Thoughts about the “Microsoft CRM Live” Service

Sometimes if you go far enough you get back to where you started.   I had a sense of that this morning as Steve Ballmer announced at the Microsoft World Wide Partner Conference in Boston that, when we release our next version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we’ll also launch a new “CRM Live” service.   The déjà vu in this is that when we started building this product six years ago, our original goal was to build a Microsoft hosted service, not the product you know today!  Somewhere along the way plans changed.  Partly it was the “popping” of the “dot com” mania, but mostly it was the result of research that showed that many more customers wanted software that they could run themselves in their own datacenters.  So that’s where our first three releases went.   But, as other companies have proven, there are also plenty of customers who want their CRM as a service, and today we’re announcing that we’ll provide a Microsoft hosted service with the next release.
The coolest work we’re doing is that we’re building a single code base that will support on-premises deployments, partner hosted deployments, and the Microsoft Live service.   Our goal is to give customers “the power of choice”, allowing them to choose how they want to use the software and change that over time.   I’m sure we’ll see some customers initially choosing “quick and easy” with CRM Live and later moving to an on-premises deployment with deep customization and systems integration.  Others will opt to go with partner-hosted solutions with vertical flavors or integrated services like e-commerce.  And still others will even mix-and-match, opting to deploy in different ways for different groups of users within the same company.  With the same software everywhere, customers and their partners can tailor a deployment and then move it easily using redeployment tools we provide.

It’s obvious that multi-tenancy will be useful for Microsoft CRM Live and in hosting partners’ deployments, but there is also surprisingly strong interest in this feature from large corporations.  IT managers would love to be able to use a single, multi-tenanted deployment to simply provision and manage (read: “back-up”) CRM solutions for different, independent departments. 

Key work we’re doing right now is re-enabling the multi-tenancy that we originally designed for Version 1 of the product.   Of course, there’s a lot more than that required to support a large-scale service deployment, including advancing the scalability and reliability wins we achieved in Version 3, modifying core services such as reporting and workflow to work efficiently in a shared environment, and, for CRM Live, wiring the software into the operations management systems of Windows Live.   (For those wondering, the next release is not just about SaaS.   We’re also working on plenty of other cool new features, including enhanced Office integration, support for multilingual deployments, more customization options, more management controls, etc.)

We release version 3 over the last seven months around the world (Japan and Israel coming soon) and we’ve been very pleased to see how many customers have chosen the product.  Last quarter we added more than 50,000 new users, a record!   But an R&D team is always looking forward to the next great release, so our focus now is the launch later this year of the first pre-releases of the next version and of the CRM Live service.  

David Thacher
General Manager
Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Comments (26)

  1. I think this is a great development for businesses, and it is going to definitely shake up the CRM sector. When can partners expect specifics about the role we will be able to play with hosted customers? Who will support them? Train them? Customize for them? Is Microsoft going to increase its direct customer engagements, and with what size customers? Many questions…

  2. Sunny says:

    Great move. We are a Gold Partner. I was at the Hosting Summit in Seattle in April this year. My company has been promoting the "hosted Microsoft CRM" concept for over a year now– visit our site to see a LIVE HOSTED DEMO of Microsoft CRM. Sadly, we have only had limited enthusiasm displayed by Microsoft locally so far — lets hope that will dramatically change now.  We would like to address the medium to large end of the market; as you have pointed out in your blog, we agree that there are those who will initially choose our Hosted offering “quick and easy” and later move to an on-premises deployment with deep customization and systems integration. God speed with your endeavours. Sunny P Chandra, President and CEO.

  3. Check out David Tacher, our GM, thoughts on CRM Live announcement here.

  4. Robert E. Spivack says:

    I find this entirely revolting.

    Announcing vaporware for delivery almost a year away serves what purpose?

    As a Microsoft hosting partner, we constantly are told that "Microsoft cares about you and really does want to help hosters" yet what do you do?  

    Pre-announce a Microsoft-branded hosted CRM solution that isn’t real, while we still struggle to provide CRM hosting using the kludgy "hosted CRM" update that you guys threw together half-baked?

    We are still struggling just to bring up CRM in a test environment, and from reading the Microsoft Dynamics community website posts, MANY people are having trouble getting it installed.

    The problems seem to boil down into a few areas:

    The intrincate interdependencies between IIS, SQL Server, Reporting Services, Active Directory, and Security (double-hop Kerberos) create an installation nightmare with octopus-like tentacles reaching into every nook and cranny of server infrastructure almost impossible to get running correctly.

    Even backup/restore is not simple – the SQL Server databases (org_METABASE, org_CRM) contain data fields with GUIDS that link back to AD ou’s and domains so you can’t just backup the database and move it.

    It seems that every attempt by Microsoft to build a "web services / web app" violates every rule of simplicity your msdn/development team tells us to do.

    CRM even has a weird initial start page that zaps the browser window without any warning until you finally figure out the weird security and then every time you launch it redirects to the real page (loader.aspx) with an annoying "app is trying to close the current window".

    I’ve installed several other .NET webservice centric apps like Deep Matrix Live Stats (ironly, Microsoft just bought this company), Community Server Forums, DotNetNuke, etc. and every one of them is a very clean fast install – xcopy the files to the IIS site folder, create an empty SQL database and put the connection string into the web.config and bada bing bada boom, you’re done.

    Reporting services is hell.  It’s requirement for Kerberos double-hop and the weird setup dependencies is just ridiculous.

