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Office 365 - The future in the Cloud?

Microsoft's latest Office release, 2013 is available as a cloud service for those wanting to transition to hosted services but retain familiar products. Microsoft haven't taken the decision to offer their Office software as a service lightly, they made their empire selling software licenses. But under pressure from Google who believe software should not be a commodity to be sold but a service to be offered, they've had to evolve. The result is 365. A monthly subscription from $4 - $22 per user, per month depending upon the plan chosen buys you access to your very own Office infrastructure which goes much further than the usual applications housed within Office Professional plus, we also get SharePoint online, Exchange online and Lync online. That's office applications, e-mail, telephony including enterprise voice, messaging, presence, storage, anti-spam / anti-virus, and websites all in one neat package.

Microsoft Office 365
Its not just installed software that 365 is replacing, its the infrastructure Required to support it; the fault tolerant and load balanced clusters of servers in our data centres running Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, infrastructure services on Windows Server such as DFS and WDS. And the end-points themselves don't need to have the hardware to support new Office apps, moreover we don't have the costly budget required to plan, deploy, manage and support the servers and applications. We also save on our electricity bill and can claim we are lowering our carbon footprint, going green as we have fewer servers to power and therefore fewer servers to keep cool.

At first look then, it seems that Office 365 is an obvious evolution of a well-established ecosystem which will replace the more traditional on-premise provision we are accustomed to.
However there are a few caveats to address. Firstly 365 hasn't been the amazing success many predicted, it has uptake just not a lot. Feedback from the CEO's and business leaders I meet centre around the issue of privacy. Looking after your data yourself seems a safer bet than handing it all over to some faceless company, location unknown even if it is Microsoft. There has been a lot of hubbub in business exec circles over just such matters. Secondly as a permanent Internet connection is required you lose almost all productivity ability if your line drops. Lastly even though Microsoft quote a 99.9% availability and SLA there seems to be a question mark over reliability.

On the first issue of Privacy, Microsoft have the capability and investment to do a far better job of protecting your data both confidentiality and integrity than most medium sized enterprises can. They simply can't justify the investment in the required technology and configuration costs. This also feeds into the final issue of reliability, everyone thinks are a better driver than the guy next to then on the freeway and every decenter manager thinks they can make their data more available than Microsoft can. This just simply isn't the case for most organisations who could not justify the expense ensuring no single point of failure and complete fault tolerance. Microsoft can and have.
For the issue of connectivity to the cloud services careful consideration needs to be placed on which ISP's are used, available bandwidth and physically how you connect to the cloud.

365 will appeal most to smaller organisations who cannot afford the infrastructure and support required to have access to some of the services such as those provided by Lync or SharePoint. This certainly levels the playing field for them and with fewer users to license can be very cost effective. Many smaller organisations will be taking advantages of these new tools for the first time.
For larger enterprises though there are barriers. Firstly they are likely to already own significant server infrastructure running older versions of the platforms in question so there is no immediate lowering of TCO. Also with a much larger user base to license it could end up costing them more than on-premise equivalents. The support cost savings may also not be as great as first thought because they'll have a fairly autonomous application deployment solution via System Centre and as for reducing required desktop footprints they probably have provision for App-V or VDI solutions.

Without a significant sign up from the larger enterprises out there 365 will remain a flop however Microsoft provide many routes and they all lead to 365 in some form.
For instance a corp looking to Migrate it's Exchange environment to a newer version on newer hardware has license costs to bear, new hardware to procure and staff training to source. The migration itself is a time consuming activity and that's more cost.
Exchange Online may be a solution, from just a few $ per user per month it offers a way to gradually ease into 365 retaining Lync, SharePoint and Office as on-site hosted solutions.
With a significant range of user plans available corps can choose which user group is suited to which plan, mix and match. Their periodic large Cap-ex will shift to a more frequent but lower Op-ex.

Another point in favour of Office 365 is the surge of execs requesting iPads as their business tools rather than a Windows based notebook or tablet. Never intended for this purpose the iPad / iPhone has become the tool of choice for many senior level staff. Why? They are seen as fashion accessories, form over function, they have them at home, everyone they know has one so they want one for work. Speaking from personal experience attempting to convince a board room of fruit users that an iPad isn't a suitable business tool for a whole range of reasons is a great deal more challenging that it may seem.
Well they can now have their cake and eat it as all that's required on the client is a web browser. It means that corps pursuing BYOD's now have a perfect platform to base it on.

In recent years Microsoft's tactics have changed, coincidentally this seemed to be around the time Bill stepped down as CEO. For those taking note, Microsoft ecosystems of desktop, server, messaging, telephony, collaboration etc. are gravitating toward each other, converging on identical management interfaces both GUI based and PowerShell with common goals and Interoperability between products and services is better than ever. It seems Microsoft have had a revolution and Office 365 is just one Lync in a much bigger chain. Conspiracy theorists be warned.

Office is dead, long live Office.

This post first appeared on Microsoft Reloaded, please read the originial post: here

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Office 365 - The future in the Cloud?


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