By October 2016 it had become clear there was nothing on the horizon that could halt the stratospheric rise of Office 365 for Business.
How has Office 365 grown to be so dominant, and what are the benefits of adopting its cloud-based email solution for your business?
Of course Office 365 isn’t just about email. It’s an extensive package of productivity and collaboration tools. But Exchange Online – the email element – is a cornerstone of the suite, and arguably provides a number of the most obvious benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of these.
Office 365 is provided in a range of business and enterprise plans, with different levels of functionality. That means predictable, subscription-based costs, no need for capital expenditure. If your old Exchange on-premises server reaches end-of-life, that in itself is a good enough reason to adopt Office 365 rather than paying for new hardware.
Mobility and flexibility
Being cloud-based, Office 365 has great benefits for mobility, and email is readily available on any device – from traditional desktop Outlook to whatever client you have on your mobile phone. If you’re adopting a mobile device strategy or if you need the flexibility to create ‘pop up’ temporary project offices, it’s far easier with Office 365 than trying to provide the same functionality using web access to on-premises Exchange.
Office 365 simplifies the cost and expense of admin – particularly for organisations that have many remote (or even overseas) offices. Instead of having to maintain individual Exchange installations at each location everything can be managed centrally on one Office 365 deployment. There are great reporting tools, too.
Microsoft has too much riding on Office 365 to take any chances with security. You can be sure that its servers are the best patched and protected you could possibly get. Your messages and documents are scanned 24x7 for malware and other threats, too. You can find out more about its extensive security features here.
Better for compliance
With Office 365 you don’t have to worry about backup and retrieval, as everything’s automatically taken care of. Office 365 is robust and resilient, and if you need legal hold or are subject to regulatory or legal investigation, there’s built-in eDiscovery.
In the early days, some people grumbled whether Office 365 customer data was safe from the prying eyes of, for example, the US authorities, and queries over ‘safe harbour’ were in the news only a couple of years ago. Microsoft’s made it perfectly clear that Office 365 fully complies with EU data protection legislation, and all the individual EU data protection authorities confirmed in a joint letter in 2015 that Microsoft’s enterprise cloud contracts already met the high standards of EU privacy law.
The bottom line is that you are likely to achieve a far more effective and robust compliance framework through Office 365 than by sellotaping and patching your old Exchange environment.
On a related compliance topic, Office 365 offers massive amounts of secure, low-cost email storage. So much so that it’s possible you may not even need a traditional on-premises or online email archiving system. With 100GB mailbox limits on plans E3 and above, the old arguments of using archiving just to save storage space and protect performance simply don’t apply any more.
Of course, you may still prefer to use a separate archiving system. Maybe your regulatory environment demands it. That’s fine – but beware that if you do migrate to Office 365 you’ll need to do some jiggery-pokery with shortcuts between your user’s live systems and legacy archive systems.
If it was simply a case of signing up and heading off into a bright new future with Office 365, we’d all have done it by now. But there are ways of optimising the system to improve efficiency and contain costs further.
At Vohkus we’ve helped a number of firms grow their entire businesses using cloud technologies – including Office 365 – over the past five years or more. If you really are starting from scratch there’s no contest. Don’t buy an Exchange server!
Migrating to Office 365 from older implementations of Exchange – or, indeed from other platforms – can be more complicated than Microsoft might have you believe if you have a really complex environment. Not only do you need to consider live mailboxes, but also decide what to do with your archives. Migrate one without considering the other and you’ll probably end up carrying out substantial remediation after the main project finishes.
For compliance purposes you should also use migration as a reason to eliminate local users’ .pst files. These easily-portable islands of critical data are insecure, easily lost, and don’t play nicely with a mobile strategy. Not convinced? Look at the 2014 Sony Pictures hack, which involved .pst files including those of an executive at Sony Pictures Canada and one of its IT audit supervisors. 170,000 hacked emails were published by Wikileaks, and Sony had to set aside $15m to deal with the fallout.
Finally, you should consider migrating public folders. Before Exchange 2013 came out public folders were stored and managed in a different way, and you can’t readily move their contents (old public folder environments typically have very complicated and extensive user folder hierarchies), so you should consider what approach – archiving, modern public folders or maybe even Office 365 groups (or any combination) – you want to take as a potential target, and sort out the data you have in advance of the migration.
Dare we say it, but helping clients migrate to Office 365is something of a routine process for Vohkus’s consultants. We understand the pitfalls, the shortcuts and how to align Office 365 with your business aims.
We think the benefits of Office 365 cloud-based email – and much more besides – are absolutely compelling.