Heading to The Cloud

At Virtual IT we have been offering hybrid cloud solutions to customers for the past 10 years now. Hosted Microsoft Exchange is now common place, and we’ve been big advocates of offsite backup from day one.

More and more now we are using The Cloud without really even thinking about it, and although the cloud elements of our service have largely been out of site and out of mind we are effectively using The cloud when we access our email account, be that Hosted Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail, or when we buy concert tickets on line, book a flight or do our weekly grocery shop online. All of this is good stuff and is paving the way to the future!

More recently you may have heard a fair bit about Google Apps and Office365 (previously BPOS).
As part of my new role at Virtual IT I will be taking a look at some of the new products on offer to see how we could add them to our product collections. And since Office 365 is causing such a stir at the moment, I thought I would kick off with that.

What is Office365?

Office365 combines Exchange, SharePoint, Office & Lync in a variety of online bundles. At its very basic form it’s a mailbox on a hosted exchange server somewhere. At its most it is a full blown collaboration solution which includes a local copy of Microsoft Office and will integrate with many of the newer phone systems.

The bundles are well positioned, offering a standard plan aimed at small businesses (up to 50 users) for £4 a month, through to enterprise plans that can cater for 50 000+ users. On each plan there is no minimum user number, so you can have the top plan with all the bells even if you are only 2 users.

Partner Up

One of the benefits of being a Microsoft partner is that they give you products to play with, so in no time I had extended our Partnership and Virtual IT are now a Microsoft Cloud Partner.

Microsoft has really put a large amount of effort into the setup, training, sales & support information that is available online. In addition the Office365 community pages are awash with questions and people’s experiences and are well monitored by Microsoft so questions don’t seem to languish around for years with no answers.

Head in The Cloud

Armed with enough information to get going, I started off on getting our test company setup. To be honest, this was pretty easy. If you have a brain and did no research, you could muddle through getting it sorted out – it really is quite simple to get the basics setup.

In no time we had a few test users with Outlook accounts setup. Next I had a vanilla SharePoint 2010 site setup, with a few sub-sites for good measure.

The cloud, 365 company setup

So there we go. In the space of a couple of hours, I’d registered a domain for us to use to test with, created a few users, got e-mail up and running and setup SharePoint (including the very retro SharePoint public facing website!). Really quite simple, and if you are familiar with Microsoft products then the Office365 offering will look familiar and make sense and transitioning to it from a Microsoft environment should be a doddle.

Under the Bonnet

Beyond the somewhat simplified process I’ve detailed above, there are a few things that are worth highlighting.

With the basic packages (bar the stand alone e-mail product) you get Microsoft Web Apps. If you use Google Apps, or have played with it in the past, then this is the easiest comparison to make. You can edit Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote documents through a web browser without having to edit it in a separate application.

The cloud, Migration to Office 365

With the two top tier packages, you also get a local copy of Office Professional Plus for Office 365 which you can install on up to 5 device. This is not perpetual licence though and needs to activate every 60 days or so to stay current.

The cloud, Install Microsoft Office Professional Plus with Office 365

My Geek Out

I got quite excited (yes, that’s me) as I spent more time looking into Office365.

The initial setup was relatively pain free and fast. I’ve seen installations of SharePoint or Exchange that have taken many hours to get up and running without hiccups, and now I had everything up in a couple of hours!

The Cloud has allowed small business to have access to the technology previously reserved for corporates. There isn’t much value in having an exchange server for 1 user, if you take the hardware, installation, support and maintenance into account. But put that in the cloud and you get a fully managed corporate grade service via Office365.

One of the myths of The Cloud is that only large enterprise can get it and make it work. Office365 offers small business access to products that previously only larger enterprises with some IT budget could have.

Products like Lync too would generally be reserved for the more corporate of business, but is now easily available via Office365.

Beyond the Basics

Setting it up as a new company is not tricky. Where it may become tricky is where you need to migrate your existing email and documents across from your current systems to Office365.

Like any piece of software, Office 365 is only as good as the implementation of it. You need to understand the product (Office365), and what it can and can’t do in the context of your business. There are various tools to help you migrate into Office365 for both e-mail and SharePoint, and of course having a good partner to help you through the process is invaluable.

The key with an implementation of this nature (and I will highlight this with any product) is the planning you put into the project.

Yes Cloud or No Cloud

There are a lot of Cloud options available, and I plan to investigate these over the next few months. If you are familiar with Microsoft products, and you are looking to make the move to a Cloud Solution, then Microsoft Office365 is a very attractive option. Should you use it? That depends on your business.

Tell us what give you headaches and keeps you up at night and it might just be that this fits the bill. For a free consultation or advice, contact one of our consultants.

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