Microsoft Office 365


The Future is Cloudy 

By now, almost everyone has heard of Office 365 and what a well rounded, solid product offering it is. Microsoft managed quite a lot of press on this, and rightly so: office productivity software remains their bread and butter – it is in almost every enterprise, and generates more profits than any other division of the company. So when Microsoft comes out with a web-enabled office platform that is streamlined and effective – businesses everywhere tune in. 

Features 

In case you missed it, Office 365 provides all of the standard office tools via a website. In addition, Sharepoint, Exchange and other enterprise tools are available through the platform. Companies sign up for different plans, depending on their needs. Higher end plans include very useful additions such as Active Directory synchronization and a copy of Office for local (offline) use. Features can include:

  • Exchange Online: Email, calendar contact, archive – up to 25GB
  • SharePoint Online
  • Lync Online: Messaging, meetings and video/voice
  • ForeFront Online: Anti-virus/spam/malware
  • On-premises licenses for Microsoft Office
  • Office Web Apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote

See the full matrix of cost and features.

Competition 

Office 365 has immediately become the features leader for online productivity software. The major competitor for office productivity is Google, with Google Apps, Google Voice and other disparate tools. Using Google for shared documents and calendars can work for many smaller organizations, however Google’s toolset is certainly not as highly featured, and is not designed for enterprise integration in the same way as Office 365. In addition, not all of Google’s tools are available in Canada. 

Weaknesses?

Heard the term Office 364? It hasn’t taken long for the standard nicknames to appear – especially after some initial teething troubles with the platform. Office “364” is our favourite, after an outage in August that knocked the “365” uptime already down to “364”. In fact, Microsoft is bucking the industry trend with a 99.9% uptime SLA and 24x7 phone support in 9 languages. The SLA is the most interesting part: while 99.9% still means almost 9 hours outage is acceptable per year (not including planned maintenance), if the service availability ever extends below 99.9% on a monthly basis, Microsoft will credit some or all of your monthly fees. Compared to other Cloud offerings, this is a pretty solid commitment from Microsoft for the enterprise.

 Is 365 for me? 

Before you dream, sign up for Office 365 and move all of your users (and the attendant management headaches) off to Microsoft – there is a key caveat to how the system works. You cannot just move users back and forth between Office 365 and your internal systems. A user can only exist in one system (for the offered services) at a time. So if you wanted to use the AD synchronization feature to move some Exchange users off your system be warned: they can’t come back (without a lot of effort). So what are the best use cases for Office 365? Well, the way we see it, the following groups will do very well with this platform:

  • Non-Microsoft desktop users who need to be included in the Enterprise
  • Contracted project teams
  • Kiosk workers (Microsoft even has some plans specific to them)
  • Small (geographically distributed) companies

While this is not ‘every worker’ (although if you did move your entire enterprise, that could work too) there are not many companies that would consider moving all of their users off their in-house enterprise systems. 

Future & Caution 

Microsoft has already started to show us some of the future for this platform. In the UK, Fujitsu consulting has launched Office 365 for their own customers. This includes the Microsoft features, with added customizations for security and other customer-specific features. I would expect to see more of this from the other large systems integrators, as it allows them to add value to their large customers. Will this mean we will also see online/hosted plans, open to any and all? I doubt it. Microsoft has committed a lot of internal resources to this platform. It is now in their interests to consolidate as many users as possible into this single platform, to allow for efficiencies of scale. Instead, expect to see Microsoft focus on more tie-ins to the enterprise. Maybe some day we will be able to seamlessly manage (via System Center?) user migrations back and forth. Maybe Office 365 will tie in to Azure. As with everything Microsoft, all of this concentration of data in a single place will provide an appetizing target for hackers and the criminal element. Although Microsoft has proven quite adept at managing security lately, this doesn’t mean persistent, well funded organizations won’t succeed (see RSA/Lockheed Martin). With everything we have seen, done and reviewed with Office 365, we see this platform as ready for enterprise use -- and the market appears to be responding that way. But as with most new things, customers are moving cautiously and only where it provides a clear benefit. So in summary: With some careful planning and assessment (provided by MYRA of course!) Office 365 can provide some great flexibility and benefit to many. Just ask us what it can do for you!