud-based apps using the same criticisms licensing experts have leveled at Office 365

A cloud service broker is pitching Google Apps to enterprises by playing on their fears about recent changes Microsoft's made to Office.

Atlanta-based Cloud Sherpas has had success moving Google Apps for Business by focusing on two major enterprise concerns about Office 2013: Microsoft's push to a rent-not-buy subscription model, and because of that, an increase in the complexity of the Microsoft's already-unfathomable licensing rules.

Those concerns have led businesses to worry that they're paying Microsoft too much for the productivity suite.

"The changes are more of the same," said Derik VanVleet, a senior solutions engineer with Cloud Sherpas. "They're going to charge you a lot more."

It's not surprising that Cloud Sherpas is leveraging customer fears about Office 365 and its associated Office 2013: Sellers often exploit rivals' faults, real or perceived, to close a sale. What is unusual is that Cloud Sherpas' arguments are identical to the criticisms leveled against Microsoft by many industry analysts and consultants who help corporations navigate the Redmond, Wash. company's licensing waters.

Some of those licensing gurus have said Microsoft's aggressive strategy to move customers to the subscription-based Office 365, and away from traditional "perpetual" licenses -- the kind that are paid for once, then used as long as desired -- is driven by threats to its licensing revenue, in particular Software Assurance, an annuity-like maintenance program that gives companies the right to future upgrades in return for annual payments spread over three-year terms.

Office 365 allows companies to install Office 2013 on up to five devices -- PCs, Macs, Windows 8 Pro-powered tablets, and Windows Phones -- per worker. Fees range from $12.50 per user per month for small businesses to $22 per user per month for the top-end plan targeting major corporations.

"To be honest, a lot of customers we talk to that use Office are frustrated," said Cloud Sherpas' VanVleet. "They're looking at this model where they traditionally owned the product, then Microsoft makes it more expensive and complicated."

Licensing experts have noted the same concern when they've talked to clients.

"Microsoft wants to shift people to subscriptions because you cannot stop paying for a subscription," Paul DeGroot, principal at Pica Communications, a consulting firm that specializes in deciphering Microsoft's licensing practices, said in an interview last month.

VanVleet contended that subscriptions that include a license to Office 2013 cost two-and-a-half times those offered by Microsoft that do not. Office Small Business, for example, which doesn't include Office 2013, costs $60 per user per year; Small Business Premium, which offers a nearly-identical set of services but does bundle the on-premise Office 2013, runs $150 per user per year.

The solution that both Cloud Sherpas and licensing consultants suggest: Companies should stick with the perpetual licensed Office that they have already paid for, and skip Office 365 subscriptions, at least for now.

"Just because you own Office today, that doesn't mean you have to buy it tomorrow [with a subscription]," VanVleet said.

Of course, VanVleet and others at Cloud Sherpas take it a step further, and pitch a reduced Microsoft footprint, telling clients that they can save money by shifting employees to the completely cloud-based Google Apps for Business.

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