Microsoft have fully embraced the cloud concept with their Azure environment and the porting of their application suites to a cloud base. Their flagship collaborative Office product, Office 365, is no exception.
The benefits of cloud-based computing are well-known and extensively discussed on this forum.
In summary though they include:
- Access from anywhere, anytime. In the office, on the road availability from a variety of devices. The Remote Desktop is a reality;
- Collaborative teamwork. You and your team can work together on local and remote desktops using advanced tools;
- Improved business communications. From email to IM to video-conferencing you can connect better with customers and colleagues; and
- Improved business profile. Office 365 contains a suite of tools that allow you to create customised marketing materials easily and quickly.
Adding in the benefits of reliability and cost makes for a compelling argument for the business owner to use Office 365.
How you go about implementing Office 365 in your organisation will depend on whether you already use Office products or whether you are migrating from another environment. The aim in both scenarios is to bring the benefits of the collaborative features of Office365 to your remote desktops.
In either case, as always it requires careful planning and there are several issues you might not realise you need to consider. This is not a simple migration or implementation and there are many factors that will complicate the process and potentially lead to unpleasant surprises.
Here are some of the major considerations:
- Not all add-ons that worked in previous versions of Office will work in Office 365 and you may need to replace them. That could require a lot of manual labour to recreate data or to transfer it to the cloud.
- Your cloud environment – on-premises or outsourced. There may be access issues to a remote cloud site for some sites in a multi-site environment.
- You will be working in an Exchange server environment. If you aren’t already, it may be beneficial to carry out that exercise first.
- Prerequisites. Your existing environment must satisfy some conditions prior to a successful implementation or migration. That may need extensive preparatory work.
Fortunately, Microsoft has created migration wizards to assist in the process, but these will only work in known and well-defined environments.
After careful thought you will need to decide your implementation approach – a separate implementation of the cloud environment, then a switch over, or a period of running in parallel and how long that period should be. There are obviously pros and cons to each approach. In practice though, the method you choose will depend on the size of your organisation and if you have a cloud environment in place already.
Your first instinct might be to rush to Google and search for “Office 365 Migration”. You will be presented with an enormous amount of information from many diverse sources, often contradictory and bewildering. More war story than succinct guidance.
There is help at hand though.
As mentioned above Microsoft have created many workbooks and wizards to assist with the process.
Most implementations of Office 365 start with email, and this is where most issues arise in the Exchange environment. There are others, for sure, but following everyone’s reliance on email, this is where most of the initial problems arise.
First – Mailboxes. A separate implementation will mean the creation of all user accounts on the new cloud based environment, then a migration of data to the cloud. For the larger organisations that may not be physically possible in a reasonable timescale. Having said that though, it does give the opportunity to clean out old and inactive user accounts, and may be the only feasible way if a new office environment is being created following a company merger.
Migrating live and archived emails is a serious business. It’s not just copying mailbox files. The first stage is to export current files. Depending on volumes that could take a lot of time. Importing can take even longer. Because importing uses web services, the absolute data transfer speed is between 250 and 500Mb per hour. In the larger organisation, this might mean a long time.
Archive files are another big issue. If a third party tool has been used to manage email archives, then it may not work in Office. Anyway, the problem with live files is compounded many times over because of the typically much greater size of archives.
Finally, if you are using your Internet connection to access email, then the actual speed at which data can be processed will be limited by your connection speed.
There are third-party offerings that can assist, and you may even consider archival solutions outside Office.
Have a look at the Deleted Item retention limit, set by default to 14 days. Older messages cannot be retrieved beyond a maximum of thirty days, after a mod to Office. Your archival processes need to keep this in mind.
Having delivered doom and gloom about the implementation of Office 365 in the cloud and delivering it to your remote desktops once it is up and running, the benefits far outweigh the sweat and tears.
They key is great research and forward planning, good project management of the transition, and a realisation that you may need to change more than just your Office environment.