Let’s start off with a primer – what is Microsoft Office 365 and what should it mean to you?
It’s a family of Microsoft collaboration and productivity tools including Microsoft Exchange email, SharePoint and Lync Server for conferencing, hosted in Microsoft’s public cloud. It’s not just a cloud based version of Microsoft Office, although that’s an option, hence the name to provide a link to that well recognized global product brand. If you were familiar with the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) this is the latest release of those solutions, rebranded.
What are your options for providing your employees with these Microsoft tools?
Whether you are a single proprietor or a small or medium sized business, productivity tools like phone, voicemail, email and chat are communications essentials today. For some businesses, the basics are enough. Web based email you get from the service provider that provides you your web hosting or phone service may be all you need to handle minimal email volume. For most businesses, email has become as important as or more important than phone calls and voicemail. When you want to equip your employees with Microsoft collaboration and productivity tools you have three basic options.
- You can move your accounts to Microsoft-hosted Office 365,
- You can move your accounts to a service provider hosted service,
- Or you can set up and maintain the systems yourself.
In this blog post, let’s consider the fundamentals around where you can source your services. In a future post we will discuss which features are included in various plans, and the potential the limitations of those subscriptions.
The main advantage to purchasing Office 365 is that the systems are hosted by Microsoft, who can pass on mass market savings on to you. A provider to millions of cloud service users, they are a blue chip provider. They will be first to market with the latest releases, including beta releases. If you enjoy being an early adopter and Microsoft does a good job of supporting your migrations, then that can be a good thing. Being a Microsoft customer can be an advantage, like when you’re a large institution and there are financial incentives to adopting their technology in bulk. As a small customer, you can still benefit from rock bottom prices and value-oriented bundles. You can now also purchase Microsoft-hosted Office 365 services from a limited number of Microsoft syndication partners that are authorized to bill directly for these services.
The main advantage of turning to a cloud service provider for Microsoft services, where the provider hosts in their own data center, is that they can provide you with Microsoft services with a higher level of touch and support. They are also able to provide you with other related services, such as security software, archiving, backup, IaaS and SaaS services, amount others. They may also offer professional services for deployment and migration of your account. You’ll need to research your options as your experience will depend on how well they are able to deliver reliable services and provide you with outstanding customer support. You should also expect to pay a bit more on monthly subscription fees in order to get that level of support.
Finally, the advantage to on-premise hosting is that you have maximum control over the systems, account set up and management, when you upgrade, the priority with which problems are resolved, and anything else. The downside is the financial and technical hurdle to set up your first Microsoft Exchange mailbox is quite high, and you will incur CapEx and OpEx for infrastructure and staff.
What really matters?
Like most things in business, there’s no clear cut best answer for everyone. Every choice has pros and cons, so you need to think through your current situation, where you want to be, and what is most important to your business.
Let’s consider business drivers and which approach tends to favor them.
It needs to work. There are three stages where this is a consideration: getting set up and productive, uptime and the ability to make changes in the future. When you do your cost/benefits analysis, even if it’s on the back of a napkin, put a value on your time and the opportunity cost to properly research, plan and execute your account setup. Understand what upgrading means – do not assume that if you chose to migrate from one Office 365 subscription to another that you need only go online and change the subscription. Ask your service provider if they can do that for you with their current services on offer – they almost certainly can. And if you host on-premise, you will have control over that.
Consider what other services you want and how you’ll get them. Do you need backup, security software, archiving, additional storage or something else? Do you know what extra capabilities you need, such as instant messaging, file sharing or secure chat? As those needs change, what’s involved in adding those features to individual user accounts in the future? Will it be better value for you, your service provider or your IT staff to handle those changes?
If you happen to be in an industry governed by regulatory restrictions around things like security, PCI compliance, HIPPA compliance, or data residency then you need to confirm the ability to remain compliant. Are you comfortable with having your confidential company and customer data hosted by Microsoft in their data centers? Do security and SLA commitments meet your needs? The same question goes for other cloud providers. And, although on-premise hosting gives you total control, it comes at a cost.
One last thing I’ll mention is where your comfort zone is with the inevitable problems that arise. When something goes wrong, or when you are not sure how to implement moves, adds or changes, or when need help planning your next move, then you may need to work with someone who has the expertise you are lacking. It will either be Microsoft support, your cloud service provider’s support, or your internal IT resources. As always there are pros and cons to each in the form of control versus cost, including time to resolution.
Where’s the love?
There are a lot of details to consider, but it usually comes down to what most motivates you – lowest cost, highest touch, or total control and ownership. As usual, there’s no free lunch, so go that‘s consistent with your strategy, even if it turns out not to be the most convenient or the cheapest on day one.