Is Office 365 the right choice for your Enterprise or Small Business?

Microsoft has for many years been envisioning a world where your desktop, applications and data are all hosted by Microsoft in Microsoft’s own cloud and available to you on any number of platforms simultaneously.

There are many good things to say about this, and just as many bad things as well.

In the following article I will try to relate the good and not so good about this model.

Everyone is familiar with Microsoft’s Office applications

We know them and we love them or sometimes hate them. Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, etc.  These are indispensable tools for the modern workplace. How these applications are delivered to a user has typically been the purview of your IT staff. Now, Microsoft wants to become your IT staff, your desktop and data host, your application provider, possibly your website and voice provider as well as your security provider. On the face of it, it could be a good model for any size organization. Simplification and convergence is touted as the future of computing.  I have blown this horn loudly. But there is one well worn, universal caveat that keeps gnawing at my IT soul: Do not put all your eggs in one basket!

What does this mean in the context of your company’s computing services?

While it may sound like a simple model, appearances can be very deceiving in this realm. Let’s say you are a small company with years of data on local servers and maybe there is a line-of-business application you are running or maybe a database application. Typically your personal and shared documents made with Microsoft’s applications are stored on servers within your office. Your access to these documents, until recently, is typically limited to being present within the walls of your office. Many organizations have developed remote ways of accessing these documents using various Microsoft and/or third party tools built into modern computer networks. All of this is done for the purpose of collaboration and efficiency for your company’s workforce.  Keeping it safe and secure and available is the work of your IT staff.

Now, let’s imagine you want to embrace Office 365 and your IT staff uploads your data to Microsoft’s cloud so your access is now defined there instead of at the edge of your company’s network. Under this scenario you are now operating a hybrid network.  Part local service, part cloud service. Did this simplify things for your users? Actually, no.  It did not. Users must now find their data in new places which for some can be a cultural shock, at minimum being a retraining of personnel. Never an easy task.

I mentioned previously that the goal of an organization’s IT services is to provide access to corporate apps and data for their users in a secure, efficient and collaborative way. Integrating the cloud for this, for the most part is a very good option. Centralizing storage of company data to a secure cloud service is an increasingly valid method. The reasons for this value range from no longer needing to maintain hardware to accomplish this and having the high bandwidth and resilient Internet connectivity you will find from cloud service providers. With these benefits comes the specter of having to managing two disparate systems or the consideration of extending your security principals into the cloud, which ever cloud you choose. Extending a company’s existing security principals into the cloud, especially Microsoft’s cloud takes this exercise squarely out of the realm of the simple, which Microsoft promulgates. To be fair, this is not a problem specific to Microsoft as your cloud provider, it is a common issue for any cloud service provider.

Making the case for the small or boutique cloud services provider

Migrating services to the cloud is a process. There is no single switch to do this yet, but the closest you may come to that is hiring a small provider or consultant to help plan these processes specific to your company’s unique needs. The plethora of options and the difficulty in divining a price to a solution is daunting. Daunting to the extent organizations are giving up on the prospect of cloud integration or settling on less than ideal solutions. Here is a secret, which actually is not really a secret: the small provider is going to cost more than a quick integration with Office 365. Most providers must purchase the software to service your cloud needs from Microsoft and will never be able to compete on price with Microsoft as a result. So what is the value proposition? The small provider should provide the expertise, the experience, the time and the desire to cultivate you as a customer and to hold on to you with service and performance beyond anything Microsoft can or will ever do.