Microsoft scales up CRM to thwart Salesforce.com, Oracle

But Dynamics CRM 2011's usability, not scalability, may prove to be Microsoft's trump card

Microsoft announced the availability Wednesday of Dynamics CRM 2011, the on-premises and partner-hosted version of its CRM (customer relationship management) software.

The new release can scale up to 150,000 concurrent users in a single instance while maintaining fast response times, "once again raising the bar for performance and scalability in the CRM industry," Microsoft said in a statement.

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While vendor boasts about product performance are a staple of many product announcements, Microsoft's decision to highlight the benchmark shows it wants to win deals in the largest enterprises at the expense of competitors like Salesforce.com and Oracle CRM on Demand, both of which are delivered as SaaS (software as a service).

Microsoft has a SaaS product as well, CRM Online, which is based on the same code as CRM 2011, and released the latest version last month. But Microsoft and its partners can tout the scalability of the on-premises version when competing for business with customers that may be on the fence regarding SaaS.

To one observer, however, usability, not scalability, is the main selling point for Microsoft's latest CRM products.

"All vendors today have the ability to support huge user bases with very fast response times," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research, via e-mail. "That's mostly thanks to beefed up hardware offerings -- what a difference a decade makes. Recall that 10 years ago the ASP vendors floundered because they couldn't field enough horsepower economically to make a cloud-like architecture work."

"But take nothing away from Microsoft, they've arrived in market with a powerful offering and, most importantly, an offering that pays attention to the ways that people work," he added. "The company spent a lot of time and effort on the UI and for me that's the story."

The software's features include "role-tailored" user experiences, a native Outlook client and various dashboards and BI (business intelligence) tools meant to help workers do their jobs better.

CRM 2011 also takes a cue from Salesforce.com's AppExchange with the integrated Dynamics Marketplace. The online catalog contains more than 1,400 software and services offerings from partners, and is also available to CRM Online customers.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com.

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