Nokia deal fuels Microsoft's cloud, collaboration, management strategies

Office 2010, System Center at heart of effort

Microsoft is using its newly formed alliance with Nokia not to bolster its mobile efforts but to help fuel expansion of its cloud, collaboration, real-time communications and management strategies.

The alliance is a setup for tools Microsoft will be releasing next year and beyond in its Office family and System Center portfolio of products.

The company's ongoing strategy has been to create a single management platform for Windows, non-Windows platforms  and devices on the back of its System Center tools. Microsoft has been working in the past few years to widen its management capabilities to include mobile devices, Linux and virtual machines.

And Microsoft is positioning Office 2010 as the version of its productivity tools and back-end servers best suited to work across PCs, devices and the browsers, according to Stephan Elop, president of Microsoft's business division.

Those Office back-end services will include both on-premises and hosted cloud offerings.

The alliance with Nokia announced Wednesday fosters those cloud, collaboration and management efforts.

For example, Nokia's Eseries smartphones will be the first non-Windows mobile device that System Center can manage. The focus will be on security management, device management and security-enhanced access.

In addition, Nokia next year will begin shipping the Office Communicator Mobile client on its smartphones. The release is likely to align with the release of Office 2010, set to ship in the first half of the year, although the pair would only say Communicator Mobile would come in 2010.

But the real work on Office will come in adapting mobile-optimized versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote to the Nokia platform and its Symbian operating system. Those applications will help support collaborative applications built on the Office back-end servers. And those servers can be run internally or hosted by a cloud-based service.

The next version of Office Mobile for the Windows Mobile platform is expected next year. Nokia and Microsoft would only say that the Office applications and related software and services for the Nokia platform would come "in the future."

"This is just a first step," Elop said during a joint press conference with Nokia. "This will also extend to ... interaction and collaboration around SharePoint."

Microsoft plans to support mobile access to intranet and extranet portals running on SharePoint, which is becoming a corporate hub for data integration and business intelligence tools integrated using Excel Services and other tools.

In addition, the strategy will extend to Office Communications Server (OCS), the back end for Communicator Mobile. Both those back-end Office servers can be run in-house or acquired via a service through Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Services.

Where Nokia fits in on the System Center side also is loosely defined but initially focused on System Center Mobile Device Manager.

"The plan is to design System Center so customers will be able to provision applications to the Nokia mobile device, and update the applications, so customers have secure and productive mobile computing experience," according to a Microsoft spokesperson. The company did not provide details on when a version of Mobile Device Manager would be released to support Nokia.

The current Mobile Device Manager only works with Windows Mobile 6.1 devices so the software will have to be ported or developed from the ground up to work on Nokia's Symbian.

The rest of the integration with System Center is unclear but development efforts hint at tucking Nokia into Microsoft's broad management infrastructure.

Microsoft currently has a churn of System Center development going on. A new version of Configuration Manager is on track to ship in 2010. System Center Operations Manager should be updated within that same time frame.

The big picture is to integrate those two and other System Center tools into a logical whole that can analyze and aggregate data from the "infrastructure fabric" that houses hardware/devices, operating systems and applications as separate entities.

The ability to create that logical whole is missing because Microsoft has yet to ship Service Manager, unveiled in 2006. The software is designed to pull all management data together and act on the results based on policies and workflow rules.

Service Manager is slated to ship next year.

Microsoft also plans to extend its management platform to include cloud and service providers, so companies can centrally manage both internal systems and cloud-based services, such as those that could be offered to support the Office applications being added to the Nokia platform.

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