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Microsoft Office 365 review

Verdict

At this price, and with these management tools, Office 365 could make it hard to justify running your own Exchange server

Review Date: 21 Apr 2011

Reviewed By: Mary Branscombe

Price when reviewed: £4 per user per month for 1-25 users (£12 with Office Professional Pro licence), POA for enterprise

PREVIEW: Purchasing and maintaining software for a business, small or big, is a costly undertaking. It isn’t just the licensing that affects your bottom line, but the man hours that go into keeping software patched and up to date, installing it on new machines and maintaining all the servers you need to provide email and online services.

Microsoft’s Office 365, the public beta of which was unveiled this week, aims to make the job easier. It’s the successor to the current Business Productivity Online Services, and shifts a raft of traditionally office-based products and services from the server room to the cloud.

Included are Microsoft Exchange with Forefront Online Protection for anti-virus and spam, SharePoint, Lync Online and the Office Web Apps with (optional) licences for the full Office Professional Plus, plus a SharePoint-based public website.

Microsoft Office 365

It can be used in two ways: alone as an online replacement for email, unified communication and file-sharing that delivers the full Office feature set as it was designed to work; or federated with your existing on-premise servers to give you the same level of control and configuration with far less management and maintenance.

For an enterprise it promises convenience, for a small business it’s far cheaper and simpler than buying and managing a server. But how much of the on-premise server power do you get and is it ready for businesses to rely on?

Features and tools

To end users, Office 365 means extra features. By combining Exchange, Lync Online and SharePoint servers (something not every business has the wherewithal, time or money to do) Office 365 unlocks the full Office 2010 feature set.

Features such as getting a warning that someone’s out of the office when typing an email address, and being able to see the person who made a change to one of your documents is online so you can ask them what they meant in an IM or video call, aren’t available with an Exchange server alone. And there’s a whole raft of other features worth having.

These include being able to attach a link to a shared file so you don’t end up with five sets of comments to read and merge; to take shared files offline and automatically upload and merge changes when you get back to the office; and turn email replies into a database automatically.

Microsoft Office 365

Administrators will also benefit from going down the Office 365 route. Setting up Exchange, Lync Online and SharePoint servers can be a prohibitively expensive and complicated process, and requires ongoing management.

Signing up and signing in for Office 365 is simple, and takes you straight to an online management console. This covers the settings for the service, subscription management for Office 365 accounts and Office client licences, which you can allocate individually or by AD role or using specific policies.

It also displays service health, with warnings for any scheduled maintenance and wizards for creating migration and co-existence plans. All this makes moving to Office 365 a clear and manageable process.

If you’ve used the web management tools for Exchange Server, these are identical but with many of the management features for Forefront, SharePoint and (to a lesser extent) Lync. You can use a limited number of PowerShell management commands too.

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User comments

Office 365 Sharepoint

Presumably you can connect Outlook to the Office 365 using the Exchange via HTTP option? Also, can you map a drive on a local PC to the Sharepoint document store?

By NickS on 21 Apr 2011

Pricing getting tempting

See where we are in two years time when it's time to change our servers.
It seems good value, but we also need hosting for SQL as well, Sage, HR software etc.
If you move to the cloud, how do you monitor antivirus? Our server also host E Console for Sophos. How do centrally manage that without a server?

By pollingtont on 21 Apr 2011

Pricing getting tempting

See where we are in two years time when it's time to change our servers.
It seems good value, but we also need hosting for SQL as well, Sage, HR software etc.
If you move to the cloud, how do you monitor antivirus? Our server also host E Console for Sophos. How do centrally manage that without a server?

By pollingtont on 21 Apr 2011

Rubbish

"man hours that go into keeping software patched and up to date, installing it on new machines and maintaining all the servers you need to provide email and online services."

WSUS: Windows Software Update Services. All pacthes and updates, right there, pushed to each client pc and controlled by GP.

By rhythm on 21 Apr 2011

Muh

"Make sense for a lot of businesses that can find better things to do with their IT time and budget than running an Exchange server."

Once Exchange has been configured, it's hardly even touched at all. (We have just over 120 accounts). As for budget, other than cals, it's a one off payment for Exchange???

By rhythm on 21 Apr 2011

@rhythm

WSUS is good, but it's folly to just push it out to users. Test it on a Stage environment, test it doesn't break anything, then push it out to users via a GPO.

That's where the man hours come in: from doing a job properly. WSUS has been known to break things before and will do again.

By GillsMan7 on 22 Apr 2011

thoughts and mumblings....

As with all patching there is always a risk involved. I hate patching the exchange server, having fallen foul of a patching issue before, even though it was tested it did not appear until it was on production, it was a nightmare to resolve.
That said even with this cloud setup, while the patching is being handled by MS, it still does not guarantee you won't have an issue when they perform upgrades/patches.
Still the less I have to spend testing, and releasing patches is a boon to me, means I can concentrate on business issues rather than just the tech.
In addition I imagine there will be no downtime while patches/security fixes are applied...
Also what about security? You are totally reliant on MS ensuring security (PS3 issues being currently in mind).
In addition it puts the email server outside of your own secured infrastructure? Again thinking about that I suppose its not a lot different than exposing OWA?
It does ensure that you get the latest features and allows the business to easily budget for the year.
I think its certainly worth a look, any way I have mumbled enough... :o)

By mumblestiltskin on 28 Apr 2011

A rather long infographic on Office 365 but it does highlight some key things

http://www.cloudhypermarket.com/guide-to-microsoft
-office-365

By Joanne on 28 Jun 2011

A rather long infographic on Office 365 but it does highlight some key things

http://www.cloudhypermarket.com/guide-to-microsoft
-office-365

By Joanne on 28 Jun 2011

Office 365 learning site

I know a good site for learners to get information for office 365.www.365advisor.com

By joan_wong on 14 Jul 2011

Amazon Voucher

You can get a Amazon voucher if your exsisting or new Office 365 customer at www.purenetworking.net

By PaulB1995 on 4 May 2012

their not thinking about the home user or the student who need office for uni, just big business. I have no intention of using the cloud i don't trust it. Vote with your feet people and buy something else when their profits start falling.

By IMACOMPUTERBUDD1 on 9 May 2013

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