Microsoft Office 365: Flying blind with a cloud product? Learn more about proper planning!

An article by Torsten Schaper, Principal Consultant Microsoft Office 365

Trusty Office in an improved form? Microsoft promises cost reductions, mobility, flexibility, and outstanding availability of 99.9 percent. In this article our expert Torsten Schaper explains what needs to be taken into consideration when planning cloud and Microsoft Office 365 services. Let’s get started!

Planning requirements: What needs to be taken into consideration during planning?

Office 365 services, software and additional services

Which Office 365 services will be used?

The first step in considering which Office 365 products and services to use is to decide which services (fig. 2) are useful additions, and which will be deployed as core services.

Do the client systems and the Office version support the selected Office services?

Which client system and Office version are in use? Most COMPAREX customers tend to have Office 2010 with Windows 7. So the pertinent question here is whether this is the ideal solution, or if it would be better to install Office 2013? What are the pros and cons? What needs to be taken into consideration during planning in terms of the client?

How will the use of on premise services (Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business) create dependencies?

  • Version
  • Archive system
  • Integration of third-party products such as unified Messaging, CTI, Mail Disclaimer, Monitoring etc.

There must be absolute clarity in terms of any dependencies with other services used on premise. For instance, it is imperative to know in regard to any use of Skype for Business or a mail archive that is only partially migrated to the cloud whether these systems can be connected in future and to what extent there are any dependencies. There may also be dependencies to third-party products. For example, the integration of a central mail disclaimer or monitoring system needs to be well thought-out in advance.

How will software be shared in the company in regard to Office 365 Pro Plus?

Office 365 Pro Plus is an Office version requiring online activation. This way it is no longer necessary for companies to maintain a KMS service. The clients connect directly with the Office 365 service to activate the license. Now while this methodology may sound complex because each client will need an Internet connection, the advantage is that licenses can be assigned flexibly in the Office 365 portal. For instance, licenses can be removed if an employee leaves the company. This ensures that all Office 365 Pro Plus versions and services are immediately withdrawn from the respective user. By the same token, new employees can be quickly assigned the services they need, for example during merger projects.

What is important to consider and include in planning with regard to connections?

It is important at this point to consider connections to the local infrastructure in the event that identity management based on AD Connect Service and optimum ADFS have been implemented as a foundation for using Office 365. For instance, how will data transfer work if the Outlook or Skype for Business client is launched locally, but is intended to connect with an online service?

The following aspects need to be considered here:

  • Network bandwidth (Internet, LAN, WAN)
  • LAN and WAN latencies
  • Provider interfaces to the MS Backbone
  • Number of necessary TCP connections
  • WEB proxy/exclusion for Office 365 URLs
  • Reverse proxy (disclosure of the Exchange infrastructure)
  • Firewall exceptions • Internet accesses in outside locations
  • DNS name resolution (split DNS)
  • SMTP routing

Organizational conditions

What we have learned from projects is that the organizational conditions – depending on the respective company and the complexity – frequently present the largest obstacles. It is therefore sensible to consider the following general parameters when planning an online project:

How will the organizational processes in the company change, especially in respect to IT operations? In future it will be necessary for departments to collaborate that until now have had relatively few touch points

Data privacy is always an issue whenever it is a question of which data are allowed to leave the company, and where they will be stored. Anyone looking to work with an Office 365 product (e.g. Skype for Business, Exchange etc.) will not be able to escape situations that involve Microsoft synchronization of data taken from the Active Directory (in parts at least) for user accounts deployed in connection with the relevant product. This is an essential precondition. Hybrid scenarios cannot be technically implemented without identity management based on ADConnect.

Microsoft satisfies a large number of data privacy requirements to ensure that information is kept secure. The user data – as an aside – are always available worldwide after login to ensure optimum performance. The Exchange or SharePoint data are stored in whichever data center has been contractually assured (European/American jurisdiction).

Are there legal restrictions in respect to the data that are allowed to leave the company? Are companies contractually obliged to execute a legally compliant form of e-mail archiving?

Do SLA agreements for today’s IT environment exist? It is not uncommon to encounter customer situations in which IT acts as an internal service provider on behalf of the company in order to implement SLAs in cases of malfunction. There are general provisions within the SLA that need to be checked in order to ensure that they match the SLAs assured by Microsoft. This makes certain that response times are adhered to in the event of an error.

Current backup and disaster recovery strategies: Microsoft is materially responsible here. What does this mean? For instance, Microsoft is required to ensure that the data are available at all times, and that they are consistently backed up, in the case of a customer deploying a service like Exchange in Office 365. How does Microsoft do this? Microsoft operates a number of data centers with "several copies" of customer data on a variety of media. It will always have alternative copies that can be activated in the event that one data center or server fails. E-mail elements deleted by the user are transferred to the folder “Deleted elements” from where they can be restored. As a standard, Office 365 does not have an additional backup solution providing the option to restore e-mail content using the history. But external providers do cater to this option with additional backup tools. Here, the cloud provider ensures disaster recovery of complete servers and databases – in this case it is Office 365 and therefore Microsoft. So there is no option for users to restore these servers or databases in situations like this. Microsoft Support automatically fixes any errors that occur. There are extensive, online backup products available on the market for customers requiring more stringent backup strategies, which can be used in combination with Office 365.

User information management and training: It is important to inform users as early as possible that cloud data and products will be deployed in future. There will be changes in the registration process, during login, and in respect to availability. It is therefore imperative to inform and train users to make certain that the project as a whole is a resounding success.

What are the organizational changes when you move from an O365 on-premise deployment to a hybrid or online scenario?

Click on the Image for details

Leipzig, 2/19/2016

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