Let me start with a disclaimer: I am very much a fan of Microsoft Office 365, and a believer in the work anywhere, on any device methodology. My home and work devices all have access to the same content, and I never worry about saying, ‘that’s on my home computer’ or ‘I left that at work’. But while Office 365 has made my own life easier, it’s not for every organization or for every circumstance. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons of Office 365 and its cloud-based model.
Office 365 is part of Microsoft’s new subscription model, and includes Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, and Office suite. One clear advantage to the subscription model is that it operates on a fixed monthly cost, which is helpful for budget forecasting purposes. With Office 365 you do not need any servers in your data center (aside from networking hardware). Everything is hosted in Microsoft data centers, meaning no operational hassles of maintenance, patches, and upgrades for your IT department to handle. In addition, you don’t need hardware for these servers, which means reduced ancillary costs such as cooling, UPS backups, or paying for a separate DR center/service. Adding more space to servers no longer requires purchasing and installing additional drives and appliances, but is as simple as a click of the button in the administration console.
While economists will tell you that sunk costs should be omitted when calculating your next spend, an organization with new infrastructure may be reticent in moving to the hosted model. With a brand new infrastructure in place, it may be costlier to scrap that environment and go to Office 365. Evaluating your internal environment and your current lease/depreciation will help guide you in that decision. However, be sure to factor in ‘hidden’ costs like cooling, power, licensing etc., and not only the cost of the servers.
With Microsoft worrying about the servers and software, your IT department and your users can focus on their work. A system that is accessible from anywhere, gives you the latest versions of software, and is reliable and secure keeps technology from inhibiting productivity. As long as you have internet access, you have Office 365 access. In addition, Office 365 offers users the ability to seamlessly collaborate, whether they are in the office or working remotely – for example, a Word document can be simultaneously edited by colleagues working across the country.
However, Office 365 does raise some potential productivity issues. If your office loses internet connectivity, you lose access to all new email and changed files until your connection is back online, although you can use the Microsoft Outlook desktop client or Offline Access in the web client for offline access to email, and the OneDrive for Business client to work with files offline until your connection is back online. Further, Microsoft is in charge of the environment and servers. This is both good and bad; if an internal server fails, you have the ability to bring all hands on deck to find a resolution, but if some part of Office 365 goes down, you are at Microsoft’s mercy to fix it. While they will want to repair it as fast as possible, you are still on their timetable. In addition, you no longer have the ability to select when and what gets upgraded, which presents a problem if you have add-ins in Office, SharePoint, etc.
One of the primary benefits of Office 365 subscriptions is that they can be tailored to an organization’s specific needs, whether that is full Office 365 functionality or a more limited, less expensive kiosk license for a shared machine. This subscription functionality is built into Office 365 and can offer significant savings. One aspect worth a closer look is third-party add-ins to Exchange and SharePoint. While many are available in Office 365, if you have a current Exchange or SharePoint environment, make sure any third-party functionality or custom developed code will function in Office 365. Customizations, such as event receivers in SharePoint, are not permitted, due to the risk of your code affecting others in a shared environment. So while Office 365 if very flexible, it can also be very rigid: software boundaries and limits put in place are non-negotiable and apply to the system as a whole. Make sure that these will not limit what you need to do on a daily basis (file upload restrictions, mailbox restrictions, etc…).
If it’s the right fit for your organization, moving to Office 365 offers many benefits, but this is one situation where careful planning is required. Upfront exploration of your current systems could save massive headaches a few months into the migration. Remember that while Microsoft has a lot of tools to help a company migrate into Office 365, there are not as many (free) tools available to get you back off of their environment. We recommend enlisting a trusted partner to help you thoroughly document and explore your environment – a good partner will have been through many migrations, and can help your company avoid many of the pitfalls mentioned in this post.
Microsoft has made it very clear that the cloud is the direction they are heading. Keep this in mind when making future equipment and licensing purchases. There are lots of new features being rolled out in Office 365 on a regular basis, so if the feature you need isn’t there yet, it might be on the roadmap. However, it’s essential to make sure that your day-to-day business is not hampered by a migration to the cloud. You still have to get work done, so it is important to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of making a move.