Microsoft moves deeper into cloud with Office Graph, OneDrive updates

Microsoft looks to the enterprise future with Yammer-inspired Office Graph for collaboration, standalone OneDrive for Business taking on Dropbox, Box.

Microsoft continues its emphasis on new approaches to social collaboration and file sharing via the cloud with updates to OneDrive and a new tool tied to Yammer.

The company recently introduced a new developer-centric feature within its Office 365 suite around social collaboration, called Office Graph. It is a back-end layer that takes information from user email, conversations, meetings and documents to map out relationships between users and tools within an organization.

The application for Office Graph, code-named Oslo, allows users to search for people and things across their organization based on the connections made by Office Graph.

Microsoft is on the right track as it attempts to bring more social capabilities to enterprises, according to Imran Shaikh, program director of IT at Vista Equity Partners in San Francisco.

"There are tools available out there, but not all organizations can afford to implement them and the related professional services involved," he said. "An out-of-the-box platform, if Microsoft is providing it, that's great."

Microsoft Yammer tied to Office Graph

It's clear that Yammer played a big role in the new platform.

"Office Graph has Yammer hands all over it," Shaikh said. "It's definitely got the vibe that [Yammer co-founder and chief technology officer] Adam Pisoni has had a pretty big effect on the organization."

Indeed, Office Graph is an extension of Yammer's Enterprise Graph concept that maps the relationships of users. That was one of the things Microsoft "loved" about Yammer when it was acquired, according to a blog post by Jared Spataro, Microsoft enterprise social general manager.

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Microsoft also extended the concept of Groups Experience, a staple of Yammer that groups users around common processes, to Office 365. For a specific Groups Experience group, Office 365 will create its own inbox, social feed, calendar and document library around that group, Spataro wrote.

It presents the first attempt by Microsoft to help users increase engagement with Office 365 and SharePoint as a whole, according to Wes Miller, research director at Directions on Microsoft, a consulting firm in Kirkland, Wash.

"The goal here is to help people be more productive surfacing information and people that are relevant around them," he said. "It's using your past engagement to help guide what will be relevant to you in the future."

Microsoft's FAST Search team heads up Office Graph and Oslo development, showing this is the next generation of "ways to find things" within Microsoft's ecosystem, according to Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research in Toronto.

"Search is perfect if you know what you're looking for," Lepofsky said. "Discovery is totally different; it's 'Let me show you what the most important things in your network are.'"

Microsoft and Yammer aren't the first companies to introduce an enterprise graph. Companies including TIBCO Software Inc. and Asana Inc. also offer these collaboration tools, but neither has the reach of Microsoft. Companies like IBM, SAP and do not have this technology yet, Constellation's Lepofsky said.

"The introduction of this from Microsoft, as a power play, is really important," he said.

Microsoft has also put its social emphasis in the cloud going forward. While SharePoint Server will maintain its social capabilities with its next on-premises release, the focus of future innovation around social will be Office 365 and Yammer, Microsoft's Spataro said in his blog post.

"Technologies like [Office Graph] work at a cloud scale," Directions on Microsoft's Miller said. "It's going to be most useful to Microsoft and the customers when you have really bought into the Office 365 vision and ecosystem."

Office Graph is anticipated to be available as part of Office 365 in the second half of 2014.

OneDrive for Business to go it alone

Microsoft has also made a play for the enterprise cloud storage and file sharing market with OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive Pro) as a standalone product outside of Office 365 and SharePoint Online plans. It is included with Office Online, the recently-introduced Web version of Office.

With the move, Microsoft offers an alternative to popular software like Dropbox and Box, and provides a potential path for enterprises to buy Office 365 or SharePoint, according to Miller.

"It's a logical way for them to try and make [OneDrive for Business] more appealing and make the barrier of entry for Office 365 less difficult and onerous," he said.

The standalone OneDrive for Business could appeal to small businesses if the price is right, with opportunities for larger enterprises as well, according to Vista Equity's Shaikh.

"As long as you make it into a platform and make that available to the businesses, then there may be some interest from the high end of the enterprise," he said.

While not fully integrated with the rest of Office 365, OneDrive for Business now comes with Office Online, which could put it at an advantage over Dropbox and Box.

"It's not team sites and email and calendar, but it is more than just file sync and share," Constellation's Lepofsky said.

The standalone OneDrive for Business will be available starting April 1. Microsoft's promotional rates, available through September, are far lower than those for many other business-grade cloud and file sharing platforms: $2.50 per user per month for all licensing agreements, or $1.50 per user per month for customers with certain Office enterprise accounts. Users receive 25 GB of space with the standalone product, with the option to purchase more.

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