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Categories: Business;Office 365

March is 'Office 365-month' at Softlanding! We are hosting Office 365 events (register here), writing blogs and offering free trials (click here to trial). Most people have heard about Office 365, but it can be a confusing offering. Which plan should you choose? Does Lync include PSTN voice? Can I use the Exchange Unified Messaging role in the cloud? These are just some of the questions I have heard over the last several months. I'm writing this blog post to answer some of these questions.

Office 365, what is it?

Microsoft offers a subscription-based service for its Office products and the corresponding server products; Exchange, SharePoint and Lync. Instead of purchasing the software and installing it on servers, companies subscribe to the products and rely on Microsoft to maintain and upgrade the software. Microsoft has been offering consumer subscription-based services like Hotmail, MSN and Xbox Live for years. Businesses can leverage Office 365, CRM Online and Windows Intune to offer software like Outlook, Lync, Windows, and Word to their employees - this is referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS).

Advantages of Office 365

One of the advantages is that you are always using the latest version of the software. Microsoft takes care of upgrading the server software and clients can install new software using 'Click-to-Run'. Office 365 is already on the 2013 versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and Office. Another advantage is the way you pay for the service: the CAPEX vs OPEX debate is not one that I get overly excited about, but accountants like it and it does make sense in certain scenarios to pay for software on a monthly basis (OPEX) instead of purchasing hardware and software upfront (CAPEX). Companies that are in an acquisition mode, can take advantage of the easy of deployment. It can take weeks to plan for and deploy new servers; Office 365 can make onboarding of new offices and users relatively quick.

Office 365 Choices

If you decide to 'move to the cloud', you can do it in phases. Most companies start out with Exchange Online, which is just one component of Office 365. Softlanding has helped companies move existing mailboxes to Exchange Online, developed trials and Proof of Concept projects and provided training for end-users and IT administrators. You can add Lync to complement Exchange with Instant Messaging and Presence, SharePoint to create a portal for employees or host your company website, and subscribe to the latest version of Office. You can bundle some or all of the components, for example you can subscribe to the Small Business Plan for $6.20 per month per user, which includes Exchange, Web Conferencing, a public website and Office Web Apps to create and edit Office files via a web browser. You can add a subscription to Microsoft Office for under $10 per user per month; this allows you to download and run desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access, Publisher and Lync.  In my opinion, it is the best way to purchase software for any small business. There are several other packages available for larger organizations, including options that allow for Active Directory integration, intranet sites and full PBX-replacements with Lync on-premise and leveraging the Exchange Unified Messaging role in the cloud for voicemail!

Minor limitations of Office 365

Office 365 is a multi-tenant environment, which means that a single instance of the software runs on a cluster of servers, serving multiple tenants. Data is virtually partitioned and each instance is unique and secure but it does limit some forms of customization. If a company has very specific customization needs, Office 365 might not be the right choice. Office 365 provides the latest version of software, which sometimes is not desirable. For example, if a specific version of Word is required to work the company's ERP system, it might not be possible to move the Office applications to Office 365. A third reason could be the US Patriot Act. Canada has enacted strict privacy laws (PIPEDA) that companies need to comply with. The Office 365 datacenters are located in the US (and other places in the world, but not Canada).  However, in our experience deploying customers to the Office 365 cloud, this has not been a show-stopper.

Give Office 365 a test-drive

Office 365 is one of the easiest ways to move to a cloud-services model. You always run the latest version of the software, without having to worry about maintenance and upgrades. Financially, the Total Cost of Ownership and OPEX vs CAPEX calculations are often more favorable when comparing Office 365 to the on-premise alternatives.If you’re interested in Office 365, why not give it a try? I encourage you to sign-up for a no obligation trial here: this link gives you the option of trying Office 365 for 30-days, for up to 25 users. As an alternative, you can attend an in-person demo of the Office 365 and its capabilities by attending one of our Customer Immersion Experience sessions at the Microsoft office in Vancouver.