(Stephen Parker, Head of Cloud Strategy, NewLease)
For some years now Microsoft have had an exclusive arrangement in Australia with Telstra to offer Office365 (and BPOS before that) to the SMB sector. Telstra make O365 available via T-Suite, a portal offering a variety of cloud services targeted at small and medium businesses.
This model has had a mixed reception in Australia with some partners embracing it and others feeling threatened. However, the overall result has been that Microsoft’s Australian subsidiary has been one of the best performing as far as the “cloud” is concerned. This expanding market has in turn created opportunities for service provider clouds that can offer extended value beyond the “vanilla” services offered by Microsoft, Google etc. (I spend much of my time working with service providers to help them create their differentiated business focused offerings).
Now this model (minus the exclusivity part) is landing in the US with recent announcements about Verizon and Sprint offering Office 365 as part of their own small business portals. (http://bit.ly/VerizonO365)
As in Australia this may be seen as challenging to existing SMB specialists. However, as has been the case in the past with on-premises solutions, there are many ways for the smaller guys to differentiate their offerings.