We know that Office 365 is growing quickly—Microsoft has indicated that they now have over 70,000 customers. But of course, as popular as it’s getting, most of us haven’t made the jump yet and are still watching and evaluating. Really, the main thing we know is that moving to Office 365 means relying on the cloud and getting newer versions of the desktop apps. And here on BrianMadden.com, Gabe and Brian have written about how hosted Exchange can affect desktop virtualization. (Update: They’ve also written about some potential solutions, too.) But that’s just scratching the surface—what else do we really need to know? That’s what I’ll look at today.
1. Security and compliance
When migrating any corporate information to the cloud, security and compliance are often the top concerns. However, when researching cloud initiatives with your security colleagues, you will find that they are often very supportive of moving to the larger cloud providers like Microsoft. The truth of the matter is that an Office 365 tenant is typically more secure than your on-premises environment.
Why and how? Well, Microsoft has put a lot of effort into ensuring the technology that holds corporate data is secured. Their infrastructure is top notch, highly available, redundant, and patched. Are all of these true of our own infrastructure? If not, then Office 365 is already more secure than your onsite deployment.
Some organizations immediately shutdown on the idea of Office 365 because of cost. Now, the reality of this is that there is an expense tied to moving to cloud. It’s not free, but it’s not off the charts, either. When you move to the cloud you are accepting the fact that you are paying someone else to keep your infrastructure up to date. This means that you are no longer in the business of buying servers and storage, patching, maintenance windows, cooling a datacenter, and having staff to run it all. In other words, it’s shift from your capital budget to your operating budget.
One other thing to remember in your financial strategy is that you should expect to have a period where your data is both in the cloud and you will still be maintaining your onsite infrastructure, creating some cost overlap.
It’s important to consider whether or not there will be any residual effects to functionality when moving to Office 365. I will be honest here—things will be different and there will be some learning curve for users—but in general you will find that most things work very similar if you already have Microsoft products in your organization. Just plan for some user training.
That being said, there are definitely some functionality differences to considered in advance of a deployment. Here we go:
- Do you need a seamless experience, so that your business users can still access all their information as if it was on-premises? In most cases the answer to this question is a resounding yes, so make sure you research and implement identity options such as Active Directory Federation Services or similar. Having a plan to provide the single sign on experience your users expect is fundamental to the success of your project.
- Test and then pilot the areas of Office 365 you expect to deploy to your organization. Their feedback will drive the success or failure of this project. IT departments today deploy what the business needs, and not whatever they want. In my experience, proper testing is necessary or your project will fail.
- Know that with Office 365 there are layers of redundancy of data, recycle bins, version control, and retention policy, but there are not any actual backups. Before you can decide if you will be comfortable without backups, take some time to understand the inner workings of Microsoft’s options and then compare these against the recovery and uptime expectations of your organization.
4. Should we consider hosted email, too?
What about putting your email in Office 365 Exchange Online? I have been administering and deploying Microsoft Exchange since the late 90s, and while I have a deep technical connection with the on-premises product, I now also have a strong connection with Exchange Online. I feel that if your organization has a cloud strategy, then Exchange online should be part of that conversation, too.
5. Does this affect your job?
I find this topic extremely interesting since it impacts how we function as an IT department as well as the work we do from day to day. Does cloud really have the potential to take away our jobs in IT? First, the reality is that we are a long way off from any organization moving to all cloud, and there is still much to learn and do should we actually get there. Keep in mind that as we shift to a cloud strategy it means that technical staff has the time and opportunity to expand their wings and learn other types of technology.
Even in the event that someday we see all organizations achieving an all cloud strategy, there is still work to be done—consider cloud to cloud migrations, for example. Also remember that IT supports the business, and that businesses runs on technology. We will always be there to help them.
Final note: It’s not scary!
Don’t be intimidated by Office 365 just because it’s in the cloud. Just like any other technology implementation, a move to cloud requires business acceptance, training, design and implementation.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that technology is always advancing and in this field we are always learning. So bring on the change, and look forward to how you can advance your organization’s IT strategy, and to what you get to learn about next!