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Desktop Productivity: Key considerations when choosing Office 365
A guide to the issues surrounding Office 365 migration
The quest for the right Office productivity package
Microsoft Office 365 is a group of software and services subscriptions under which Microsoft markets and provides productivity software and related services to subscribers. For business and enterprise users, Office 365 offers plans including e-mail and social networking services through hosted versions of Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, SharePoint and Office Online, integration with Yammer, as well as access to the Office software.
There are a number of Office 365 plans which productise and group the features and functionality of the software suite appropriately for differing business requirements and budgets. In this guide we look at the issues that determine the choice of plan for small and medium businesses.
A matter of some complexity
Not easy and requires expertise
Office 365 is not as simple as installing Office to your local PC or laptop hard disk from DVD or a download package. Office requires IT skills to facilitate migration from local, on-premise servers to Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure.
Successful migration is beyond the skills of most who are not IT practitioners. There are many cases of failed Office 365 migrations. Generally these are the result of skills gaps or inadequate planning.Examples of where strong IT skills are required include:
- Migration planning
- Most businesses are unlikely to tolerate disruption to business as a result of migration. For many zero downtime is likely to be the order of the day. Executing migration without causing disruption takes a lot of planning and experience.
- Email archive migration
- Most companies have a system for archiving in-house email. Moving to Office 365 brings the requirement to integrate the archive. Most older systems are incompatible with Office 365 and expertise is required.
- SharePoint migration
- SharePoint migration is often tricky and needs to be done manually. Moving from on-premise SharePoint to Office 365 SharePoint is a major undertaking which needs a good internet connection.
Legacy applications and databases
Some businesses may be able to operate with Office 365 and a handful of online cloud services for performing functions such as accounting or project management from SaaS providers. However, many have requirements that cannot be provisioned so easily. Many businesses have a requirement for custom databases or other bespoke tools.
So, while going to Office 365 may eliminate the need for Exchange on-premise email server and file storage/backup, it may not remove the need for Small Business Server (SBS) to run custom database applications on-premise. For businesses in this situation, the big benefits that result from eliminating on-premise server(s) is missed.
Take for example a company that makes the move to Office 365 but decides it has to keep its on-premise infrastructure to keep running legacy applications and databases. The in-house IT team might refer to it very loosely as a ‘hybrid cloud’. While this is one way to think of it, it’s actually much more accurately termed a ‘failed Office 365 migration’. The business could be stuck for years trying to figure out what to do with the legacy items. It is much better to have a plan from the start and only move when completely ready.
For any business data security is a major consideration. The Office 365 platform is compliant with ISO/IEC 27001 security standards, the European Union Data Protection Directive, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) for US health care.
Microsoft Office 365 and other cloud services are deployed from large scale data centres and delivered over the Internet to customers. However, large public cloud infrastructure is often seen as ‘insecure’; services that are perceived as high value, such as Apple iCloud have been compromised leading to unauthorised access and distribution of data.
Safe Harbour should protect the sovereignty of data of EU citizens and businesses stored by US companies. However, Microsoft will hand over data stored on its European servers if requested to do so under the Patriot Act by US authorities. A ‘Trust Centre’ portal provides information on Microsoft privacy policies and security practices.
Essentially, to all intents and purposes, the risk associated with data hosted in Microsoft’s cloud is low. There is a much greater security risk associated with PCs, laptops and other end-user devices.
Encryption, password control, antivirus, security updates, maintenance, and support all need to be properly planned to eliminate end-user devices security risk when moving to Office 365.
Resilience and Business Continuity
Cloud services depend on internet connectivity and high availability server and storage infrastructure. Microsoft guarantees 99.9% uptime with a financially backed Service Level Agreement (SLA). However, there have been lengthy outages of Microsoft Office 365. On 23 and 24 June 2014 users of Lync instant messaging and Exchange email experienced outages over several hours.
