Office365 – An Overview

You’ve almost certainly heard of Office365 from Microsoft but you may not be entirely sure what it is and how it can help your business. Here are answers to a few important questions.

Get in touch with IS People if you’d like to discuss any of these questions in more detail.

What is Office365

Office365 is Microsoft’s cloud offering giving you “virtually anywhere” access to email, collaboration tools and Office applications. It was launched in June 2011 but there have been recent improvements, including an upgrade to Office 2013, together with tweaks to the price structure. That means it’s a good time to look at at the benefits it can offer compared to hosting the same applications in house or indeed using rival cloud email and collaboration offerings.

What’s included?

The most basic plan is Hosted Email. This gives you email, shared calendars and 25GB of email storage per user. Even at this level, you can use your own domain name and integrate with an internal Active Directory.

The second tier of plans (which includes Small Business and Enterprise E1) gives you hosted email plus Office Web Apps, Skydrive Pro for storage you can access from anywhere, Sharepoint for intranet collaboration, and web-based messaging and video conferencing.

The top tier of plans (which includes Small Business Premium, Midsize Business and Enterprise E3) adds downloadable desktop versions of the Office 2013 applications – Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Lync, OneNote, Access, Publisher and InfoPath. Each user can install on up to five devices. Enterprise E3 also allows push installs of Office and adds capabilities such as email archiving for legal compliance.

The full list of plans and features is here.

What does it cost?

Hosted Email costs £2.60 per named user per month and has no limits on the number of users.

Next come the plans with collaboration features but not desktop Office. Small Business is £3.30 per user per month and is limited to 25 users. Enterprise E1 is £5.20 per month and has no limit on users.

Finally the plans which also include desktop Office. Small Business Premium is £8.40 per user per month and is limited to 25 users. Midsize Business is £9.80 per user per month and is limited to 300 users. Enterprise E3 is £15.00 per user per month and has no limit on users.

Plan prices are on an annual basis and do not include VAT. Slightly higher month by month rates are also available.

Is it good value?

This will depend on the number of users you have, which applications you already use and where you are in your refresh cycle. But for a small business (under 25 users in Microsoft terms) it’s almost certainly going to be cheaper than maintaining your own in house system even if you only use Exchange. For bigger businesses, it’s probably going to be cheaper if you work on a three year hardware/software refresh cycle; if you work on a five year refresh cycle, the calculation is going to be a bit tighter.

But you shouldn’t just make a straight comparison of subscription costs versus anticipated expenditure on hardware and software. You will hopefully reduce your need for internal or external administration resource to look after the systems. You’ll get access to applications you maybe haven’t used so far because you couldn’t justify the cost – Sharepoint and Lync, both of which can be complex to implement, are the obvious examples. You’ll get easy access to features you might not have bothered enabling on your local install.

As new features come along, you’ll get immediate access to them without having to budget for another IT project to set them up. A big driver might be support for mobile devices, an area which has traditionally been arcane from an administration point of view and problematic from a security point of view. Microsoft is expected to add support to Office for Android and iOS devices in 2014 and as an Office365 subscriber you’ll be able to deploy immediately.

How easy is it to migrate?

You may be happy to start from scratch with all new accounts, but the chances are you want to import existing mailboxes or even integrate with your Active Directory to get the benefit of Single Sign On and synchronised accounts.

Importing mailboxes is fairly straightforward. You can import from PST files, import from an IMAP server, or cutover from an existing Exchange installation. The Office365 Exchange cutover mirrors your current mailboxes until you tell it that Exchange is no longer receiving mail, usually when DNS changes have propagated. The cutover process requires that your existing Exchange installation has Outlook Anywhere set up, a UC certificate installed, and an elevated user configured using a Powershell script.

Full integration with your Active Directory is less straightforward and will require some planning. The first step is to clean up your Active Directory to ensure that required information is present and other key entries are well formatted. Next you have to install and configure Active Directory Federation Services to allow information to be shared with the Office365 Directory. Finally you have to set up and run Directory Synchronisation to share the information with Office365. This is definitely a task to be handled by an experienced Windows domain administrator.