Like its competitors, Microsoft is moving its ERP apps to the cloud Relevant Products/Services -- and it's good news for small- and medium-size businesses. Earlier this week, the software giant confirmed at its Business Solutions Convergence Conference in Houston that its Dynamics enterprise Relevant Products/Services resource planning products would evolve into online versions.

The products include GP, NAV, and AX in the 2013 versions. Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) tend to be big cloud users, at least in part because of the lower IT maintenance costs. "Budgetary and IT maintenance issues have kept" SMBs away from ERP solutions, noted Pund-IT's Charles King. But, he added, cloud-based apps are "a model that are valuable to both SMBs and larger enterprises, so everybody wins."

Everybody, Except...

Everybody, that is, except possibly the channel partners that Microsoft has developed over the years to deliver its premise-based software. King said Microsoft has indicated they would involve the channel partners in some fashion, although the particulars are undefined.

The software giant intends for the same ERP apps to be available for on-premises deployment, or utilization from either a private cloud or an Azure public cloud. It will also allow companies to use the apps in a mixed-mode approach, with some functions on premises, and others in the cloud.

Even though updates in the cloud are theoretically seamless to the user and the IT department, in practice frequent updates can mean functionality or user interaction changes. In order to make the ramp-up after updates a bit less steep, Microsoft is saying users will have up to a year to determine when they transition to the newest versions.

ERP in the cloud has become quite common, including offerings by Oracle, Fusion, Salesforce, NetSuite, Workday -- and even SAP, which emphasizes its on-premises approach.

Systems Center, HTML5

The rollout schedule for Microsoft's ERP move to the cloud is still to be released. A beta of the Azure version of Dynamics NAV is expected in May, with release by sometime before the end of this year. GP 2013 will have a beta during the summer, followed also by release within 2012. Dynamics AZ will be cloud-based for its new major release, although the schedule has not been announced.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company intends to allow IT departments to manage these apps across the various environments with Systems Center, a single sign-on, and federated identity access control. The ERP products will also work on other platforms, according to the Convergence keynote address by Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner.

But some observers are voicing concerns over the degree to which Microsoft will support the hugely popular Apple and Android mobile Relevant Products/Services devices. One red flag is that Dynamics GP 2013 uses a Web client with Silverlight, a Microsoft add-on that doesn't play nice with Apple devices.

However, the company has also indicated that it is intending to follow the growing trend of supporting HTML5 standards-based technologies over the long term.