In short, despite Microsoft backing Office 365 services with financial recompense is limited and may not compensate for losses incurred by the business if the service fails.
It is highly advisable to provision for business continuity with a disaster recovery plan. A good example of how to ensure continual availability of email services is to integrate Mimecast with Office 365 so you can continue to send emails.
Office 365 plans
At the time of writing Office 365 is offered in a variety plans designed to suit the needs of organisations of types and sizes. The services are packaged into the following plans:
- Office 365 Business
- Office 365 Business Essentials
- Office 365 Business Premium
- Office 365 ProPlus
- Office 365 Enterprise E1
- Office 365 Enterprise E3
- Office 365 Enterprise E5
These are appended with specialised features to suit Small Business, Education, Government, and Non-profit sectors. Individual services are available from the following services groups:
- Business-class email
- File storage & sharing
- Online meetings
Follow the link in the References and Further Reading section to see full plan and pricing information on the Microsoft website.
Hosted Desktop: An alternative to Office 365
Hosted desktop solutions provide Office productivity applications in a way that enables the issues that result from legacy custom database applications, security risks and the requirement for resilience and Business Continuity to be addressed.
Hosted desktop eliminates on-premise servers and puts them in a data centre under the control of a Managed Services Provider (MSP).
Custom databases as well as the Office suite is provided from a cloud owned and operated by the MSP. This enables the key issues outlined above to be addressed and the productivity solution tailored 100% to fit the specific requirements of the customer business, including:
- Custom database requirements
- Data sovereignty and privacy issues
- Resilience and Business Continuity
Follow the link in the References and Further Reading section to see how Hosted Desktop solutions provide a comprehensive approach to provisioning business technology.
Best advice for businesses considering the best Microsoft partner
When deciding how best to provision Microsoft Office productivity software, the best advice is to consult with a service provider that is able to help you make the right choice for your business.
When it comes to selecting providers some useful tips include:
- Look for a long an established and experienced Microsoft partner
- Look for a track record of partnering with clients
- Ability to deploy Microsoft Office from the Microsoft cloud or as hosted desktop
- The offer of an impartial, consultative approach to determining the needs of clients
Why is HTL Support a preferred Microsoft partner?
HTL Support is a specialist provider of cloud technology solutions to the service sector.
HTL Support has the expertise and experience to help professional services firms meet their regulatory obligations or follow guidelines on the use of technology.
It is our confirmed belief that the cloud offers outstanding opportunities for service sector firms to leverage technology so it returns more value to their businesses. Private cloud solutions enable businesses to enjoy the operational benefits of the cloud computing architecture while retaining 100% control of data and meeting regulatory guidance.
HTL Support works with in-house compliance experts or external consultants to ensure any solution exceeds interpretation of the applicable regulatory codes. HTL Support is able to provide the appropriate level of services required by the majority of professional services businesses.
About HTL Support
HTL Support is a close knit and highly professional team of technology professionals that are evangelists for cloud solutions. This is because we believe the benefits are unrivalled by equivalent on-premise approaches to provisioning business technology.
The business benefits of the cloud are regularly highlighted in the press and deliberated in boardrooms. Cloud technology is a topic about which the vast majority of business leaders are likely to have more than a passing interest.
Based in the heart of London in Canary Wharf, HTL Support was incorporated in 2009 with a clear and simple vision. We are dedicated to helping business leaders in financial service organisations find the best way of successfully adopting cloud technology in their businesses. We offer best of breed Hosted Cloud Services in our ISO27001 London data centres, and help clients to create their own Private Cloud systems in their own offices or data centres.
Our friendly and professional engineers and consultants have extensive experience, proven track records and ‘can-do’ attitudes. We offer independent advice but partner with the leading cloud technology companies to ensure seamless support. We are serviced focused; our client’s satisfaction is paramount.
References and further reading
Microsoft Office 365 Solutions
Hosted Desktop Solutions
Mimecast Email Security
Office 365 Plans