Into the Cloud – How 365 can work for you.
“Cloud” is most definitely the biggest buzzword in the IT world at the moment. You can certainly see the appeal, from smaller companies looking to store their files without forking out money for their own server, to larger companies looking for a place to store their backups; cloud is most definitely the future.
But the cloud isn’t just for storage – with 365, you can have pretty much everything in one place. Emails, storage, licensing… everything you could need. Today, I’ll go through some of the features 365 offers, and hopefully convince you to take your business into the 21st Century.
One of the biggest features, touted by Microsoft regarding 365, is it’s fantastic availability. To put it simply, you will never be without your emails or storage for any length of time. Unlike an on-premise solution, with 365, you get a lot more than one server. Their services are shared across hundreds of servers, all around the world. This means that even if they need to take some of them offline for maintenance, there’s always others to take up the slack.
Naturally, an on-premise solution does not have this kind of positive, unless you’re willing to pay for multiple servers at multiple locations. That will be pricey!
With any on-premise solution, you have to take into account the constantly changing world around you. New innovations in security are always being matched by new and improved ways of subverting them. Trying to keep up with this can be a bit of a nightmare, with hotfixes, updates, and security patches released nearly every day that need to be taken into account. Add to this the required anti-virus, firewall, and the experience required to operate them, and you’ll quickly realise how tricky managing your own server can be.
365 bypasses all of this – you never need to worry about keeping the server updated, because Microsoft do it for you. You’ll always be running the latest versions, patches, and you can rest easy knowing that your data is safe.
As mentioned above, there’s a certain amount of experienced required to manage a server of your own, which is why most companies reach out to IT providers like ourselves to provide support.
With 365, you have an additional line of defence – every 365 tenancy has access to Microsoft’s cloud support. Right from the cloud console, you can raise issues directly with Microsoft, and be put in contact with their engineers to assist with any issues or queries you may have. This isn’t paid for – it’s included.
It’s worth noting that similar support is not always required by other Cloud providers, at least not on this scale.
An issue that we usually forget about, but Licensing is very important. If you install a server in your building, Microsoft will want to audit the software you use, that’s a given. 365 gives you the edge in this respect, since it’s a lot more than just a cloud storage/email provider. Each account in 365 is provided with a specific license which provides you with access to certain resources. You can have a license which gives you access to a mailbox, which will include Skype for Business, and storage via OneDrive. Alternatively, you could purchase a license which gives you a full copy of Office, including the online versions of each application – a copy which is automatically updated whenever a newer version is released.
Considering the price of an Office Professional license these days, this licensing model makes a lot of sense, and is very reasonable in terms of price.
Microsoft also offers licensing via the portal for a number of other applications they off (Project and Visio, for example).
The main advantage of this is that having all of your licenses in one place makes auditing incredibly simple. There’s a big “Export” button right there in the portal, which gives you everything you could possibly need!
As evidenced in the previous section, Microsoft offer a lot of other products besides Office and Emails. 365 takes this into account – from one portal, you can integrate your Office and Email environment with so much more.
Let’s say, for example, you have a local server at your site which you use for storing files and folders, and handling your user accounts. Nowadays, all of this can be moved into the cloud as well, taking the onus off yourselves. Your files can be hosted from Sharepoint, for example, which fully integrates with Office. Your entire server, in fact, could be moved into Microsoft’s Azure solution, which offers you the ability to build entire servers in the cloud, using Microsoft’s hardware.
Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, and having a local server on site has it’s advantages (especially if you have a slow connection), but having the options there is very useful.
For example, you might currently back up data to an external hard drive, or other device in your building. This will be adequate for most scenarios, but hard drives can break or be lost – if your building floods, you’ll likely still want your data at some point in the future. A number of our customers elect to use a cloud based repository to keep a secondary copy of these backups, well away from any harm.
Since 365 relies only on an internet connection to be accessible, you can access your data wherever you may be, on a variety of devices.
Your emails are accessible right from the portal, and depending on your choice of licensing, Online versions of Word, Excel and other Office apps are also usable without downloading anything. There are even mobile versions of these applications for Apple and Android, so you can check data from your phone (assuming your eyesight is better than mine!).
This mobility is very important in a world where hot desking and home working are becoming more commonplace – removing as many limiting factors as possible makes it a much more pleasant experience for your staff.
Aside from the features we already touched on when we talked about server patching, there are additional security features that 365 can offer. Naturally, if your staff are given the ability to access their data from anywhere, you should consider the security implications behind that.
365 has this covered – as an administrator on the portal, you can lock down accounts and reset passwords if you’re concerned someone has accessed data without your permission. You can enable features such as “two factor authentication”, which sends a text, or calls a user when someone tries to log into the account. Depending on licensing, you can even limit access to certain resources to a specific list of devices or locations, allowing you to prevent access to certain types of data to anyone not logged in from the office.
If you’re still concerned about the security of 365, it’s worth remembering that they offer specific licensing for Education and Government tenants, and many Government departments and schools utilise 365 to host and handle their data – it certainly meets their demands!
Software is expensive. Anything relating to IT tends to be expensive. 365, relatively, isn’t expensive.
The licensing model allows you to pay for a product such as Office on a monthly basis, and the frequency of updates and fact that you receive new versions of Office products without any additional fee make it very competitive.
Additionally, there’s the option to “try before you buy” – Microsoft currently offer the ability to set up a tenancy for free, with a limited number of licenses, for 30 days simply as a trial, provided you do so via a Microsoft Billing partner. This is not a trimmed down version of the product either – what you see is the full system with the same level of control. There are no startup fees either – the per-user licenses are all you pay for.
Ease of Transfer
Naturally, the biggest blocker aside from money, when moving from one solution to another, tends to be the timescale. A long and arduous migration and not only be expensive, but disruptive for your staff.
Let’s say, for example, you currently host your own emails from an on-premise server, and wish to move to a cloud solution. You need to find a way of moving the data from your server, into the cloud.
With 365, this is actually very simple – you can actually link your existing server to 365, and slowly sync all of the data up into the cloud. The transition is fairly seamless and, since the software does the work for you, very easy. Microsoft provide very detailed guides on how you set all of this up, and thanks to the included support, you can always request help if you need it at no extra charge.
With any solution, there are downsides where it fails to stack up to competition. There are hundreds of other cloud providers out there, offering similar products. Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon, and countless more all offer very competitive products if all you need is a storage solution, and there are many that also provide hosted emails as well.
365 certainly doesn’t excel when it comes to file storage, but of all the available solutions, it’s the only product that performs well as an all-rounder, especially taking into account the licensing model. The nearest product in terms of functionality would be Google’s GSuite, which offers hosted emails, and access to Google’s own suite of Office products (Google Drive, Google Docs, etc). However, most offices are used to using Microsoft’s Office products, and asking your staff to move from products like Excel and Word to the equivalent Google products isn’t really an option. Overall, 365 is the far more robust choice.
Aside from this, the only other major downside is ownership – moving all of your data from a device which you own, and physically manage, can be a bit of a nerve wracking experience, especially if you handle a lot of confidential information. Naturally, you want a product which offers the best in terms of performance, security, and ease of use, which will give you piece of mind when it comes to storing the backbone of your business.
While I certainly wouldn’t suggest moving to the cloud is a no-brainer, I hope I’ve managed to convince you that whenever you decide to take the journey, there’s a very clear destination.