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Microsoft takes its ERP technology to the cloud

Software giant announces plans to sell its enterprise resource planning software as a service, following rivals in the market.

Microsoft has unveiled plans to allow customers to access its enterprise resource planning software over the Internet.

At the company's Convergence 2011 conference in Atlanta today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laid out plans to give businesses the ability to use Microsoft Dynamics ERP as a service, running on the Windows Azure platform. Customers will have the ability to run the company's ERP application on premises, as they're already able to, as well as online or as a hybrid.

"We've created options and choices," Ballmer said in his keynote address.

Microsoft also launched the beta version of its next update to its ERP software, Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012. The company said the general release will come in August.

Microsoft currently offers its Dynamics CRM application as a software-as-a-service, a market pioneered by Salesforce.com. Ballmer touted Microsoft's ability to tightly integrate its online and PC-based applications, such as its Outlook e-mail program, making it easy for workers to use its CRM software.

"It doesn't just work with Outlook. It's in Outlook," Ballmer said. "It's very hard to tell where one stops and the other starts."

The company plans to build that same familiarity into its online ERP application as well. "It's ERP for everyone," Ballmer said. In that market, Microsoft will face off with rival NetSuite, which already sells its ERP software as an online service.