    Forget multi-tenancy CRM, that’s the least important CRM feature right now when you can’t even re-use a database server for multiple installs (officially), can’t use non-default instance SQL (without some restricted special fix), can’t share report server.

    We can run multipe IIS sites with host headers for every other "web app".  Why can’t CRM be a regular web app that respects host headers so we can put it on a server with other apps?

    These are today problems – not future vaporware hosted CRM issues.

    Active Directory is too complicated and causes too much configuration problems.  It’s compounded by poor error messages and no automated diagnosis from the apps.

    If CRM (and other apps) could properly tell me exactly why it is failing and fix it, then I could live with the "black art" of Active Directory, Kerberos, and other crud, but the apps can’t figure out what’s wrong other than cryptic "error 404" browser pages or "can’t set trusted delegation" nonsense.

    We have the same issue with SharePoint – running in Active Directory integrated mode has lots of problems.  The Office team "gets it" — Office 2007 dumps requiring AD and now offers simple forms authentication with custom providers.  That’s the smart way to offer a web-based app (even for local/in-house use).

  5. When Microsoft announced its self-hosted version of Dynamics CRM earlier this week, I wondered if some of the hosting partners they had enticed with the general availability of a hosted version in March might feel a little grumpy.  That seems to be th..

  6. Tom Stefano says:

    When a company the size of Microsoft pre-announces a software-as-a-service product a yeah ahead of time; it ensures maximum media coverage and is not fair to the other CRM providers that have been in business for years.

    On the other hand, I don’t think Microsoft will be a major threat to other CRM rivals; after all many companies will not want to trust Microsoft for their customer data!

    The Internet-era will make it harder for one or two companies to dominate!

  7. ChuckM says:

    I agree with Robert… I love Microsoft but I think they’re batting zero when it comes to this one…

    I signed up for selling CRM 1.0 (before it was public). It was a horrible product. So bad, that I refused to sell it/install it for my clients. I lost a lot of money training staff on it.

    1.2 – Pretty much the same thing, just some hotfixes but still missing the meat and potatos needed to make it a viable product (if this product had any other name on it other than Microsoft, it would have been a failure).

    3.0 – I actually like it, but, it’s complicated integration on all the levels, certainly doesn’t make it a viable hosted service to sell with all of the headaches and overhead needed.

    What I find interesting is that the "failure of MS CRM hosted services" thus far, isn’t because of the unwillingness of partners or blamed on non-interest by customers, it’s a clear failure by MS to actually deliver usable goods to make it a viable product for hosting services. The focus was on "how the hell can be hook this into every other product we make" instead of "how can we make this the best product possible".

    I certainly hope that they can improve the product, make it smaller rather than larger and actually include their partners (instead of just feeding them the same old food).

  8. mmankow says:

    Announcing that a SaaS service will be released 9-12 months from now is a bit puzzling, and it gives all the competition time to take measures to combat the threat.  Kudos for the common code base for any depolyment model.  Not sure if customers would choose a SaaS solution and then choose to move to on premise.  We have not seen too much of that in the Small and Medium enterprise space.  Sounds alot like SAP’s strategy with their hosted CRM offering.

  9. Whilst CRM Live and Partner-based CRM will (at least according to the plan) use the same code-base, I would have thought that they will be very different products from a real-world perpective.

    As a stand-alone Crm Product, Microsoft Crm is quite limited, particularly as soon as you use any of the other modules beyond the Sales Force Automation.  The Workflow Manager (which presumably will be ‘webbed’ for Crm Live) is still quite limited. (Appointments, Queues?)

    The thing that makes MsCrm great is the fact that Partners can take this as the starting point and mold it into something which works for the client. Given that Crm Live will be limited in which customization options you will be able to use until it is hosted either on-site or by a partner; I would suggest that Crm Live may become a sort of MsCrm Trial which clients will purchase from Microsoft through a partner as a ‘smaller-project’ until they are ready to fully adopt the product and work with a partner to build a more flexible Crm solution that can take advantage of Callouts, Custom Workflow, Sharepoint et all.  Kind of a SaaS half-way house I suppose.

    Bit early to predict I guess, but I think that sounds likely.

  10. Robert Wuhrman says:

    I disagree that it’s inappropriate to tout multi-tenancy and SaaS up to a year in advance.  My organization of 1000 people has implemented CRM 1.2 and 3.0 for one of our clients.  We currently have a groundswell of staff starting to ask about it or some form of CRM for their own projects.  To know that multi-tenancy is something that will be viable for us on a platform for which we have both experience and preference is helpful to the decision making and planning process.  

    I would expect nothing less from Microsoft or any other company.

  11. Meesha says:

    SaaS + Microsoft = Oxymoron

  12. A bunch of us headed off to World-wide Partner Conference a week or two ago.  Obviously, it…

  13. A bunch of us headed off to World-wide Partner Conference a week or two ago.  Obviously, it…

  14. Mike says:

    My company uses a Hosted CRM called that had implimented extensive AJAX functionality. They have drag and drop layouts like microsoft live portal. They have auto complete relationship lookups like google beta autocomplete. There are

    many other cool things like that, its both easier to use (very desktop like) and fun to play with. If nothing else its worth getting a free trial and playing around with it.

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  17. If you are attending WWPC 2007 and want to be considered for an invitation only session on Microsoft

  18. If you are attending WWPC 2007 and want to be considered for an invitation only session on Microsoft

  19. Nice to see companies embracing web based software

  20. Dynamics in Silverlight will be cool

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